If Facebook were a friend of mine, he’d be the ‘one-upper.’ Facebook would be the guy who always has to be bigger and better than me and every other person he meets, although I honestly don’t think our friendship would last very long. Facebook’s most recent one-up in the social media industry is its official launch of hashtags. Hashtags, a feature that originated on Twitter, has become so engrained in modern culture that it not only appears all over the web, but is also daily slang for many young people. Facebook’s integration of hashtags will allow users to share interests and browse Facebook through additional streams with a narrower breadth of content. The clickable hashtags will lead to pages with posts shared with the public and those your friends have shared with you, an adaptation stemming from Facebook’s more complex privacy controls.
The public forums that hashtags create on Twitter have aided businesses in both expanding and getting off the ground. The ability to hone in on larger discussions surrounding a particular product, brand or event heightens publicity and gives the companies both a consumer base and potential for feedback, which is why many companies use Twitter extensively. Twitter makes large profits from promoted trends, but Facebook’s introduction of hashtags is not all about revenue, at least not at the start.
Advertisers aren’t immediately able to target users that post about certain events or shows, and unlike on Twitter, they aren’t able to sponsor hashtags either. Whether or not these advertisement limitations will remain is still unanswered, which leads to another facet of the purpose of Facebook’s hashtags. In March 2013, Facebook introduced Graph Search, a search engine designed to answer questions posed in natural language rather than just providing a collection of links to keywords. In the vein of Facebook’s introduction of new features, Graph Search is undergoing a slow expansion process and is still not available to all users.
Many speculate that Facebook’s implementation of hashtags will be an integral part of Graph Search results, which are currently dependent on “likes” for denoting user interest. However, the flaws of a “like” as an indicator of interest has been well discussed: a Facebook user can “like” a page and then never visit it again. Results reliant on hashtags will be a better gauge of users’ ever-changing interests and engagements, more accurately informing you on, for example, which TV shows your friends are obsessed with at the moment, but also informing companies on up-to-date consumer opinions regarding their products, reputation, developments and more.
This launch has many calling Facebook a ‘copycat’, but who cares? Although this isn’t the first instance that Facebook is being called out on their lack of originality, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+ all added a hashtag feature to their site before Facebook did. The same name-calling occurred after Facebook implemented almost identical privacy and sharing controls as those on Google+. However, through applying features developed by competing social networks, Facebook has retained and expanded their user base and relevancy – and is being a copycat really so bad when it leads to profitable consequences?