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Facebook Hashtags: Are We Talking To Ourselves?
A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Vicky wrote a blog post about Facebook hashtags. In case you missed it, Facebook have now introduced searchable hashtags, much to the delight of teenage One Direction fans who were confused about why their tags about how much they love Harry Styles didn’t direct to a conversation with other Styles-devotees when clicked upon.
The hashtags have also been welcomed with open arms by social media marketers, who were previously bound to the confines of their page in order to get the message out about a brand. If they wanted to increase their audience, they either had to hope their content was good enough to warrant shares or invest in a bit of Facebook advertising.
But no more! With hashtags, social media marketers can insert themselves into everyone’s conversations and win the love and admiration they deserve.
In theory, Facebook hashtags are a marketer’s dream. Despite Twitter and Google+’s best efforts, Facebook is still the world’s largest social network and hashtags give us all the opportunity to get our brands in front of user’s faces without them liking our page first.
Which all sounds good…except we might be missing one vital ingredient; people.
Talking To Ourselves
Log into Facebook now and scroll down; how many hashtags can you see being used? A quick look at my timeline revealed a grand total of 0 hashtags. Zilch.
This number will probably vary depending on the amount of brands you follow. However, this is indicative of another potential issues; marketers talking to themselves.
I’ve used hashtags to varying degrees of success over the past couple of weeks. In the best instances, hashtagged posts have actually drawn in some extra likes and shares because there is some genuine conversation going on around that conversation (the G8 summit, for example). In other instances, this happens:
That was a quick search for man of the moment Andy Murray (#andymurray). There, we see three brands capitalising on Murray’s victory. Nothing wrong with that at all. But scroll down further, and you see even more brands doing exactly the same thing. Companies appear to be very pleased for Andy, but there’s precious little in the way of actual users.
Compare and contrast to Twitter:
The odd brand, certainly, but most of the conversation here is being driven by users who want to actually talk about Andy Murray, rather than riding on his coattails to garner likes, shares and retweets.
The reason for this is the fundamental differences in the way people use Facebook and Twitter. On Twitter, people are much more willing to engage in conversation with ‘strangers’. Facebook, however, is a much more closed shop, with most users only tending to ‘friend’ and interact with those they already know and the odd brand.
This difference comes down to the fact that on Twitter, a user only presents their voice to the world. On Facebook, however, the average profile will feature photos, job titles, relationship statuses, family links and all kinds of personal information that people rightfully feel uncomfortable about sharing with others.
For Facebook hashtags to truly work, this user mindset needs to shift. Unfortunately, there’s no telling who is going to instigate this shift. Facebook, for their part, seem to have introduced hashtags reasonably quietly. There remains the possibility that the average user might not even realise that they can use hashtags.
There’s also the question of whether Facebook users even want to change their behaviour. When I asked a few people on my personal Facebook profile what they thought of the introduction of hashtags, a few were bewildered, some were indifferent and one didn’t even know what hashtags were. A small sample for sure but could it be indicative of a wider trend?
So Facebook hashtags are completely useless until users fully take them to their heart then. Well, not quite. There still remains the possibility that, despite what appears to be a small amount of users using hashtags at the moment, a larger number of users are actually monitoring hashtags for interesting content.
It’s a bit of a long shot, considering that following the average hashtag at the moment would be akin to plugging into a streaming ad network, but there is a possibility, especially for breaking news events.
For the most part, though, it seems like Facebook hashtags are very much a hit or miss venture at the moment. There’s no reason not to use them – after all, it’s free advertising and you could potentially reach users beyond your own page. But at the same time, don’t expect massive returns. At least not yet, anyway.