Facebook has announced that they are finally embracing the hashtag, which they claim will "help people more easily discover what others are saying about a specific topic and participate in public conversations."
Once the service has fully rolled out over the next couple of weeks, users will be able to:
- Search for a specific hashtag from their search bar. For example, #NBAFinals (this will bring up a chronologically ordered list of comments using the same term).
- Click on hashtags that originate on other services, such as Instagram.
- Compose posts directly from the hashtag feed and search results.
Since 2007, hashtags on Twitter have meant users can be a part of global conversations – such as about TV shows like X Factor (#xfactor) and Britain’s Got Talent (#bgt).
Of course, Facebook users also like chat about what’s on the box – the platform’s Product Manager, Greg Lindley, explained that the recent "Red Wedding" episode of Game of Thrones received over 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, and there were over 66.5 million interactions around this year’s Oscars, including likes, comments and posts.
Given that during primetime television alone there are between 88 and 100 million Americans using the platform each night, and that the use of the hashtag is crossing over into real life (the video for Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke features the artist’s surname and a hashtag flashing on screen throughout), surely it makes perfect sense for the world’s most popular social network to integrate the hashtag?
And as well as providing benefits to its users, this new move will be a boon for brands. Historically, it’s been a challenge for digital types to track conversation around brands and products on Facebook as a large proportion of its users protect their posts from public view, rendering them unsearchable. Whilst this will still be the case (users can still limit who can view their hashtagged posts), use of hashtags will make buzz around a brand more easily recognisable, as well as allowing marketers to develop digital campaigns that straddle multiple platforms – united by a common element.
Of course there’s a way for the platform to make revenue from this – indeed, monetising Graph Search is something Mark Zuckerberg has already discussed. Whilst Facebook does not currently allow advertisers to target people using hashtags, or sponsorship of a hashtag (such as with Twitter), this is an obvious move for the future. Furthermore, the insights that can be gained from analysing hashtagged conversations on the platform will help brands target advertising more precisely, allowing Facebook to charge a premium for the space.
Facebook has promised further features around this in the near future, such as trending hashtags and deeper conversation insights. We’ll be keeping an eye on these, as well as which brands make use of this new feature first, and best.