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.
Facebook 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.
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.