Facebook clickable hashtags – A Twitter Teaser or Investor pleaser?

Finally, three months after rumours first surfaced, the social networking site has officially announced it will be introducing clickable hashtags. Question is, why and moreover, does the nature of the network allow hashtags to facilitate organic viral explosions like Twitter?

I sense Facebook's move may be a decision to appease investor interests, as opposed to a feature that users will actually find useful. Whether it's a television programme or a developing news story, there's great value in being able to own the online discussion around a live event. Brands are currently using Twitter to claim that ownership and Twitter is currently monetising that discussion to, apparent, great effect; Facebook appears to have recognised that it needs to control some of that share too.

Equally, I believe it is a step to solve the issues some users experience in the way that Facebook automatically filters your news feed depending on what it thinks you want it to see. Showing a user everything is too much, however showing the filtered feed alongside a list of hashtags your friends are currently discussing, places a little more control in the hands of the end users in choosing what they want to see.

Advantages over Twitter

Facebook has one distinctive advantage over Twitter in the hashtag department; through the sheer volume of personal content uploaded by its users, Facebook should have a far greater understanding of individuals in context of their surroundings, friends and family. Twitter can understand this through what people talk about but it doesn't have features such as photo tagging and Timeline which help to construct an overall picture of an individual.

Whilst Facebook already lets brands target ads by topic (interests users have explicitly disclosed as things they are interested in), hashtag suggests to me that Facebook could begin to offer brands the opportunity to promote their content in a way that is relevant to the discussions that people have, and have had, on the platform i.e. targeting an advert towards someone who loves to talk about the #PremierLeague. I suspect that previously the interpretation of natural language would have caused issues in the accuracy of the targeting, hashtags will resolve this issue by allowing the users to organise and prepare their content ready for advertisers.

Popularity with users and implications for brands

Assuming the adoption of the functionality by users, hashtags will help brands to increase the organic reach of their content. However, generally speaking I anticipate it will be a way for brands to unify the online discussion about their products, promotions, sales or competitions. It means that in marketing messaging, one hashtag can be communicated and consumers will know that it's relevant regardless of the platform they use.

The very nature of Facebook is distinctively different to Twitter, it is a private network. Similarly, a user addresses a very different audience on each platform; on Twitter for example, I care very much about the way people perceive me through the content that I share, whereas on Facebook it's a chance for me to share photos of my holidays, or my family.  

Subsequently, I anticipate hashtags on Facebook to serve as a great way for people to see all the photos their friends uploaded after #SamsBirthday, or perhaps what they're saying about a popular television show. In this respect, I believe it could be fairly popular.

However, I doubt hashtags on Facebook will ever help to facilitate organic viral explosions we've seen achieved on Twitter in the past. The nature of the network just won't allow it.

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