The Good, Bad and (Potentially) Ugly of Facebook Hashtags

Inbox • Shiftcomm

Headlines can be misleading. The fact of the matter is that you’ve seen those adorable hashtags (unlinked and unrecognized) on Facebook for years. So news that Facebook Hashtags have arrived should come with a bit of an explanation before we jump into the what it means for marketing and PR.

Hashtags have shown up in your news feed for so long because people have either gotten used to them in other networks and just can’t shake the habit or, in many more likely cases, have linked their Twitter/Instagram accounts directly to Facebook. While those tags have been in the newsfeed as text, they’ve never linked to anything – a change Twitter made years ago. This change activates those links, allowing you to look to culled content that users have designated relevant to those tags.

This is a pretty significant change if you think about not only how you use Facebook, but also in terms of how this shakes up what you can find on the social network. More importantly, it really changes who can find you. Here are three likely stories on the change:

The Good

If you’re a marketer, community manager, or Facebook, this is great news. While Facebook’s ad serving system has long been tied to interests users indicate in their profile (such as regions, schools, employment or education) or an active “like” of a page, it has never been able to collect the gold pot related to strong search-related ad space. This changes that, since you’d better believe that Facebook will gladly serve ads against specific hashtags to the highest bidder.

Marketers and community managers will also love the idea of being able to more quickly scan related terms – a long gripe of any social media monitor has been Facebook’s lacking public scan tools. The ability to click a hashtag and/or search by it to find detractors or evangelists? This will be huge if Facebook makes it broadly available and publicly searchable.

The Bad

Linked hashtags are amazing for many things, but my personal favorites are discovery and serendipity. You know where that has been really awesome? Twitter. But this change by Zuckerberg’s crew allows Facebook to elbow in on yet another of Twitter’s corners of the Internet. Users aren’t going to be flocking from Twitter over this change, but it could affect bottom lines in the land of 140-characters. If I’m a company with a budget for some sponsored ads, and I can promote an image, a longer post or even a Facebook page against the larger network – why split my dollars between the two?

The (Potentially) Ugly

I can’t wait to see what happens the first time a social media publication writes about a user discovering a stranger or brand manager commented on their conversation since they used a hashtag. Imagine for a moment what the reaction to things like Kenneth Cole’s response to the Egypt riots would have been if they had used that hashtag to post on individual profiles. Facebook, to its both demise and benefit, offers thorough privacy controls if you take the time to go through all of the customizations. The defaults, though, are often broadly public. You will all owe me a nickel for every story that rotates around this hashtag change and the normal “privacy” backlash for every change Facebook makes. It will happen. I will get annoyed. But it is incredibly important to remember that users will be very sensitive about being engaged by a brand on what is perceived to be a more personal, private network than most.

Dave Levy
Senior Account Manager

Posted on March 18, 2013 in Facebook, Public Relations

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