Facebook has adopted the #hashtag, a form of metadata that provides a means of grouping messages, which can then be searched and aggregated. Most associated with Twitter, hashtags typically comprise a word or phrase prefixed with the # symbol.
This is a big deal for Facebook.
Hashtags bring Facebook one step closer to becoming a real-time network. Facebook typically is a place where people and brands go to post richer social content, subject to the Edgerank algorithm, which optimizes users’ news feeds. Conversely, Twitter is the channel of choice to engage others in ongoing, fast-paced alerts and conversations.
Facebook’s adoption of the hashtag will enable it to start competing with Twitter as a real-time channel. At the same time, hashtags have the opportunity to extend the shelf life of archived Facebook conversations by making them more searchable, discoverable, timely and relevant to various use cases.
While the rollout of hashtag and related functionalities will continue for some time, significant opportunities and complexities are already emerging. Our team at Syncapse released a new report with facts and recommendations for social brand marketers.
Benefits For Marketers:
Because of the hashtag’s popularity with marketers and users on networks like Twitter and Instagram, Facebook will be a natural extension. Hashtags, once limited to smaller networks, will now benefit in discoverability and reach thanks to Facebook’s massive user population and heavy engagement.
- Social listening: In the same way that users can search and follow ongoing conversations, brands can search and listen to users’ conversations. This will provide brands more data and insight into ongoing chatter about their own and competitors’ brands. Importantly, privacy settings overrule hashtags, so we’re unlikely to see conversations on the same scale as Twitter, where the context is more public.
- Branded hashtags: Branded hashtags have been a popular tactic for some time, but their use wasn’t valued within the Facebook ecosystem. Marketers who have already created branded hashtags can now benefit from the extra traction inside of Facebook.
- Discovery: Hashtags help users find and explore new content. This means current brand Fans can find and participate in conversations, and it allows users who are not Fans to discover these conversations. Brands will have the opportunity not only to listen, but become meaningful participants in consumers’ conversations.
- Advertising: While Facebook has not (yet) revealed a contextual advertising model around the hashtag, one can imagine the potential. Similar to Twitter, in future advertisers may be able to deliver real-time sponsored content to users who have just engaged with relevant topics. This would be a powerful addition to layer onto current Facebook data like demographics and interests.
Brand Marketers Should Watch Out For:
- Brand detractors: Hashtags can be misused or misappropriated by brand detractors, competitors or other disruptive people. Because hashtagged conversations often happen outside of brands’ owned Facebook Pages, marketers should intervene cautiously and respectfully.
- Content silos: In order to view official brand-related content, users typically visit a brand’s official Facebook Page. Now, the appetite for brand-related content may be met with a hashtag search. While arguably this could dilute content users might have posted to a brand page, the hashtag search page encourages discussion and engagement, a desirable outcome for brands who might otherwise struggle to engage prospects on Facebook.
- Incomplete conversations: Since a majority of posts on Facebook are private, user privacy settings will affect a brand’s ability to view all of the conversations happening around a hashtag. This is not a barrier exclusive to Facebook. Twitter and Instagram profiles also have customizable privacy settings, but users tend to enforce less strict privacy settings than on Facebook.
How are you capitalizing on Facebook hashtags?
This essay also appeared in MediaPost. Photo by Andy Kaufman.