Hashtag Facebook? Marketers Say Yes

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This post originally appeared on the Upriver Solutions blog.

Facebook has announced a lot of changes recently, from the introduction of Graph Search to core services updates like the new Timeline and News Feed, but the rumors continue to swirl about future enhancements. Earlier this month, TechCrunch reported that Facebook might allow users to use hashtags in posts. While Facebook hasn’t officially said that this is in the works, the online chatter shows that many marketers would love to see it happen.

Why? Because hashtags improve existing search functionality. For Facebook, this could help expand its new Graph Search to include data not only from likes, friends and location visits but also from specific content within individual posts.

The Humble #Hashtag

The metadata tag plays a very important role in the connection between digital content and web­crawling searching engines. It emphasizes that a term or topic is important to the content rather than simply appearing in it and that people searching for that term likely will want to read that post. And, as digital content has expanded from articles and blog posts to include social networks like Twitter and Facebook, the hashtag—a metadata tag that takes the form “#[term]” and is easy to use on many social networks—has become an increasingly important tool to keep in the digital marketing toolbox. It’s simple, but powerful.

Start #Conversations with Hashtags

More companies are beginning to use hashtags in very public ways, featuring them in high-­profile advertisements—say, on television during the Super Bowl or Academy Awards Ceremony—and inviting fans to include them in their conversations on social networks. For each 30­second ad buy, these brands are able to get thousands upon thousands of online mentions and, more importantly, to track those impressions immediately following the ad’s airing and in the hours and days that follow.

For large brands with the resources to to do a two­-screen campaign (i.e., on both television and computer/tablet/smartphone), this is a great use of hashtags. But what about for the rest of us?

Well, you don’t have to start the conversation on television. You can start it in your company’s monthly email newsletter to customers, on your restaurant’s menu board, or on your band’s T­shirt. Don’t just invite people to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and other networks. Give them a hashtag prompt to talk about! Use a campaign tagline (#ScienceOfFlyFishing), brand motto (#WhereWinnersFish), or just something fun and unique that will drum up conversation (#FavoriteFishingSpot).

Not only does a hashtag help you to connect with your fans on social networks, it also gives you an idea of how the people who interact with your brand via those other mediums—newsletters, menus, T­shirts—will interact with it online.

And don’t forget that even the big brands know that the power of hashtags—and perhaps of marketing in general—isn’t in the amount of money you spend but in how creatively you use the tools you have. Oreo spends a lot of money on commercials, but it made even more noise during this year’s Super Bowl by using the #blackout hashtag with some clever, swiftly made content.

Do Not #Abuse the Hashtag

The hashtag is a useful tool, but it’s also getting a lot of attention right now. “Seventy­-one percent of consumers say they post hashtags from their mobile devices,” according to RadiumOne VP Kamal Kaur. The downside of all this attention is that some people may abuse the hashtag. For instance, a lot of the spam on Twitter consists of hashtags taken from the network’s “trending topics” listings attached to junk links. You might be tempted to take advantage of these trending topics to promote your message (after all, they’re trending because they’re popular), but don’t try to hijack the conversation if you don’t have something valuable and relevant to add.

HowToHashtag.org currently lists “Don’t Use on Facebook” as one of its Hashtag Rules. If you’ve seen a hashtag on Facebook before now, that’s also been a form of hashtag abuse, because there’s no way to properly search for hashtags on Facebook. Of course, that all changes if Facebook adds hashtag functionality to enhance its Graph Search.

Here’s hoping it happens. Despite the opportunity for abuse, properly used hashtags would be good for Facebook, its users and marketers.