When I first heard that Facebook was enabling live hashtags on their site, I was surprised. Not that the move had been taken (Twitter hashtags have been around since 2007!), but that it had taken so long to do it. After all, services like Flickr and Instagram have had them for ages, and Twitter remains Facebook’s main competitor. People like hashtags, and they should have been utilized for the largest social networking site a long time ago.
But despite being based on the same principle as those other sites, they are not exactly the same. Facebook itself has a much different format than other social networks, and operates as its own platform. It does not have the image centric nature of Pinterest, for example, or the live algorithm and openness of Twitter.
So, how does the hashtag work on Facebook, and what is it good for if not grouping content across a disconnected network?
How Hashtags On Facebook Work
The tags will still group content. However, it is meant to group more for public pages, and for people on your list. It also might search profiles without their privacy settings enabled. Remember that unlike Twitter, Facebook has many more users who prefer to only share things within their tight network of friends. So their use of hashtags wouldn’t violate that policy, making it a more insular community and harder to group (which makes hashtags less usable for setting up and participating in Twitter chats for example).
When you do put in a hashtag, it will form a clickable link on your status or reply. Clicking on that hashtag will take you to all public results on pages and profiles using the same tag. Even if the original came from a place offsite, such as from being synced with Twitter or Flickr, it will still be clickable and show up in results.
Facebook hashtags are also supported by Graph Search, which has both public updates from friends in your network.
The “related” hashtags feature is also sweet but I wish it were better adopted (I had to run a dozen of popular searches before I managed to see related threads):
What Is It Good For?
While there is some benefit to the average user, the truth is this step is aimed much more towards businesses and brands. It allows you to track trending topics and conversations in real time, in a way once reserved for Twitter. Analytics have become more integrated, which will be good news for professional users and marketers.
But groups and pages can also use it to find like minded individuals for causes, affiliation or just fun. Already cause groups, especially activists from all niches, have been putting hashtags to good use.
Other people have pointed to engagement and some other pros to the hashtag on Facebook. But it all comes down to the same thing: marketing. This is a great move for people who want to take advantage of trending content and topics, and utilize tracking for their brand.
Though this is a cool step, I doubt it will be nearly as successful as Twitter. The site isn’t open enough, and so a lot of the potential for tracking is limited. Unlike its counterpart, most Facebook profiles are private, that is the nature of that site. But we will have to see over time if I am wrong and the idea really takes off.