A few weeks ago, Facebook took a page from Twitter… or, to be more precise, it took the hashtag. How can brand marketers best use Facebook's new subject-collectors? A new report from social media marketer Syncapse proposes some ways.
The report, “What Facebook #Hashtags Mean for Marketers” [registration required], notes that 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day, and hashtags can be one way for bringing public conversations to the surface.
The Hashtag Kingdom
One consequence of hashtag adoption by Facebook, the report notes, is that it represents another step by the social networking giant toward becoming a channel for real-time conversations -- and older, hashtagged conversations may become more discoverable.
The adoption also means that Facebook is now part of what might be called the growing Hashtag Kingdom. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Google+, Flickr and Facebook-owned Instagram also use the format. Facebook has said that it will support hashtags across all platforms, which means that hashtagged content from Twitter or Instagram could be searchable and clickable inside Facebook -- leading to an inter-site hashtag space.
Syncapse suggests that, since marketers are familiar with hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, they are ready to adopt the use of hashtags on Facebook. The report points in particular to such opportunities as social listening, cross-channel consolidation, branded hashtags, discovery, crowdsourcing and advertising.
Social Networks: Friends and Enemies
Social listening will allow brands to follow consumer sentiment on public hashtags, and the use of hashtags on Facebook can provide hooks for subjects that marketers find useful to follow.
Branded hashtags will bring fans -- or enemies -- of a given product or service to the surface, and, conversely, brand fans will be able to find fellow travelers with ease. As they have done elsewhere, brands will be able to participate in the discussions of their most loyal customers.
In addition to attracting verbal conversations about a brand, hashtags attract content that users repost or photos/video they have taken, a phenomenon that is rapidly growing in importance as publications such as the New York Times begin to run reactions to events based on video, photos and other material from the field or from around the Web that have been posted to a relevant hashtag on Twitter and elsewhere. In this way, hashtags on Facebook will also become valuable attractors for brand managers interested in finding out how consumers might be using their products in the real world, or how they react to a brand-relevant event.
Treading Carefully With Your Hashtags
And then there's advertising. Facebook is still developing its contextual advertising model for hashtags, but it is expected that sponsored content will be delivered on that site through related hashtags in the not-too-distant future.
There are also caveats. As with all social media, brand marketers have to tread carefully when using hashtags. And, the report points out, hashtags can be hijacked by brand detractors or other competitors, not to mention the danger of hashtag overuse by overeager brands.
Hashtags also become competitors to a brand's official Facebook page and other online destinations, and there is the fact that most posts on Facebook are private, as compared to Twitter and Instagram, where posts tend to be more public. The public-private issue on Facebook could mean that hashtagged conversations there could have a more incomplete feeling than on other sites.
The report, though brief, outlines first steps toward brand marketing using Facebook hashtags. It's likely that we'll see behavioral differences among the Hashtag Kingdom, not to mention differing approaches to advertising and reporting metrics, so hopefully Syncapse will return, in more depth, to this subject in the not-too-distant future.