Examining Facebook’s hashtags

photo carré thomas JestinGreat news! Whether you are a brand page or a personal account, you can now add hashtags to your Facebook status updates and they are both clickable and searchable.

Once upon a time….

Hashtags were born on Twitter in 2007 somehow and gained its badge of honor when the micro blogging has formalized it, so to speak, and made it clickable.  The traditional # symbol has been seen widely on other social networks, namely Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, and one would wonder when and if Facebook would follow the trend.

The “hash symbol” is above all a new form of expression full of fascination: it allows, as we all know now, to summarize, describe, identify and framework one’s thoughts in one or few words. It aims to clarify the message, launch a topic or take part in ongoing conversations, joke contests or other textual phenomena.

Just like how journalists would craft new words and make them popular, hashtag-addicted users sought their fame trying to blend the winning hashtag: this unique and compelling formula is tasked to tease, and measure with a dash of humor, and creativity latest news that other people will hasten to endorse. We still remember brilliant hashtags such as #Radiolondres (#RadioLondon) launched during the French Presidential elections that kept airing nonchalantly in the final stretch of the political race! In other words hashtaggers attempt to crystallize the zeitgeist that is the cultural and intellectual element to hot current topics.

… So what’s new?

Most users did not wait for the announcement to compulsively hashtag their Facebook posts, mimicking the practice set forth by Twitter. Some would also acknowledge that Instagram, which populates Facebook News Feeds with the hashtags, has contributed.

Facebook did already introduce the links to centralize friends’ updates in the News Feed. All friends’ posts about the same YouTube video, for example, are collected in the same stream of conversation for enhanced consistency.

What changes then? Basically the hashtags on Facebook are now active. Words prefixed by the symbol ‘#’ are clickable and used to collect all the public conversations from friends, brands and other users into a public collective box. Social conversations are made even larger. Facebook wants to make content more accessible and easy to find, far beyond one’s circle of friends.

In the footsteps of Twitter, hashtags are not only clickable, but could be shortlisted in trending topics — topics that are tagged at a greater rate than other tags. The feature is not yet available on Facebook, but it is likely to land on the platform in the near feature.

To be accurate, a very important precision is required: on the technical side Twitter and Facebook  did not wait until the traditional # symbol became widely popular to list topic trends. It was technically possible to follow user’s typed words just as well, like Google and its trends and topcharts.

Facebook vs. Twitter

One of the reasons why Facebook has finally decided to play the hashtag game could be to compete with Twitter in the area of measuring TV audiences. It is at least what one could understand from their press releases. It’s a safe bet that many more people use Facebook rather than Twitter to live-follow TV programs. Facebook therefore will benefit from posting “trending topics” country by country. The fun part is that one would not even need hashtags to do so, as explained just above.

Twitter has a substantial advantage over Facebook in the way that most Tweets are public: it is a great opportunity for developers to open access a large chunk of conversations, analyze them and spot trends, and gauge the pulse of the society.