On Wednesday, Facebook announced the slow roll out of Hashtag support. While the social media giant may be a little late to this particular party, the addition signifies three things: 1) Hashtags are definitely mainstream within the context of social media functionality; 2) end users might want to accept the notion that are about to be bombarded by # from peers and marketers alike; and, 3) it’s probably going to get ugly for a while.
When hashtags were born in 2007, the concept for usage was for a way to create “groups” on Twitter. Its usage quickly morphed into a way to convey humor, give context, reveal an interior dialog – almost like the metadata of communication, report on an event, be a part of a local, national, or global conversation, or add commentary to a trending topic while still keeping it to 140 characters.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— Chris Messina™ (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
It also provided the silent participant a way to stay involved via search and once marketers and brands realized that hashtags could be harnessed for promotion (sometimes with disastrous results) they became the industry standard on several sites including Instagram and Tumblr.
Thanks to Chris Messina’s open source approach, no one owns or can claim the rights to a hashtag (although the thought of what the legal battle would look/sound like during an infringement hearing over #YOLO does leave me giggling to myself). This is what helped make hashtags so prolific on every site where brevity counts. This is also what makes me think that on June 19, the average facebook timeline is going to look like a sea of tic-tac-toe boards.
Since the full implementation of hashtags on Facebook has not occurred yet, we are left to speculation. But if you think about how they are currently being used on Facebook (as cross-posts from Twitter, “ironic metadata,” prime examples of paralanguage, and sad farewells to the once cherished art of written communication) the only people who truly benefit from having this functionality added are event organizers (hashtags are great for live updates from fans and attendees at anything from concerts to conventions) advertisers, and Facebook.
My first thought when I heard the announcement was, “big ad buyers are going to start squatting on hashtags like keywords and drive up prices.” This will definitely make it harder for the small business with a few extra marketing dollars to gain some local traction (something I’ve always found Facebook ads to be particularly effective with) but Will Oremus at Slate saw an even more interesting opportunity – forcing the end user to refine its own data:
When you write a Facebook post today, it’s likely to contain all sorts of information that could be useful to the site, but it’s liable to be difficult for even a finely honed algorithm to categorize. For instance, when my old friends from my hometown are watching a football game, they’ll dash off a status update that just says, “Oh no!”, and I’ll know they’re talking about the interception that our quarterback just threw—but Facebook won’t. But if they do the same thing and add a hashtag, Facebook will understand that they’re Buckeye fans, and it can pass that information on to advertisers. It can also start to track for those advertisers how many Buckeye fans are posting about the game each Saturday, what events in the game draw the biggest flurry of updates, and more. [Slate]
Of course, there’s still one thing that trumps this kind of data mining and that’s Facebook’s privacy settings. Hashtags, designed to be searchable by nature, shouldn’t turn up in public searches if its author has not made the post public itself. Of course, with any new rollout on Facebook, it never hurts to double check your privacy settings if that kind of thing concerns you. Some rollouts in the past have caused default settings to change.
Regardless of what the speculated potential boon to advertisers may be; just remember, #they’ll #have #to #wade #through #all #the #senseless #overhashtagged #and #runonsentencehashtags #first. And there are going to be a lot of those. 😉