Facebook may soon add hashtags to its service, according to reports published Thursday by The Wall Street Journal and All Things D. While Facebook wouldn’t be the first social network to incorporate the post-categorizing tag that originated with Twitter—Google+ and Facebook-owned Instagram also feature hashtags—the billion-user platform would mark the biggest catalyst for broader hashtag adoption, particularly among brands.
"I think it's big, and I'm a bit surprised that it's taken this long,” said Chris Tuff, director of earned and emerging media at 22squared.
Right now marketers typically use hashtags for Twitter campaigns. Budweiser has used hashtags to organize chatter around the brand’s newest Clydesdale. American Express has been using them to enable deal distribution and product purchases on the platform. And 19 Super Bowl advertisers featured hashtags in their TV spots, according to Marketing Land. Some argued with the publisher that those Super Bowl hashtags could have been aimed toward Google+, the same argument could have been made for Instagram. But c’mon, really? We all know the hashtag belongs to Twitter—at least for now.
If Facebook does adopt the hashtag, it will bring the feature to its biggest platform yet and conceivably bring more marketers than are currently on Twitter (definitely more than are on Google+ or Instagram). That “allows the hashtag to play out on all channels and become a bigger part of all advertising—OOH, print, TV, etc.—which will encourage more consumer conversation around brands,” Tuff said, adding that hashtags could boost brands’ use of Facebook's People Talk About This metrics by easing the reliance on post-tagging.
It could also step up Facebook’s ability to keep up in the real-time flow of conversation. Digitas svp and North America lead for social-mobile-content Jordan Bitterman pointed to the introduction of Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, which pivoted the News Feed away from displaying posts in reverse-chronological order in favor of prioritizing more relevant ones, while diminishing Facebook's emphasis on immediacy. That's had the effect of leaving Twitter “a far better platform for immediacy and virality.”
But the introduction of the Share button, the recent News Feed redesign that returns real-time to the sub-feeds, coupled with the possibility of adding hashtags show that Facebook sees what its platform is missing.
“The idea of incorporating hashtags is a wise extension to the other recent product enhancements. If done well, it will coalesce conversation and sharing across the platform to return the element of immediacy Facebook has been missing since the EdgeRank introduction,” Bitterman said.
Though the move doesn’t have to be only a counter to Twitter. “The introduction of working hashtags on Facebook seems as much a preparation for Graph Search as anything,” said Matthew Wurst, director of digital communities at 360i. When Facebook launched Graph Search in January, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company planned to eventually add the ability to query status updates and comments. Indexing those queries would be a lot easier with a hashtag to grab onto for easier contextual analysis. In other words, hashtags should make it a lot easier to find stuff on Facebook.
And Facebook integrating hashtags doesn’t have to be terrible news for Twitter. As All Things D pointed out, and as Tuff suggested, it could turn the tag into a more universal tool, meaning that more people, not just brands, would be using it on Twitter because they’ve become accustomed to it outside of Twitter.