Social Media 101: What is the Value of a Hashtag?
A little bit late to the hashtag party, Facebook introduced searchable hashtags to its site in June. Twitter and Instagram have used hashtags for quite a while, and the popularity of hashtags from these networks is responsible for the symbol being part of everyday conversation. Many people send text messages including tags, and in the past they would ironically use hashtags on Facebook despite being non-functional. Hashtags are everywhere, from t-shirts, billboards, to TV shows, and anywhere else you can think of. Facebook was one of the few places hashtags didn’t appear, but now they finally joined the #party. Today's social media 101 lesson will talk about the hashtag and its use on Facebook.
What is the point of a hashtag really? The pure and true purpose of a hashtag is to create a forum for a community of people, sharing the same experience at the same time. The threads created by hashtags allow people to engage in conversation and follow the stream of posts as they appear in real time with the hashtag. Now of course, hashtags aren’t always used for their true purpose. Some people overuse hashtags for vanity, simply trying to boost their number of likes or comments or ReTweets. Others use hashtags ironically, the most obvious example being “#hashtag.”
Facebook was able to work hashtags into its site without making you feel like you are looking at a Twitter feed. A feed for a hashtag on Twitter will appear in order of popularity, and includes promoted or sponsored Tweets at the top. Facebook’s hashtags can be accessed by clicking the tag in the post or by the search bar. A list will then appear as a timeline identical to the normal news feed. The feed is made up of all posts using that hashtag, in chronological order. A normal Facebook status box is included at the top of the feed, and will automatically include the hashtag to any post you make from that screen. Any posts using hashtags will default to the privacy settings of your regular posts, meaning not everyone can see your hashtagged posts if you restrict other posts. How does this affect Facebook’s new Graph Search? The search tool is still in its infancy, with features like “posts search” still to come. As the Graph Search develops, the way hashtags are searched and discovered on Facebook will likely change too.
Facebook is already a social networking giant, so is adding hashtags really worth much to them? The answer is yes, because it opens up opportunity for an increased stream of revenue. Advertisements will be where Facebook turns a profit from the implementation of hashtags. Having hashtags gives Facebook an improved way to curate information on what people are talking about and interested in, and it can create advertising content to align with those trends. The hashtag serves as a qualifier of interest, meaning the person reading the content will be much more involved and therefore likely to convert on an offer.
#Facebook vs. #Twitter
Facebook adding hashtags isn’t an attempt to one-up or eliminate Twitter. Instead, the change was made to align with network standards and not miss out on a revenue stream. Facebook’s hashtag communities will operate differently than Twitter’s. Facebook’s hashtags lend themselves to conversations between users, by having the standard comment and like options. This allows for Facebook users to respond and converse about a hashtag, without using the tag in every post. On Twitter, such conversation would be done through replying to Tweets, requiring that the original poster be included in the conversation for the Tweets to all be grouped together.
Twitter remains the better network to follow hashtags in a live stream, because when new Tweets are posted in a hashtag screen, they can be loaded without refreshing the page. Facebook’s stream of hashtags, despite being in chronological order, doesn’t show new posts without having the page refreshed. People who are following events like a live news story, would be better suited to follow a Twitter feed.
Facebook’s decision was overall a very sound business decision, opening doors for additional revenue, and presenting a feature users are already comfortable with and enjoy using. It was really all just a matter of time before Facebook decided to get in the hashtag community. Having hashtags will allow Facebook to connect communities of people together more effectively, and improve marketers’ ability to appeal to these users. It will be interesting to follow how Facebook adjusts and improves the hashtag feature, now that the groundwork is in place. Both Facebook and Twitter hold their own place in social networking, which will be reflected by how hashtags are used differently on each. But Facebook did a smart thing by being willing to make a change and keep up with the #trend.
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