There have been rumors that Facebook would launch functional hashtags for quite some time, but on Wednesday, these became a reality, as Facebook announced that hashtags will now be clickable. The feature is currently in the process of rolling out.
Obviously, there are some pretty big marketing implications with this, but there are also marketing risks. Marketers looking to launch successful hashtag-based campaigns are going to have to put some thought into their strategies so they don't amount to wasted time and money, or worse, harm the brand.
Are Facebook hashtags a game-changer for marketers? Do you intend to capitalize on the feature? Share your thoughts in the comments.
"Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them," says Facebook's Greg Lindley. "Whether it’s talking about a favorite television show, cheering on a hometown sports team or engaging with friends during a breaking news event—people on Facebook connect with their friends about what’s taking place all over the world."
"During primetime television alone, there are between 88 and 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook - roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night," Lindley adds. "The recent 'Red Wedding' episode of Game of Thrones, received over 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, representing a significant portion of the 5.2 million people who watched the show. And this year's Oscars buzz reached an all-time high on Facebook with over 66.5 million interactions, including likes, comments, and posts."
Hashtags create new pages on Facebook. When you click on a hashtag, your'e taken to a results page that looks something like this:
As you can see, you can easily update your status, or add photos or videos right from that page, making it easy to jump into the conversation.
The best part about Facebook hashtags from a marketing perspective is that it takes something marketers are already using it, and magnifies it greatly by utilizing Facebook’s huge user base.
A Facebook spokesperson said in an email, “If you are already using hashtags in an advertising campaign through other channels, you can amplify these campaigns by including your hashtags in Facebook advertising. The same creative best practices on Facebook still apply – compelling copy and photography that is in the brand voice works best.”
“Any hashtags that you use on other platforms that are connected to your Facebook Page will be automatically clickable and searchable on Facebook.,” the spokesperson said. “Like other Facebook marketing tools, hashtags allow you to join and drive the conversations happening about your business,. We recommend you search for and view real-time public conversations and test strategies to drive those conversations using hashtags.”
“Hashtags do not impact your distribution or engagement in News Feed on either desktop or mobile,” the spokesperson notes. “We recommend you continue to focus on your existing campaigns to drive your most important business objectives.”
One of the great things about hashtag marketing is that it allows campaigns to flourish across multiple social networks, and obviously the addition of Facebook is a huge part of that. People have been using hashtags on Facebook pretty much since hashtags have been used in popular Internet culture, but now they have meaning.
Hashtags can also of course be printed anywhere you’re running an ad in the physical world as well, and Facebook’s addition simply makes them more ubiquitous across the social web. This is becoming more the case all the time. Vine, for example, recently added hashtags, as did Flickr in its iOS app. Google recently added a new related hashtags feature to Google+.
Postano Digital Marketing Manager Julie Blakley says, “Before implementing your own branded hashtag, you’ll want to think about being transparent without necessarily including your brand name, as this can discourage people from participating, as well as give brand haters more motivation to upend the hashtag’s meaning.”
“Generic hashtags like Nike’s #makeitcount have more creative potential both for the brand and for consumers. Either way, the hashtag should be informative and concise rather than conceptual.”
She provides a number of tips here.
Digital Lab CEO Mike Saunders says, "Hashtag strategies are not limited to branding hashtags...The Washington Post found value in using hashtag advertising to promote their own content, by sponsoring the hashtag #Elections as a trending topic on Twitter during the last US elections. As a result, the newspaper’s tweets appeared first when users searched #elections on election day.”
“Another hashtag strategy, common to bloggers and news aggregators, is to use hashtags as a means of crowdsourcing," he says. "By having fans and followers share content with their company’s hashtag, brands are able find and share content that’s relevant and shareable. Other common hashtag strategies include gaining follows and linkbacks with hashtag competitions and using hashtags to create buzz at events.”
Greg Finn at Marketing Land suggests that Facebook hashtags are “anti-Facebook Page,” as in they could dilute a company’s real Facebook presence.
“Another advantage that Facebook has is that brand pages are rich, robust and can act like a website for many," he writes. "When you head to a specific topic page (like the NBA) fan discussions can be seen. Unlike Twitter, conversations and reactions can be viewed on a specific page. Now users will be required to utilize both hashtags and tagging to tie in brands. Instead of bringing in brands and pages, the conversations will be on separate hashtag streams.”
He makes another good point about hashtags on Facebook likely being dominated by brands rather than users, which could dilute the appeal to the users these brands are trying to reach. The reason for this is that most Facebook users have private profiles (as opposed to on Twitter where profiles are mostly public), and brands are public. This could create a very brand-heavy balance in a lot of hashtags on Facebook.
There are also direct risks to brands using hashtag marketing.
As David Berkowitz, vice president of emerging media at 360i says, “Marketers creating campaigns centered on hashtags need to be cautious. Hashtags can easily turn into flashing targets that scream, ‘Hijack this brand!’”
He specifically references the famous McDonald’s hashtag debacle. Last year, the company launched a campaign under the hashtag #McStories, which quickly became dominated by negative (and in some cases dirty) tweets about the brand.
“No matter how good your intentions are and how well you execute the campaign, hashtags can get hijacked in unexpected ways,” says Berkowitz. “Make sure any relevant brand managers, agency account executives, and other relevant parties are aware of what can happen, and share some real examples like those noted above. Also be clear that brands use hashtags in campaigns every day, and there are very few that generate any negative publicity.”
Facebook is just getting started with hashtags, and the possibilities are bound to increase, going forward. Twitter is actually letting people make purchases using hashtags these days, and given Facebook's breadth, something like this could be a pretty big deal in e-commerce.
Facebook is not getting any money of hashtags at this point, but that will likely change. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is already getting grilled by shareholders.
AdAge reports, "Facebook won’t be profiting from its hashtags out of the gate. Advertisers won’t be able to target people posting hashtags about a particular TV show or live sports event, and they won’t be able to sponsor a hashtag in the vein of promoted trends on Twitter.”
But how long until this changes? Last week, the company announced that it's cutting the number of ad units it offers in half.
Hashtags, in some ways, are about search marketing, and they should instantly make Facebook Search better, at least with regards to real-time conversations. This is going to be increasingly important to marketers. Consider that Apple’s Siri just added Twitter search. Will it add Facebook search in a future release? iOS already includes tight Facebook integration. That could have some interesting ramifications for search itself, in terms of taking more searches away from Google, which no longer has a really good real-time search feature (since losing the Twitter firehose a while back). Keep in mind, Facebook will continue to work at making its own search better, and will eventually add a lot of types of content to Graph Search, and turn it into a mobile feature.
Interestingly, Facebook says the hashtags are just a first step in a broader "public conversations" initiative. More features are going to be coming out within the next few weeks and months. These include trending hashtags (much like Twitter) and "deeper insights" which should only help marketers even more.
Are you excited about hashtags on Facebook? Let us know in the comments.