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Facebook to Adopt the Hashtag?

All hail the hashtag!

You may have heard: hashtags aren’t just for Twitter anymore.

And you, like me, may have noticed their proliferation over the past several months — Instagram recognizes them, as does Pinterest and Google+. Flickr, in fact, has recently added hashtag functionality. They appear on everything from billboards, to television commercials, to news articles, to cola bottle labels — it truly seems that I can’t go anywhere, online and off, without seeing them anymore.

Their gaining traction across a variety of platforms proves that at some point, hashtags ceased being a way for people to aggregate and organize content on Twitter, and became a standardized way for people to aggregate and organize almost anything — at least on the Internet.

But there’s one place where hashtags haven’t been adopted, and it perhaps has the biggest reach of all. I’m talking about Facebook, of course.

But that may change, soon. Recent rumblings in the tech world have indicated that Facebook is currently working on incorporating them into its platform. Some analyses I’ve read online are setting it up as an epic battle pitting Facebook against Twitter. After all, they say, this isn’t the first time Facebook has adopted Twitter’s features — they’ve already added subscriber lists and “@” user tagging functionality.

But while it’s true that Twitter is increasingly a serious competitor for mobile and online advertising — and that hashtags are a key element of Twitter’s advertisers’ integrated marketing campaigns — I don’t buy that hashtags are the way for Facebook to effectively take Twitter down at the knees. For that to happen, hashtags would have to be a core proprietary element unique to Twitter, and an exclusive feature for Twitter users.

It’s not. Hashtags may have been “born” on Twitter, but Twitter didn’t invent the hashtag — its users did. And other platforms adopted it because their users wanted that functionality, not the other way around. After all, #CatsofInstagram wouldn’t exist if Instagrammers didn’t create and continue to use it alongside their cat photos.

What I’m saying is that no one would close their Twitter account just because Facebook finally trotted out the hashtags.

Still, even if incorporating hashtags doesn’t necessarily equate with Facebook stomping all over Twitter’s turf, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it. There are many benefits to Facebook diving into the world of hashtags, such as:

Discovering better-tailored content.

The framework is already there in Graph Search. Being able to search hashtags would prove a meaningful way to track conversations, interests, and trends. This functionality would really round out the data set with a whole new dimension.

Monitoring conversations.

No, not in a big-brother way, of course. But right now, it’s not easy for brands to get a handle on public opinion on Facebook. It’s one thing if a user posts a comment on the brand’s Facebook page, of course, but more often conversations about brands and individual products will happen on the user’s own Facebook page, among that user’s friends — a space that’s (rightfully) difficult to monitor. But using hashtags could change this; opening up a view that would allow brands to better track user sentiment — and keep tighter tabs on the competition, too.

Connecting with the right groups.

Hashtags would make it easier for Facebook users to seek out others with similar interests, it’s true. But using specific hashtags, like #SocialMediaMarketing, would enable users to more quickly find the groups and sub-groups they’re looking for, and participate in them.

Joining chats.

Right now chats can occur on a particular user or fan page, but being able to organize chats around certain hashtags would open up the options more — and allow the chats to be viewed later, by others.

Will Facebook actually incorporate hashtags? I’m pretty sure it will happen, it’s just a matter of when. I’ll go ahead and predict later this year — we’ll see if I’m right.

What’s your take on hashtags? Do you use them?

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