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Recently Dell shared this graph a on Facebook from “Social Media Scientist” Dan Zerrella with the declaration that implied some ground breaking revelation had been discovered. “Images that include hashtags get more likes than images that do not.” I have no doubt you have read the many ways you can optimize a tweet, or get more likes on your Facebook post and Instagram photos. These are important problems to solve in terms of your social media health metrics. After all, the more engagement you get the more likely you’ll be discovered by more people and potential customers. However, Dan’s “science” has major flaws, and when you look at data like that, take it with a big spoonful of salt.


If you take a closer look at the graph you can see it was manipulated to make it look like there’s more of an impact than there really was. The graphs shows two bars. At first glance one seemingly looks more than twice as big as the other. However, if you look at the margin you see that it starts at .05 and increases by .002. The reality is there is only a one percent difference between these bars.  Above is the graph recreated with a margin of zero compared to the other.

The most powerful of these are a set of reciprocity indicating tags including ‘#followforfollow,’ ‘#likeforlike,’ and ‘#tagsforlikes.’

Secondly, if you look beyond the graph and qualify any of the data on the rest of the infographic you’ll see that it’s hardly applicable to marketing purposes or even personal profiles. Instead it perpetuates bad and spammy behaviors on social media. Examining the majority of the hashtags found revealed they were “follow back” tags that are only used by those people who want more frivolous followers for the sake of followers. A legitimate business using these tactics would be laughed at in the social media marketing circles.

Third, based on the previous notion, the follower to like ratio is laughable as a metric. These tags increase like rates from people who don’t follow you. They aren’t subscribed to your content and likely never will. What Dan was attempting to do is to level the playing field so that the size of the following did not matter in the results. But hashtags do not give the content preference with existing followers. Hashtags work by allowing users to discover content, and the likes gained would hypothetically be the same no matter your following size. The hashtag effect is incremental. A better ratio would have been the number of likes or extra likes to the number of hashtags used. This would have been a better representation to show the effect of hashtags directly on likes.

What Dan has literally done is taken a pile of data and organized it for you. There was no attempt to qualify the data and make it useful for brands or the individual users in marketing. It also seems that Dan has no grasp on Instagram as a marketing tool, nor a solid understanding of the behaviors on the network. The claim that more hashtags gets you more likes is, in fact, a fallacy.

Yes, using the specific “follow back” hashtags get you more likes. If you are the type of person to participate in that crude social media behavior then maybe that’s a good thing. However, a person on Instagram who takes their content seriously would never use the hashtags Dan has “discovered.” Marketers are interested in seeing which hashtags would yield better followers and likes for them in their communities. The insight that should be sought out is how to grow a quality community with hashtags, which requires further investigation.

I’m sad to say that “science” like this comes from Dan pretty often. But it is not science at all. It is shallow simple analysis of what is right in front of everyone. Science requires that the trends that are found are also tested. Science is only science when the results can be recreated and qualified. Are hashtags important? Based on the data Dan found and was shared by Dell, we can’t say for certain.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking you to attack Dan and his analysis. It has its purposes in the larger scheme of elevating social media in the marketing world. I am asking you, the reader, to try to really understand the information that is put in front of you. Misleading infographics and shallow analysis are not be good enough for you. You deserve better insights and should demand them for your brand.

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