Facebook Gets Twitter-Like Free Marketing for @

At first, I wondered if Facebook’s new @ status tagging method was too arcane for the typical user. The idea of putting an @ symbol in front of somebody’s to help get their attention online, well, might not be intuitive. Especially considering that many Facebook users aren’t familiar with how microblogging service Twitter works.

But as Twitter has shown, if there’s effective self-promotion involved with @, people will use it, especially celebrities. Today, Facebook rolled out the @ feature to all of its nearly 300 million users, and big names jumped aboard. Two well-known bands that I am neither a fan of on their Facebook pages nor in real live, The Jonas Brothers and Linkin Park, posted about it.

And, less surprisingly, Facebook marketing lead Randi Zuckerberg was interviewed about it on CNN Live. That’s three mainstream hits for a product that a few years ago would have been unknown to most people.

Oh, and in case you’re still wondering what I’m talking about, here’s how the @ feature works. You type in @ within the status update box on Facebook. Then, start typing the name of friends, Pages, groups, and events you’re a part of. You’ll see a drop-down menu of options. Choose one, and that person’s or organization’s name will appear once you hit publish. But the @ feature is actually a tag, sort of like how you tag photos of people on Facebook — or actually, almost exactly like you direct a message at another Twitter user. Once tagged, the recipient will receive a notification email and the tagged item will show up on their wall.

This is sort of like how Twitter has worked for years, with the crucial difference being that the default was for the message, and the Twitterer’s profile, to be public. This has allowed messages to spread and be searched for easily. Indeed, Facebook itself used Twitter to share many of the examples above.

Still, with free marketing like what these celebrities are providing, Facebook’s status tags are getting a boost that could overcome the hindrances of being private — and they could get more of one assuming these celebrities and others start using them regularly. Use of @ is likely to grow fast on the site.

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