Social Media experts have been saying (rather dramatically) for a while now that Twitter is dying. Any person who uses Twitter for marketing and promotion will know that Twitter is teeming with bots that automatically like, share and follow other accounts. For businesses, this means that one of the biggest channels for marketing and audience engagement has become less effective than it used to be. Why? The ineffectiveness of hashtags may be one of the major causes.

One of the writers over at Venngage published a study last week to see just how effective Twitter hashtags actually are. The writer looked at a sample of 137,052 and categorized them into three categories: Questionable (could possibly be a spam account, has some odd following patterns), Real (authentic account belong to a real person, with normal engagement), and ZeroSpam (following count largely outnumbers follower count, shares up to 1k tweets a month, other generally inauthentic behavior).

Here are the key findings from the study:

These findings certainly resonate with my experience as a marketer who uses Twitter. While a tweet with a broad hashtag like “#contentmarketing” will generally earn me a couple of new followers, they aren’t followers who actively engage with my tweets. Many of them appear to be automated accounts. So how do you combat hashtag spam and use Twitter to connect with your community/target audience/user base?

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The study suggests that you should:

1. Stop using Twitter and start using another platform instead. Facebook seems to be doing just fine, despite some scepticism in recent years. If your tweets are getting little more than spam-fueled metrics, then it may be time to refocus your efforts elsewhere.

2. Take the time to really master Twitter. Anyone can use Twitter but in order for it to be an effective channel for marketing and audience engagement, you have to push a little harder at figuring out the finer points. Details like the optimal time to send out tweets and how to craft a compelling tweet, for example. Also, you have to do the grunt work of following, sharing, and liking manually, not using an automated tool. But it’s worth it, because that’s how you get to know individual faces and obtain a better understanding of what’s current in your niche.

3. Stop using hashtags. Basically, keep using Twitter but leave out the hashtags. People will still be able to find your tweets if they search keywords, and you can still reach out to other people and strike up a conversation. Not using hashtags will just help filter out the spam.

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Note: this applies mostly the big, broad hashtags like “#contentmarketing” or “#SEO.” One of the main critiques that the study got from commenters was that hashtags still worked for them, and that’s probably true—but these are smaller niches to begin with and they are likely using more acutely targeted hashtags for things like specific events or breaking news topics. If you don’t want to stop using hashtags entirely, then just make it a point to stay away from the very broad ones.

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4. Don’t pay attention to vanity metrics; focus on engagement. Things like number of followers and number of likes on a Tweet often don’t reveal much about your actual engagement on Twitter because many of the accounts following yours might not be legitimate. To reiterate, shift your focus towards personally reaching out to other people, taking the time to interact with their tweets.

Do you find hashtags to be effective? Got any tips or insights of your own?