There was a time when the # symbol was known as the “pound” sign on a telephone. Thanks to social media, specifically when Google designer Chris Messina proposed that hashtags be used to create “groups” on Twitter in 2007, the # symbol has now become commonly associated with hashtags.
Hashtags can have different results on different channels, which can be confusing for marketers, which is why using them carefully is vital.
Regardless of the channel, hashtags have numerous benefits.
Experts agree you should be using hashtags to help you discover trending topics, new content, improve user engagement, gather data, organize conversations, and help gain visibility.
In 2012 when Twitter released “Best Practices for Journalists,” it was found that hashtags “can increase engagement almost 100% (2x) for individuals and 50% (1.5x) for brands.”
Because of the impact and popularity of hashtags, it wasn’t exactly shocking when Google began supporting hashtags in 2013. Forbes contributor Steve Cooper stated in 2013 that “hashtags are appearing on the right-hand side of Google’s search results page.”
This is normally the real-estate reserved for ad placements. Cooper also added that “Google is playing nice with the other networks too—well, at least Twitter and Facebook. Those sites get a link that takes the visitor directly to the search pages on each respective site.”
Google+ Hashtag Basics
Hashtags on Google+ are automatically assigned by content, which sets it apart from other social channels. However, you’re also able to edit the hashtags if you choose. Another unique of Google+ hashtags is they can be used in your comments. Google+ hashtags also excel at introducing a wide range of individuals to your updates – even if they’re outside of your circles.
In other words, Google+ hashtags are great for exposing your profile to a new audience because Google+ is exploring a topic, as opposed to just curating it.
In fact, there are theories that the way Google+ showcases content by hashtags can result in a much higher overall visibility.
Out of the all of the social media platforms that use hashtags, Google+ is arguably the most interesting.
For starters it’s not just a social network. As noted in SEJ’s Google+ Strategy, it’s “part of a powerful social platform that integrates with key capabilities like Google docs, chat, hangouts, gmail, and more.” Also, Google’s search algorithms can use social sharing as way to determine the trustworthiness of content.
And, according to Social Media Today, Google just so happens to be the most powerful and influential search engine in the world with more than 1 billion enabled accounts. As you can easily see, gaining visibility is necessary on Google+.
But, is there any truth to the theories regarding hashtags increasing your Google+ visibility and boosting engagement? It’s an interesting theory we wanted to explore.
A Google+ Hashtag Experiment
You may be asking yourself, why would we waste our time exploring a so-called “ghost town” like Google+? After all, research has found that 90% of all users never post publicly on Google+.
Well, research conducted by Stone Temple Consulting discovered despite the small size of the Google+ community, it’s a vibrant community of approximately 212 million active people. Also, Google is using Plus to help personalize search results through data. Because of this, we felt it was important to examine the hashtag theory.
Our Google+ hashtag experiment ran from June 8, 2015 to August 11, 2015, during which time we analyzed eight different Google+ profiles. We took the same eight profiles and examined how many +1s, comments, and shares there were with and without hashtags.
Stats for the first 31 days of the Experiment (6/8/2015 to 7/9/2015)
Posts With Hashtags
- +1s : 14692
- Comments : 602
- Shares : 2333
Posts without Hashtags
- +1s : 8933
- Comments : 643
- Shares : 2281
During the first 31 days of the experiment, we discovered that the posts with hashtags received 1.64 times more +1s than the posts without hashtags. Interestingly, the comments and shares remained relatively the same for both types.
Stats for the last 32 days of the Experiment (7/10/2015 to 8/11/2015)
Posts with Hashtags
- +1s : 7001
- Comments : 342
- Shares : 1241
Posts without Hashtags
- +1s : 8667
- Comments : 420
- Shares : 1427
Most interesting was during the last 32 days of the experiment, the amount of comments and shares were actually higher in posts that didn’t contain hashtags. Even +1s were higher in posts without hashtags.
The entire experiment lasted for a total of 63 days and included in all:
- Total Posts : 720
- Total Posts with Hashtags : 360
- Total Posts without Hashtags : 360
Stats for All Posts with Hashtags
- +1s : 21693
- Comments : 944
- Shares : 3574
Stats for All Posts without Hashtags
- +1s : 17600
- Comments : 1063
- Shares : 3708
Our final assessment is that posts with hashtags received 1.23 times more +1s. However, the final data is actually inconclusive. Considering that the comments and shares are almost equal for both types, we cannot firmly say that using hashtags alone will actually increase engagement.
Other Google+ Hashtag Findings
Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting examined the engagement of 33,282 posts on Google+ earlier this year. The results, published in August 2015, showed hashtags earned 45% more +1s than those without, which accounted for only 25%. Hashtags also lead to 15% more shares compared to just 5% for posts without. The most interesting finding was that hashtags really had no impact on replies.
When Enge compared hashtags use between Twitter and Google+ there was a startling revelation. Hashtags had a greater impact on Google+ than on Twitter. Hashtags on Twitter resulted in under a 2% increase in Retweets and Favorites. On Google+, however, hashtags were able to boost re-shares by over 5% and +1s by around 2%.
Despite our findings to be inconclusive, Google+ hashtags can be an efficient way to bring more exposure and visibility to your profile. The catch is it may take more than just adding a hashtag by itself. Like most other social media strategies, you still have to be active, reach out to influencers, and engage your audience. And, unlike other social media channels, users can create a hashtag database, as well as establish which hashtags will be related.
If you want to improve your engagement on Google+, it may take more than just including a hashtag. With Google+, as suggested by Kissmetrics, you’ll also have to:
- Optimize your profile. Have real pictures of yourself, include an interesting tagline, and introduce yourself in an exciting way.
- Follow lots of people. Just like any other social media platform, Google+ is reciprocal. The more people you follow, the more people will follow you back.
- Join communities. Being a part of community that is relevant brand can put you in front of hundreds or thousands of people.
- Post everyday. Remember, the more active you are, the more likely you are to appear in other’s feeds.
- Interact with what’s hot and explore hashtags. Google+ allows you to explore trending hashtags and content that’s “hot”. This gives you the chance to comment and share on popular content.
- Ask for +1s. Don’t be shy. If you ask for a +1, chances are you’ll receive it.
- Know when to post. You can use the app Timing+ to find that best times for you to post on Google+.
- Connect with influencers. Tag the shakers and movers in your industry to help get you noticed by them and their audience.
- Link to your profile as much as possible. Share your Google+ profile link in your email signatures, blog posts, and even guest blogging opportunities.