29 January 2014

Facebook Hashtags: Marketing Potential and Privacy Issues

Facebook Hashtags

Facebook Hashtags

Facebook announced its intention to introduce Twitter like hashtags in June 2013. However it was not immediately clear what advantage these would have for marketers who make use of the social media platform. The announcement was accompanied by little in the way of information, except that in the short term there would be no hashtag related advertising. Essentially Facebook hashtags have the potential to be far greater than those used on Twitter. However in order to be successful it is clear that a level of consumer education is required.

Privacy issues:

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the launch was whether it was a step too far expecting users of the platform to make their Facebook Hashtags related statuses public. It is largely unclear how many of the platforms users choose to make their statuses public. However a study conducted by Consumer Reports in 2012 found that approximately 28% of users choose to make all of their posts public. This is where Facebook differs from Twitter. On Twitter all posts are public by default, whereas Facebook is private by default.

Therefore in order for Facebook Hashtags to truly catch on and deliver its full marketing potential marketers need to convince users of the platform to make their statuses public. An American cable network did this in the summer of 2013, when it encouraged viewers of the BET Awards to use Facebook Hashtags. The network deployed screen prompts. An example of one of these screen prompts read as follows, “#BETAWARDS. Set your posts to “public”. Chat with us and the world about the show.”

It is likely that over time Facebook will offer their users a list of trends which will alert the platforms users to real time discussions. However in order to be able to do this Facebook will have to persuade a substantial number of users to make their posts public. If Facebook is successful in this it will enable the platform to monetize hashtags through a Facebook equivalent of Twitter’s Promoted Trends.

The way in which Facebook catalogues hashtag based discussions looks set to be a potential limitation. Currently on Twitter any post which features a hashtag will be displayed in a search for that hashtag. On Facebook however it is only status updates which will appear in hashtag searches. Due to this, Twitter’s hashtag searches currently provide much richer results than those conducted on Facebook.

Some marketers argue that hashtags do not need to be public in order to be successful. SVP and group client director at MediaVest, Yolanda Lam, stated in an interview with Mashable, “If I liked a brand two years ago that doesn’t necessarily mean something. If however I took the time to [participate in a] hashtag, this is more real-time.”

Adding hashtags to the targeting arsenal, which includes demographic and interest targeting, Facebook is enabling advertising companies to produce much more relevant advertisements for their target audience. Additionally Facebook’s massive 1.1 billion user base provides brands with an excellent means of distributing their hashtag campaigns.

Do Facebook Hashtags drive engagement?

Back to the previously used example of the BET Awards. The director of social media for BET, JP Lespinasse stated in an interview with Mashable that he was “happy” with the results his channel achieved in persuading viewers to contribute in hashtag based discussions about the NET Awards. From a numerical point the net channel saw over 9.3 million interactions on the platform about the NET Awards.

A key factor which sways in Facebook’s favour is the length of interactions which occur on the platform. As Facebook has no character limitation, posts could hypothetically provide more insightful data about themselves. Contrary to this view, Lisa Pomerantz, Michael Kors’ SVP of global communications and marketing, has stated that longer posts have not yielded greater information as of yet. “We’re more focused on what the sentiment is quite frankly,” she stated. She further explained that in her experience, sentiment can be ascertained in a few words. Michael Kors’ have been quick to take advantage of the Facebook hashtag. Over the last few months they have run several Facebook hashtag based campaigns, one of which was the #WhatsInYourKors campaign. This campaign aimed to encourage owners of their handbags to discuss the items which they carried in their bags.

Do Facebook Hashtags have the potential to be bigger than those on Twitter?

Currently many marketers are viewing Facebook hashtags as another component to hashtag based discussions. Many argue that until Facebook develops its program further their hashtags will continue to play an auxiliary role, supporting the “real conversation” which is occurring on Twitter.

Gerald Crichlow, Droga5’s director of social media strategy, said in an interview with Mashable, “It’s going to take a while for people to get into the habit of using Facebook hashtags, but for brands that do adopt it, it can be a powerful search tool for organizing information, targeting new audiences, and being part of larger conversations. Shame though that it doesn’t collect public posts like Twitter does. Such a miss.”

However not everyone agrees with Crichlow’s opinion. There are some who believe that due to Facebook’s colossal following the platform could in time become the industry standardiser of hashtags. To demonstrate, in December 2012 Twitter revealed it had a total following amounting to 200 million active users. In comparison Facebook would only need to persuade 30% of its total users to go public with their hashtag related statuses in order to outnumber Twitter’s output. Additionally some believe that Facebook hashtags have the potential to change the nature of hashtag based conversations.

An example of where Facebook has taken the lead is in the discussion following the “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones. Most of the Facebook discussion surrounding this episode occurred two days after it had been initially aired. When the mentions and discussions about this episode were compared on the two platforms Facebook came out above. On Twitter there were only 367,000 mentions of “Red Wedding”, whereas on Facebook there were 674,242 fans of the Game of Thrones Facebook page discussing it. Furthermore this was without hashtags. Ultimately due to the platforms huge following Facebook hashtags look set to add a whole new scale to the level of involvement in hashtag discussions and their general usage.