After months of users fruitlessly employing hashtags in status updates (‘Who cares if they don’t serve a purpose? #YOLO’), Facebook surrendered and has begun integrating clickable hashtags. They work in essentially the same way as Twitter hashtags–users can link to each other by identifying themselves with a popular topic. Each topic (identified by a “#”) is clickable, showing a list of public status updates and page updates that employ the hashtag. Google+, Flickr, and Instagram have long ago hopped Twitter’s hashtag bandwagon, making Facebook the last big name to do so. The benefits to marketers are clear: not only do hashtags easily identify when a user is talking about their brand, but they also provide a valuable opportunity for real-time customer interaction. Similar to “live tweeting” on Twitter, customers and brands can now have live discussions about an event, product, etc.
But Facebook’s hashtags are not completely evolved, so before you jump for joy, fellow marketers, remember these five points of advice:
- You can’t buy them (for now).
Although hashtags may be used by marketers, as of now hashtags cannot be purchased. This has been a popular marketing technique on Twitter, especially during special events such as The Superbowl or New York Fashion Week. Presumably this will come to fruition on Facebook soon, as it would result in a huge amount of income for the company–but for now, there are no hashtag purchasing or promoting services.
- Statuses must be public to appear in a search.
In an effort to maintain user privacy, hashtags do not appear in the clickable search unless the post they are in is public. This clearly takes a lot of their power–for any given hashtag, there’s presumably a huge percentage of it that is left in the dark. However, considering the size of Facebook’s user base as opposed to other social media sites, the number of public statuses would still be massive. Marketing agency OMD noted that if Facebook gets 30% of users to adopt public hashtags, that already “beats” Twitter’s number of 200 million active users.
The most important thing to remember about this issue is that education is key. When encouraging Facebook hashtags, for now it’s necessary to include a reminder to make the status public, as the BET Awards recently did:
- Comments don’t count.
A comment with a hashtag does not show in the clickable feed. In theory, this limitation exists for privacy reasons: you can control the appearance of your own posts in the hashtag feed, and no random comment will put it there without your consent. It’s unclear if this will change in the near future–perhaps if you could “untag” your post from a hashtag, just like you can untag yourself from a photo a friend posts?
- Related hashtags are awesome.
Search for “#equality” on Facebook and you’ll likely see posts about things like “#DOMA” as well. Coincidence? I think not! Facebook’s “related hashtags” feature brings up similar terms to those you search for, which has huge potential for marketers. Searching for your brand or product name, or your company hashtags, can reveal “similar” tags that users identify with your brand. That’s a nice, big helping of free public opinion for ya’.
- Twitter is 140, Facebook is infinite.
For better or for worse, Facebook hashtag users are (nearly) unlimited, unlike their Twitter counterparts. Instead of being confined to 140 characters, Facebook hashtag-ers can laud to their hearts’ content, and even include other forms of media, such as photos, links, or videos. This makes the compliments better and the criticism worse, so more than ever, be careful and attentive when posting to company pages.
Do you consider this a significant development for social media marketing? What changes to Facebook hashtags are you waiting for? Tell us in the comments below!