The hashtag, which has long been ubiquitous with Twitter as a way to group tweets into specific conversations, and has also been employed by Google+ and, the now Facebook-owned, Instagram. It may soon be making an appearance on the biggest social network, Facebook.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook is working on adding hashtags into their services as a way to group conversations, citing unnamed people familiar with the project. These sources were unable to provide any input on when the hashtag may make an appearance or how the finalized version might work, but the implications and possibilities for its usage could severely impact how the network gathers and presents information.
From a content presentation standpoint, the usage of hashtags by Facebook could present a higher level view of current trends being seen, shared content and conversations. While both Twitter and Google+ are fairly transparent and even promote trending topics, at the moment it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get a feel for day-to-day Facebook trends. But what might those trending topic’s pages look like? Due to the privacy features of Facebook, the biggest winners here might be news-related Fan pages sharing content and looking for increased visibility. Additionally, users that allow their profile comments to be public or to manually opt into a hashtag page could provide an real-time conversation much like Twitter. We could also see the incorporation of Instagram content, as Facebook has made it clear they want to provide a richer visual experience for their users.
This would give Facebook users a more holistic view of trending conversations and give them more reason to stay logged into Facebook and share content they’ve discovered. This might also serve the greater purpose of Facebook’s desire to create for their users a “personalized newspaper”, which Mark Zuckerberg noted during the presentation of the updated news feed layout.
But what about users who may have their privacy settings on their profile set to disallow public access? For these users, the hashtag could very easily be incorporated into the new Graph Search and allow them to find friends and connections using that hashtag to join in on conversations. It could also create grouped posts within their news feed if there was enough interest to warrant it.
Hashtags could also be a windfall for new advertising opportunities for businesses and, of course, revenue for Facebook. Facebook has already made it abundantly clear that users and fan pages can pay to ensure their content is seen by a wider audience, and hashtags could be another opportunity to get sponsored posts into users’ news feeds based on tags they have already used. If there are permanent hashtag topics pages, sponsored posts could ensure that a link was always at the top of that page, thereby increasing the chance of a click. Hashtags could also be used as a targeting metric in their more standard right rail banner ads.
Facebook could also be cooking up an entirely new way to use and interact with hashtags that have yet to be seen on another social network. It could certainly be wagered that if Facebook is finally adopting hashtags after years of the social usage, it will be like nothing we’ve seen yet.