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On Google+, hashtags help surface related content. On Twitter, hashtags enable news to spread fast. On Facebook, hashtags turn your posts into garbage.

Sound harsh? According to a study by EdgeRank, a Facebook analytics provider, when businesses post statuses on Facebook using a hashtag both engagement and virality drop significantly.

EdgeRank analyzed 35,000 posts from 500 business pages over the month of July this year. They were shocked by the results. At best, the hashtags had no impact, and at worst, the presence of a hashtag reduced the reach of the posts. Contrast this with Twitter, one of the first sites to use hashtags effectively, 70 percent of brands saw retweets increase with the use of hashtags.

EdgeRank’s theory about Facebook hashtags is that businesses are using them wrong. “For some brands, they’ve created campaigns around particular hashtags and use them in all posts associated with the campaign. By nature, campaigns are promotional, therefore more likely to drive less engagement [...]”

A Facebook spokesperson told Cnet that viral reach and engagement aren’t good metrics to analyze the hashtag system. “When we introduce a new product at Facebook, we focus on getting the user experience right, hashtags are no different.” The spokesperson went on to blame ‘irrelevant hashtags’ and abuse of the system by ‘meme pages.’

If Facebook’s own staff is more interested in this ‘high quality content’ they keep touting, why implement a hobbled hashtag system in the first place? The hashtag has been the great equalizer on Twitter, allowing users to find as much reach as any business user given a timely interjection of a simple searchable phrase. Facebook’s hashtags, under scrutiny, look pretty useless.

 Image credit: clasesdeperiodismo