OMG. Tell all your friends, hashtags have made it to Facebook!
# on Facebook, what is the world coming to…?
— Josh John (@JoshJohn_) June 15, 2013
Hashtags have existed in Facebook for a while, but in a sort of stillborn sense. Many people have unleashed a string of messy characters preceded by the hash symbol, or number sign, or pound sign, or even the Octothorpe. The gigantic social network allowed users to post tweets with clickable hashtags to their Facebook accounts, if they have linked the two services. But hashtags typed in directly from the service still appeared in plain text.
That was until last week when the billion-strong social networking site, announced it will make hashtags clickable from now onwards, in a bid to make it easier to discover and join public conversations and find out about breaking news.
Hashtags have become so ingrained into Twitter that it’s hard to imagine the platform without them. After years of serving as an unofficial search tool, they were integrated into the code in 2010. Now, they’re so vital to Twitter’s identity that the “Discover” tab — one of the four main entry points to Twitter across all of its platforms — is marked by a hashtag.
A hashtag is a meta data tag that groups messages, or images in the case of Instagram, in a way that makes it easy to find other such postings that are tagged similarly. If you want to find out what anyone is saying about Josh Bryceland's music choice then simply type any combination of related words led by a pound sign.
With hashtags, you can:
– Search for a specific hashtag from your search bar.
– Click on hashtags that originate on other services, such as Instagram.
– Compose posts directly from the hashtag feed and search results.
So why is this worth paying attention too? Well, hashtags fulfill a critical need to organize the public discussions happening on Facebook. Facebook's Greg Lindley had this to say:
"During primetime television alone, there are between 88 and 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook – roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night. The recent “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones, received over 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, representing a significant portion of the 5.2 million people who watched the show. And this year’s Oscars buzz reached an all-time high on Facebook with over 66.5 million interactions, including likes, comments, and posts. To date, there has not been a simple way to see the larger view of what’s happening or what people are talking about."
For a business (or even individuals) some social media commentators believe there are several reasons to integrate hashtags into your Facebook practices:
1. The ability to reach a larger audience because already a massive amount of people are engaging on Facebook (see above) so you can expand your reach to people who might not be aware of your brand yet.
2. Join in with the conversation about your brand, learn what people are saying about your brand and take action accordingly.
3. Connect your marketing across campaigns using the same hashtag.
4. Create buzz at brand events and generate more followers for your Facebook account.
5. Greater engagement for your brand.
But why is Facebook really doing this? The Wall Street Journal speculates that Facebook is interested in incorporating the hashtag as it will make it easier to follow the progression of an event and increase the amount of time spent on the service. One of Twitter's strengths is the ability to search for terms and gather news on breaking stories in real time — on everything from celebrity deaths to major scandals, political protests and natural disasters. If Facebook is really so interested in making your News Feed your "personalised newspaper", then a feature like this makes sense.
If the report is true, it won't be the first time a Twitteresque function has made its way onto the other big blue social network. Facebook also took a cue from Twitter's mentioning functionality to allow its users to tag friends in status updates by including the @ symbol back in 2009.