The hashtag

Innocuous little fellow the hash symbol, I’ve always looked at it as a slightly drunk noughts and crossess grid.

It’s been around for ages and started life as a symbol representing “number” (or “Pound sign” if you’re US based). It then found its niche in communications and ended up with its own dedicated button on a telephone keypad.

As communications became widespread, it was promoted to gatekeeper. You have to press it to gain entry into conference calls, and it’s probably become the most touched button on telephone.

Then most computer keyboards gave it a place, but not all, reading between the lines, I’m not enitrely sure if hash gets on with Apple. They haven’t given it its own key, in fact it’s not even sharing a button. You just have to know it’s hiding behind Alt 3, and then you find #. 

Twitter hashtags

Anyway, as we know, a few years ago Twitter turned it social, and gave it the suffix “tag”, the hashtag. It became the symbol, or anchor, of conversation topics.

In fact Twitter describes it as the thing which can “Instantly connect to what’s most important to you“. A nice description, as it also embeds the other key element associated with it, that being time.

It’s instant, if you want to know what is being said right now about anything, find the hashtag and you’re “in the know”. The hash has done very well for itself, and is always riding the zeitgeist, it’s always in vogue, it’s trendy. In fact it’s the prefix of any subject that is trending on Twitter.

Twitter also enables marketers to promote hashtags. This provides visibility of a “manufactured”hashtag in the Trends list for anyone to see, and it get’s its own ‘promoted’ badge too.

As well as this, businesses can promote specific tweets within a hashtag stream, and this will appear at the top of the list for a specific given period. Done well, this can bring relevant information to the attention of those interested in very specific topics.

And of course collect an enormous amount of behavioural data of who follows which hashtags, which Twitter accounts etc. It is a live behavioural targeting beast, always current. Twitter have owned this real-time instantaneuosness [good word].

Facebook hashtags

Until very recently, that is. Facebook has now introduced Hashtags too. Yet another promotion for the Hash. I hope it’s doing well out of all this.

On the desktop version of Facebook, you can enter #[your topic of choice] into the search box and a new set of results appear: real time results. I haven’t seen this functionality added to the mobile app as yet, but it will arrive soon.

This is not just another one of those small additions though, this will change the face of Facebook (no pun intended).

How so? Well here are some points to consider:

  • Facebook just became real-time, in the same way as Twitter. 
  • Facebook’s open graph objects (the things we have in our profile about likes and interests) get dusty. In fact, who can remember all the things they’ve liked? These have been used for targeting purposes and advertising. They work if still relevant, but as time passes, these objects may become less relevant for people.
  • The hashtag solves this. This adds a whole new, live element of the social graph. Meaning the Facebook experience can be enhanced and become more timely, more relevant.
  • Facebook, once hashtags are live on mobile devices, can start to beocome the second screen alternative to TV and Twitter….for those who don’t use Twitter.
  • Facebook hashtags, in the same way as Twitter, will be promoted and sponsored, with the addition of more timely and relevant targeting. i.e. a combination of hashtag, open graph and demographic. 

If the hashtag functionality is rolled out in a well thought through manner, this could be a means to get people’s focus back, and strike a better balance with marketers’ needs. Maybe re-kindle some of its mojo…if I dare say that.