Facebook Announces It Will Roll Out Hashtags #betterlatethannever
June 19, 2013
Facebook announced Wednesday that it will roll out hashtags to drive public conversation on its website more effectively. Other social channels, such as Instagram and Twitter, have employed hashtags for over two and going on six years respectively as a means of topic organization, making it easier for users to search for subject matter and connect within a vast forum.
Facebook users will be able to click on a hashtag to access a feed of posts using that specific tag. Users can compose posts directly from that feed or from their own News Feed or page. Hashtags from other services, like Twitter, will also be clickable.
In addition to accessing topical feeds via clickable hashtags, users can also search for hashtags in the search bar. The primary difference between Facebook and other services using hashtags is the privacy setting. Facebook users’ privacy settings are applicable to the visibility of their posts, even if using a hashtag. Therefore, someone searching for, let’s say, #marmalade will only have access to hashtagged posts made by friends or by users with public settings – not to non-friended users who have Friends Only privacy settings.
Facebook will introduce the new hashtag service gradually, as it tends to do with new options. It will be interesting to see whether users increase their usage of hashtags as they become clickable and searchable – we think they will!
So what does this all mean from a marketing perspective? Think of hashtags as a zoom lens into users’ interests. Let’s go back to the #marmalade hashtag – say you are an e-commerce marmalade company. Previously, if a user wanted to search for “marmalade,” he couldn’t just type “marmalade” into the search bar. The first result would have been a friend whose last name began with “Mar,” or a restaurant or page with the word “Marmalade” in the title. Now, that user can search for #marmalade, and will be directed to a feed displaying all posts hashtagged with that topic.
This has huge potential for advertisers to leverage the hashtag to hyper-target their audience. In a sense, users will be opting into these marketing efforts when they use hashtags to categorize their posts. Advertisers can use this precise data to reach potential customers. That e-commerce marmalade company wanting to promote their newest flavor can hashtag its post not only with #marmalade, but with #apricot, #preserves, #summer, and even #sweet. This will simultaneously reach a much larger audience (ie. a user searching for #summer) and target a specific market (ie. a user searching for #apricot #marmalade).
Hashtags present a new realm of possibilities for brands seeking to engage audiences on a deeper creative level. Hashtagging a slogan or a lifestyle phrase – rather than the brand name itself – encourages a call to action among Facebook users who can include this motto in their own posts. Users who might not regularly engage with brands may be more open to promoting an ideology or lifestyle rather than a brand name. Companies will find that hashtags serve as a means of crowdsourcing, providing them with relevant and shareable content, as users create their own unique but related posts. Hashtag competitions can further encourage this call to action.
Using hashtags is yet another method for marketers to be in the moment. As real-time public conversations occur, a brand can take advantage of audience attention by hashtagging its posts with a trending topic. For maximum exposure, the brand can even promote those pertinent posts to further increase traffic.
On Twitter, companies are able to sponsor specific hashtags and appear at the top of the feed when users search for the topic. For example, a news site may sponsor the hashtag #debates during the presidential debates, causing its own tweets on the topic to appear first. Perhaps Facebook will make this an option to companies as hashtags take hold.
Hashtags from other platforms linked to a user’s Facebook page – such as Pinterest or Instagram – will automatically populate on Facebook, becoming a clickable and searchable link. This all-encompassing approach to social media is sure to surface conversations across multiple platforms, allowing for increased brand visibility and higher user engagement.
Facebook has stated that it will be rolling out more features like this in the future. What else could it have up its sleeve? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.