On March 14th, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is currently in the process of incorporating hashtags into their platform. Up to this point, Facebook has rejected hashtags despite market forces urging the world’s largest social network to reconsider. Non-functioning hashtags on Facebook have become one of the most common social media faux pas, devaluing what is, when used correctly, a valuable mechanism for content organization and branding.
What once was viewed as annoying and unnecessary by many, the hashtag has since evolved into a valuable tool for users and marketers alike. For those unfamiliar, the hashtag organizes and encourages conversations around brands (as well as other topics) and has provided much of the functionality that has made Twitter the platform of immediacy and virality. With the widespread adoption of the hashtag in a marketing context, brands are publicly aligning with Twitter more and more—look no further than the 19 brands that used hashtags in their Super Bowl ads this year. What’s more, hashtags are beginning to transcend social platforms; appearing in print, on television, and out of home (OOH) media.
II. Leveraging Instagram
Hashtags on Facebook would create some nice economies of scale with Facebook’s billion dollar baby, Instagram. Facebook has a great opportunity here to use the hashtag to create more cross-platform functionality with the growing filtered photo platform. The redesign of the Facebook news feed is yet another manifestation of the company’s move to become more visual and Instagram-y. Instagram’s core demographics are highly sought-after and reminiscent of the Facebook users of old. They are young, educated, and affluent; they buy things and set trends.
III. Graph Search
Hashtags make it easy to hone in on a specific subject or sentiment and sift through news by subject rather than just chronology. But beyond all the ad dollars, enhanced user experience, and increased integration with Instagram is the looming giant: Facebook Graph Search. Hashtags would allow for easy indexing of status updates, posts, and comments for Graph Search to query. Zuckerberg announced at his March 7th news feed press conference that he wants to give everyone the “best personalized newspaper in the world” and allow users to “drill down into any individual topic.” Hashtags and Graph Search will combine to help Zuck realize this dream.
IV. Private vs Public
Facebook will continue to be a semi-private platform for users to stay in touch with friends. However, with the news feed redesign, we will see a shift emerge as users express their interests in parallel private and public worlds. Facebook is pushing out “follow” functionality in their new news feed, which allows users to subscribe to specific news sources. Hashtags will be extremely useful here as a tool for aggregation in what is soon to be a very large, public, forum.
V. Business Case
As Facebook has grown, breaking the 1 billion user mark and going through an IPO last spring, so too has the number of stakeholders. Hashtags will open a new avenue for marketers on Facebook, allowing brands the opportunity to target users by hashtag. The ability for brands to sponsor a promoted trend on Twitter or serve sponsored Tweets by hashtag may be coming to Facebook.
Facebook has created an ecosystem where graph search, the news feed redesign, and the launch of hashtags enable users to engage with whomever, whenever. A brand will now be able to focus less on how to get their content surfaced and more on cultivating the conversation that users want to engage with, thereby driving their earned media strategy.
So what does it all mean for you? Hashtags tap into the power of a collective social voice, allowing users to easily align with a topic, sentiment, or group. If you’re a user, Facebook is about to become more organized—not just through the hashtag, but also through the news feed redesign’s emphasis on categorization. If you are a marketer, you will want to come up with some proprietary hashtags because they’re about to gain more reach and have more potential for amplification. Hashtags have proven that they are a stalwart in social and traditional media alike for good reason. As brands find worthy cause in sponsoring user-generated Facebook posts as well as ads promoting campaign hashtags, a robust ecosystem built around optimizing the user experience will begin to take shape.