‘The campaign should be trending on Twitter by now’, we have often heard the statement in strategic meetings, many a times followed by a celebration if the campaign does indeed trend. Twitter’s simple use of hashtag gave audiences, and hence marketers, a benchmark of sorts. It appears Facebook too has realised this now. Facebook’s decision to introduce hashtags, soon after the ‘verified page’ move, may make some feel it is learning more than a lesson or two from Twitter and competing more closely than ever with the micro-blogging platform now. But from a marketer viewpoint, hashtags on Facebook is good news.
While Facebook was being accused of prying into the private data of users and tweaking its privacy policies to give it more access to users’ personal data so that it could sell that to marketers, Twitter’s success was coming from a simple formula that made it the audience’s darling for breaking news and expressing views: Keep it simple silly! The little ubiquitous hashtag played a major role in ‘trending’, which defined the topic of conversation and made search easy for users to find out who’s talking what on the subject.
The simple, yet effective world of hashtags
Within a fortnight, after Facebook introduced into its services the ‘Verified’ tag for its profiles and pages which Twitter had done a long time back to keep fake identities in check, Facebook’s decision to rope in hashtags indicated that it has realised what it was missing on.
Hashtag gave context to the conversation. Since it was clickable, conversations with hashtags were culled at one place, which made search easy. It not only quantified what people were really talking about but the sheer popularity of a hashtag indicated the topic that audiences discussed keenly. Not to mention it made identification easy of the audience, who said what on the subject, and the profile – age, sex, demography, profession, could be tracked back.
“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. As a first step, we are beginning to roll out hashtags on Facebook,” said an official FB post on the network’s Newsroom page, reiterating the benefits of hashtags.
The post also informs that with hashtags, users can search for a specific hashtag from the search bar, for example: #NBAFinals. They can click on hashtags that originate on other services such as Instagram and they can compose posts directly from the hashtag feed and search results.
The announcement goes on to say: “As always, you control the audience for your posts, including those with hashtags. Hashtags are just the first step to help people more easily discover what others are saying about a specific topic and participate in public conversations.”
Benefits for marketers
Introduction of hashtags spells good news for marketers.
First, they can introduce a conversation on Facebook and keep track of it. Second, it also allows them to check and track negative/positive feedback or conversations in any context about their brand. Third, they can track down the source of origination of the conversation and make rectifications or amendments to control the negative feedback. Fourth, they can reach out to individuals directly to seek first hand information. And fifth, they can participate in the conversation without worrying over whether the user is reading them or not – the hashtag will make sure, that any person who is interested in the topic will find their point-of-view too.
Where Facebook differs from Twitter, and whether that is an advantage or not one would know soon enough, is that while the latter only allows 148 characters to put your point forth, Facebook gives ample space and room to justify your take on the topic/conversation. It also leaves room to put up supporting text and multimedia to fight your case, whereas in Twitter, multimedia come up as mere links. And pertaining to this space, all the conversation, with the hashtag can be culled onto the Wall or a defined space on the brand’s page to build up a meaningful dialogue.
As they say, better late than never. Facebook promises that it would continue to roll out more features in the coming weeks and months, including trending hashtags and deeper insights, that help people discover more of the world’s conversations. May be Facebook and Twitter may even find a way of ‘sharing’ hashtags, which so far were quintessentially Twitter’s property in the social world. But rules of the open network are different, and the social media giants are soon going to re-discover this.