Facebook has once again upped the ante, this time joining the ranks of Twitter and Pinterest with clickable hashtags. Now FB users can follow online conversations about a specific topic as they unfold in real-time. Interested in the NBA finals? Search #nbafinals to pull up all the conversations your FB friends are having about the games. Actually, adding functional hashtags was a natural next step for the social media giant, given that many of its users were already including these tags in their status updates and comments.
Yes, “live” hashtags now provide FB users with context for their discussions, but what’s really noteworthy here is what hashtags could mean for brands and advertisers seeking to connect with their target audience and coordinate hashtag-related campaigns across multiple platforms. For businesses, hashtags pose a way to extend their reach beyond a FB network of friends.
Marketers could gain a rich source of intelligence if hashtag data is incorporated into Facebook Insights, which provides page administrators with information about who’s viewing, engaging with, and sharing their posts. Brands could use this data to gauge the success of their posts and find out more about what people are saying, thinking, and feeling about their products and services. Then there are trending hashtags, which FB plans to unveil in the very near future. Those allow users to see which hashtags are currently the most popular and could benefit brands that manage to get themselves into the top slots.
We predict that brands will be sharpening their focus on social media and developing ways to get their products to the top of the trending list by, say, rolling out contests that reward users with prizes for using the brand hashtag. Also, it’s only a matter of time until FB unveils sponsored hashtags. (Think Twitter and American Express.)
Unfortunately, FB hashtags will have limitations in the marketing arena. For one thing, Google doesn’t have full access to FB content, so FB hashtags will have less of an impact on SEO. In addition, hashtag usage on FB will be kept in check by privacy settings. That is, when you click on a hashtag, you’ll see only related comments and posts from friends or mutual friends, whereas in Twitter all conversations are public. But we don’t foresee that either limitation will affect hashtag popularity on FB negatively, because the feeds you see will feature your FB friends’ interests, which are presumably similar to yours. It’ll be interesting to see, though, if, in the long run, FB is forced to strike a balance between protecting the privacy of it users and tapping the full marketing potential of social media.
With the rollout of hashtags, the social media company is also streamlining its advertising platform by doing away with sponsored stories (ads fashioned from FB users’ Likes). The logic behind this is that third-party endorsements through FB hashtags will be far more effective than inundating users with ads. But FB will still be selling standard ads, which will now incorporate a clickable hashtag function.
Hashtags began on Twitter when user Chris Messina suggested using the pound symbol to categorize groups. From there, it evolved as a way to call out keywords or topics in a Tweet. When Twitter started hyperlinking the hashtags in 2009, and then adding trending topics to its home page in 2010, the use of hashtags really took off. Think about it: Can you even watch a TV show nowadays without seeing a hashtag promotion in the corner of your screen? Now that FB has embraced the trend, we predict it will grow even further. And we look forward to seeing how brands and marketing campaigns adapt.