Social Advocacy & Politics: Why Facebook Hashtags Matter for Political Campaigns

DrDigipol
Alan Rosenblatt Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy, turner4D

Posted on June 25th 2013

Social Advocacy & Politics: Why Facebook Hashtags Matter for Political Campaigns

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Facebook has always sucked for advocacy and politics. Sure, we use it, but it is because we have to. Face it, 240-plus million Americans are on Facebook and good campaign organizers go to the people. But Facebook has never made it easy for us. Until now; until Facebook hashtags.

ImageFacebook has been a challenge for campaigns because, aside from its far too frequently changing user interface, it is built around the act of people connecting with people they know. For example, if you try to friend people you don’t know and they complain, Facebook will suspend your ability to friend anyone. And pages can’t reach out and friend new fans. Only personal profiles can do that.

Twitter, on the other hand is about connecting with people AND connecting with conversations about topics. That’s what hashtags are all about. In fact, hashtags were organically created by Twitter users to tag conversation topics (or issues, in the parlance of campaigns) with hashtagged keywords. Twitter noticed that we were doing this and turned our hashtags into hyperlinks to launch search queries of that keyword.

Being able to follow topics, or issues, regardless of whether we follow the people discussing them, is why Twitter is much better for expanding a campaign’s outreach opportunities. Sure, Facebook is great to organize people online and offline AFTER you make a connection, but Twitter has always been better at reaching new people.

With the new Facebook hashtag, though, that can all change. Assuming Facebook users embrace the new hashtag by clicking through to check out the conversations they link to, Facebook outreach can now be expansive, like Twitter (but to more people).

And unlike Twitter, where hashtags consume precious characters, Facebook allows for much longer posts. Instead of distracting your audience with a string of tags at the end of your tweet, on a Facebook wall post you can skip a few lines and list the hashtags footnote style. This makes your posts more likely to be found by interested strangers. 

If you have a high-profile keyword in your post, you can make it a hashtag, spurring readers to click through to your broader issue conversation. With hashtags, Facebook becomes a vast, fluid network; where your extended, adjacent and far-off networks are now reachable.

So don’t let people denigrate hashtags. Sure they can be annoyingly used, but so can Gatoraid if you’re a winning football coach. But when used intellegently, hashtags, like Gatoraid, can bring your game to a whole new level.

To reduce this to an all too familiar meme, “Facebook can haz hashtagz.”

It’s about time.

Really. 

Social Advocacy & Politics is a weekly, exclusive column for Social Media Today by Alan Rosenblatt that explores the intersection of politics and social media. Look for the next installment next Tuesday morning.

DrDigipol

Alan Rosenblatt

Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy, turner4D

Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D. is a social media and online advocacy strategist, professor & thought leader. He is Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at turner 4D (formerly Turner Strategies), the co-founder and host of the Internet Advocacy Roundtable; and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins, American, (Georgetown and Gonzaga Universities), where he teaches courses on internet politics. He was Associate Director for Online Advocacy at the Center for American Progress/CAP Action Fund from 2007-2013, where he created and directed the Center’s social media program, as well as Ombudsmen and co-founder at Take Action News. Alan taught the world’s first internet politics course ever at George Mason University in 1995. He founded the Internet Advocacy Roundtable in 2005; blogs at SocialMediaToday.com, Connectivity.CQRollCall.com, DrDigipol.Tumblr.com and occasionally/previously at BigThink.com, HuffingtonPost.com, techPresident.com; serves on E-Democracy.org’s board of directors and Social Media Today’s Advisory Board; In 2008, he was a fellow at George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet; and is a co-founder of  MediaBureau.com.  Alan has a Ph.D. in Political Science from American University, an M.A. in Political Science from Boston College and a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from Tufts University. Find him on Twitter and across social media at @DrDigiPol.

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Comments

Simplisso_NL
Posted on June 25th 2013 at 5:52AM

Very interesting thoughts, that raise many questions.

How will people adopt hashtags. Will facebook allow users to set privacy settings for hashtags?

I often use hashtags in my posts on facebook, bearing in mind that only my friends can see my posts. Will in the future everyone be able to see my hashtagged posts? I don't think I'd appreciate that.

DrDigipol
Posted on June 25th 2013 at 12:24PM

I suspect Facebook users who also use Twitter will start immediately using hashtags. That is enough people to create a critical mass pretty quickly.

As for privacy settings, the whole point of hashtags is to reach new audiences. Using them is pretty much anti-thetical to private posts.

Prior use of hahtags did not crete links to hashtag conversations. So they were no different than just using keywords... In other words, your use of # before now added no functional value to your posts. If you want to continue using keywords the way you did in the past, just omit the # from them.

MikeWilson718
Posted on June 25th 2013 at 12:54PM

I think the fact the Facebook is implementing hashtags is a big step forward for the site. Before, it was difficult to find relevant posts on topics or places that you were interested in. Now with the hashtags, it has been making it easier for people to find posts they want to read. This will be great for advertisers since, just like Twitter, they can use relevant hashtags to find their target audience or find some new clientele. I am wondering about the privacy of this too. Will other Facebook users be able to see a hashtag you used because if you have a private Twitter account, other users won't be able to see your tweets unless you allowed them to follow you. I would just assume it is the same case for Facebook.

DrDigipol
Posted on June 25th 2013 at 2:17PM

The more I think about the mechanics of this, the more I suspect the Facebook privacy features will work with hashtags. It seems that if you designate a post as friends only, then it should not show up in the hashtag stream for non-friends.


That said, I tend to see hashtags as a great way to reach non-friends, hence my comment eralier.


I hope Facebook will clarify this. I have reached out to a contact there to ask her to answer here. Hopefully she will. :-)

Katie Harbath
Posted on June 25th 2013 at 2:14PM

Hi it's Katie from the Facebook DC office. Use of hashtags on Facebook does not change the privacy settings a user set. So, as always, you control the audience for your posts, including those with hashtags. You can see more info here: http://newsroom.fb.com/News/633/Public-Conversations-on-Facebook

DrDigipol
Posted on June 26th 2013 at 11:33AM

Thanks for this information Katie. I am sure Facebook users will be happy to know that they can use hashtags AND preserve their privacy settings.

JoshuaJLight
Posted on October 3rd 2013 at 4:42PM

Alan,

Nicely written article.  You're dead on regarding Twitter being a great tool for reaching new people.  It's amazing how you can literally reach out to anyone on Twitter.  

When hashtags were introduced on Facebook I wasn't really excited about it because it seemed like a contradictory move for the social network due to it not being inherently open (like Twitter).  To me as a user...I've always felt like Facebook was more of a personal network.  

Facebook has been acting strange over the past couple of years.  They have a frustrating development system. The network is constantly changing their API and they don't do a very good job at informing coders regarding it.  This leads to a lot of developers building applications that quickly become useless.  Worse yet...Facebook has recently been developing applications that directly compete with 3rd party developers.  Their whole strategy tends to discourage developers from investing time into building meaningful applications for the platform (much like a volatile inflation rate discourages investors from pouring money into developing countries).  It's almost like the developers at Facebook are running wild and the company lacks any real direction.

Though the move to include hashtags to compete with Twitter was probably strategic...to me it just seems like Facebook is deviating away from what it's really good at (personal connections).  

Great post and looking forward to more of your content,

Josh