If you can’t beat them, you might as well join them, right?
I’m actually a little surprised that it took Facebook so long to jump on the hashtag wagon, but here they finally are. We’ve been seeing hashtags on our news feeds for months, mainly as a result of people linking their tweets and Instagram pictures to Facebook. But although they were there, they had no real functionality. Yesterday the social network announced in a blog post that they will be adding the ability to follow conversations via hashtags:
“Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them. Whether it’s talking about a favorite television show, cheering on a hometown sports team or engaging with friends during a breaking news event — people on Facebook connect with their friends about what’s taking place all over the world,” Greg Lindley, a Facebook product manager, wrote in the blog post. “To bring these conversations more to the forefront, we will be rolling out a series of features that surface some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people and topics.”
With this said, we have to wonder how this will work due to Facebook’s privacy restrictions. This is one area where Facebook’s hashtag use will certainly differ from Twitter’s. Because many Facebook users have some degree of privacy restriction, there are not as many “public conversations” as there are on Twitter. According to a Facebook spokesperson, from a privacy standpoint, hashtags will work similarly to Graph Search. In other words, you’ll only see the comments that you’re authorized to see. So if I type a hashtag in a friends-only post, then it would only come up for my friends in a hashtag search.
The capabilities of Facebook’s new hashtag feature include searching for hashtags, clicking on hashtags that come from other services, and writing posts directly from the hashtag feed. It’s already available to about 20% of Facebook users, with the rest getting it gradually over the next few weeks. Facebook said that it’ll be rolling out additional features, including trending hashtags, in the near future.
As an internet marketer, I have to wonder where Facebook is going with hashtags. They’re certainly not just adding them for the sake of keeping up with Twitter and Instagram for fun, so how are they going to use it to leverage advertising? Facebook already uses what we “like” to serve us tailored ads, and now with the hashtag they will have even more insight on what we’re interested in at the moment. Facebook is not yet making any money off of hashtags, but with every shareholder’s eyes on Mark Zuckerberg, I’m sure that will change pretty quickly.
Many marketers seem to agree that best part about Facebook hashtags is that it takes something marketers are already using, and magnifies it greatly by utilizing Facebook’s huge user base. Campaigns can now flourish across multiple social networks, Facebook included, which is huge.
There are also some risks to hashtags on Facebook that marketers must consider. Marketing Land’s Greg Finn suggests that Facebook hashtags are “anti-Facebook Page,” as in they could dilute a company’s real Facebook presence.
“Facebook’s brand pages are rich, robust and can act like a website for many,” he writes. “When you head to a specific topic page (like the NBA) fan discussions can be seen. Unlike Twitter, conversations and reactions can be viewed on a specific page. Now users will be required to utilize both hashtags and tagging to tie in brands. Instead of bringing in brands and pages, the conversations will be on separate hashtag streams.”
Finn also points out that hashtags on Facebook will likely be dominated by brands rather than users, which could weaken the appeal to the users these brands are trying to reach. As I mentioned before, many Facebook users have private profiles, whereas brands are public. Due to the privacy restrictions of many users, a very brand-heavy balance in a lot of hashtags on Facebook could be created.
Just as with Twitter, marketers must be careful when creating Facebook campaigns centered on hashtags, as they can easily be hijacked. Who remembers McDonalds’ hashtag nightmare last year, #McStories? If you didn’t catch that one, I’m sure you can use your imagination to guess the dirty directions that campaign went.
How do you think Facebook hashtags will change internet marketing? Let us know in a comment.