Monday, September 9, 2013

Facebook and Hashtags: #NotMeanToBe

In a few presentations that we've done on social media, I've thrown out one of my social media pet peeves of people using hashtags on Facebook even though they did nothing for them.

Then Facebook did their best to disparage my words by making hashtags work in the same way they do for Twitter.

Thanks, Facebook. I know you're really into this hashtag thing...

As it now appears thanks to a little digging by the team at Edge Rank Checker, I may not have to eat my words. 

To summarize: Posts with hashtags have less reach than those without them. 

Maybe it's just hashtag fatigue and Twitter is experiencing a similar problem? 

So there goes that. 

So what went wrong? Facebook has taken elements from other social media sites and been successful, after all. They took MySpace "profiles" and turned it into a "Wall." They butchered most other forms of instant messaging by including it on their platform (when was the last time you used AIM?). They've incorporated ads and business pages into their overall system without alienating a significant number of people and experiencing a MySpace-esque fall from grace.

So what went wrong with hashtags? 

Maybe it's too soon to declare the hashtag experiment dead, but seeing as many people would agree they didn't have any place on Facebook to begin with, let's ponder this. 

1) Facebook did nothing to improve the hashtag experience. 
Even when Facebook has borrowed an idea from another platform, it typically at least tries to improve on it. Hashtag use on Facebook is no different from what it is on Twitter. And Twitter is already becoming more popular than Facebook. 

2) Facebook's been around to long to add an idea that isn't their own. 
When Facebook was the new kid on the block, it was easier for it to take ideas from other people and incorporate them into their strategy. 9 years and one IPO later, it's getting a little too old for that...well, you know. Twitter's been around since 2006 and the word hashtag has always been synonymous with people even thinking about Twitter. With increased awareness of both sites, people are going to be a little more wary of Facebook trying to take something from Twitter. 

3) Most people who use Facebook heavily, also use Twitter heavily. 
There are so many options for every single thing you need in today's world, you don't need two things that do the exact same thing. You want what you use to fulfill a different need. You want Twitter for quick thoughts and hashtags. You want Facebook to dwell on and interact with a bit more. Facebook made the error of trying to keep up with the Jonses instead of just letting their thing be its own thing. 

Like I said, it might be too early to dance on the grave of Facebook hashtags just yet. Facebook isn't a company known for admitting its mistakes (hi, privacy issues) so I wouldn't even expect their functionality on Facebook to ever go away. I would caution against brands using Facebook hashtags. Because, at this point, they don't really seem to be doing much. Just get on Twitter, improve your SEO in the process, and hashtag away in 140 characters or less. Your consumers will appreciate it. 

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