The hashtag is best known for its use in Twitter, right? Not if Facebook moves forward with a reported plan to incorporate hashtag groupings into its service. 

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is looking at hashtags as a means to organize conversations, citing “people familiar with the matter.” The status of the project is not clear, nor is any possible launch date.

# = New Battlefront

Twitter has popularized the hashtag, in which tweets are organized around a subject or phrase that is preceded by the # sign, such as #CMSWire. For Twitter, the hashtag has served to organize subject or brand-based themes, a king of magnet for tweets that creates a conversational stream.

For Facebook, hashtags are being explored for the possibility of similarly grouping posts around a given topic, which, of course, gives the social networking giant yet more real estate onto which it can display relevant ads. Hashtags also have the added benefit of being topic-based, so advertisers would likely feel more comfortable that they were targeting the right group.

Facebook-owned Instagram also uses hashtags, for organizing photos. If Facebook does become hashtag-friendly, it will represent yet another battlefront between the two social networking kings. Facebook, which has been previously seen as friends establishing profile pages and then sharing their preferences and activities with their circles, has increasingly been exploring ad hoc streams of communications, such as @ signs for subscribing to celebrities and brands, and various incarnations of its news feed.

Interest Versus Social Graphs

Twitter, which began as small, bursting updates, has evolved into a news service for people and organizations, broadcasting updates in tiny snippets that can then be organized according to topic. Both companies have been rapidly experimenting with different ad strategies, and, depending on feedback from members, modifying them if needed.

Facebook in particular is looking to capitalize on the booming mobile market, for which it has been somewhat slow to adapt, while Twitter’s 140-character tweets are built for that kind of use. Facebook could become more useful on mobile devices if communications from its members became more

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 focused and bite-sized. Facebook is still besting Twitter in mobile ads – US$ 851 million to Twitter’s US$ 249 million, per eMarketer – but the difference is expected to narrow.

Twitter has also recently been developing the hashtag as a branding tool, promoting them to companies for marketing. The company said that half of the more than four dozen Super Bowl ads this year featured a hashtag, which is becoming as common, if not more so, than Facebook addresses.

Twitter has been more about the interest graph, where people interact through their interests, while Facebook has been primarily oriented around the social graph of relationships. The use of hashtags on Facebook would add yet another layer of interaction, but could potentially also change the tenor of the service more toward the interest graph.

Accordingly, Facebook ads could become more focused on topics, as they have begun to do with news feed ads. It could also lead to a closer integration with Instagram and -- who knows -- warring Twitter and Facebook hashtags on Super Bowl commercials.

Image courtesy of Mircea Maties (Shutterstock)