Facebook is shifting into territory occupied by networks like Twitter and Instagram with the re-introduction of a chronological newsfeed and hashtags.
The WSJ reported this last week Facebook is moving to allow users to engage around topics by using a hashtag field in status updates, that would (presumably) be viewable openly by Facebook's 1 billion users.
When Facebook introduces the hashtag, it will transform the way people use the platform and, importantly for marketers, the way users engage with brands. The implications of this change have yet to be deeply explored by social media markers. It remains to be seen how open the hashtag network will be, but a Facebook with hashtags could have major implications for how brand marketers work with Facebook.
Previously, brands were only alerted to mentions of their brand name either via users commenting on brand pages or tagging brands in status updates (only users with public settings). Now, conceivably, brands will be constantly tagged in millions of conversations via Facebook, meaning not only will brand marketers have access to many times the volume of data currently available to do with what they want, they will also be able to encourage more real time conversation, and influence millions more conversations on social media.
Traditional vs. social marketing becomes more blurred
As Adweek notes, traditional media campaigns have ramped up efforts to encourage users to engage via hashtags on Twitter; now brand marketers will be able to encourage conversations on Facebook, introducing the hashtag to millions more users. Twitter is typically much less popular than Facebook, with approximately 400 million Twitter users versus an estimated 1 billion on Facebook.
Zuckerberg may have fallen in love with hashtags after the famous $1 billion buy out of Instagram in 2012, and as many of you would see in your feed, any friend sending Instagram content to Facebook usually carries a litany of useless hashtags on their update, links currently not clickable. However, many questions remain, as Facebook still has yet to officially confirm the move to hashtags, let alone how the new Facebook ecosystem will work.
What will Facebook hashtags mean for person-to-brand interaction?
Firstly, will brands be able to reply to users in the new Facebook hashtag stream? (Along with other users, as is the case with Twitter.) If the answer is yes, this will create a lot of extra work for those working with and on behalf of brands on Facebook.
Secondly, what does this mean for brand pages on Facebook: will the brand page fall in prominence, and if so, will that leave brands who have invested millions of dollars to build massive communities on Facebook worse off?
Alternatively, will brands on Facebook be able to have more user-brand conversations in real time? What implications could this have with brand marketers providing customer service via social media?
How do hashtags tie into the wider Facebook strategy?
It will be also interesting to see how Facebook's layout and newsfeed changes, along with Graph Search, all tie into the new, more open and flexible Facebook and what Mark Zuckerberg's strategy will be to sell more advertising. Will Facebook introduce 'sponsored hashtags' and trends, and move in on Twitter's lucrative 'native' ad products?
How will hashtags change user behaviour?
Also worth keeping an eye on is how these changes might discourage users away from the world's largest social network and toward other platforms. Will the introduction of hasthtags render Twitter irrelevant?
There is no doubt about it: Zuckerberg is making another big gamble with his NASDAQ-listed internet giant. The network's most interesting days are clearly still ahead.