Two recent Facebook innovations are intended to make Facebook status updates more independent of both the networks and the platform. One is the hashtag, introduced on June 12th. The word hashtag describes this symbol “#,” but it also means the letters or word following that symbol on a social media post. For instance, if I write a post about the show Battlestar Galactica on Twitter, I would add “#BSG” so that other show fans could easily find it.
Hashtags were started by Twitter users, and spread to other networks over time. They allow posts to be searched and grouped by topic, allowing instant interest groups to form without the need for network creation and growth normally required. A host of tools and apps allowed Twitter users to track and search hashtags, monitoring topics of interest instead of just following certain people.
The other innovation, again one that is already in use on other social networks, is the embedded status update. Any status update marked as public can be embedded onto a blog or website so that it appears just as it does on Facebook. At present, only certain websites can embed these updates, but a larger rollout is anticipated.
Twitter never challenged Facebook as a true social network, neither in terms of scale nor as a tight collection of networks that reflect the real-life connections of the users. However, it did create a whole different type of connections, by interest group and topic, that made it a better place to converse, publicly, about major entertainment events and news topics. Not only can people easily find other related posts, marketers can track and measure the conversations—allowing them to refine messaging and even provide direct feedback. Facebook, as a much more closed platform, does not offer these capabilities.
With the rollout of these new features, along with last year’s Graph Search, Facebook is positioning itself as a better platform for marketers and communicators. Ideally, a public update on Facebook can be more easily shared, collected, tracked, interacted with, and reposted outside the platform. Brand guardians can measure sentiment, and those who worship Return on Investment (ROI) will have new metrics to show their bosses. If there is wide adoption.
The first survey of the effectiveness of hashtags is not promising. The study of posts by top brands showed that 20% of posts included hashtags. These posts showed no difference in terms of being found or being shared by users compared to those without hashtags. This is an early result. It could mean that marketers have not learned to use hashtags effectively, or that Facebook users haven’t really accepted them, yet.
But it could also mean that people on Facebook do not have the same interest in public conversations with strangers that Twitter users have shown. In fact, most Twitter users do have Facebook accounts, but prefer Twitter for their hashtag-esque conversations. Previous attempts to treat the two platforms the same way have generally failed. For instance, marketers who simultaneously posted the same updates to Facebook and Twitter often found themselves being placed on the ignore list. Another limitation is that to have a true conversation via hashtag, you have to make those updates public. Convincing Facebook users to adjust their privacy settings, especially on a post by post basis, is problematic.
The embedded updates is another story. It seems likely that this is a tool primarily for marketers and communicators. It will allow celebrities and page-owners to distribute content over Facebook that can then be easily re-posted on blogs and websites. Though this is often done already, via screenshot, this is a lot easier. And making things easy, online, has often proved to be a good move.
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