Facebook has had a very busy summer.
From preparing the groundwork for a video ad service, to pushing the Facebook hashtag, the social juggernaut has been trying to convince advertisers and investors that the platform is a hotbed of viral activity, not just the world’s biggest directory of human beings.
To Facebook’s credit, it seems to be winning the battle on Wall Street, with the stock trading over 30% above its flotation price after a disastrous IPO.
However, one battle it will not win is the social television battle against Twitter.
We have talked about the coming age of Twittervision in these pages before. The self-dubbed ‘Global Town Square’ is well known for being the place to be when news is breaking or when events are taking place.
With users craving real-time interactions and advertisers waiting in the wings to cash in on the opportunities, Facebook made bold moves to enter the fray. As documented in Econsultancy’s Facebook Marketing Trends Briefing, June saw Facebook launch hashtags, making it easier for users to have contextual conversations.
On top of that, Facebook also released two APIs to selected media outlets, giving them access to demographic data from the entire Facebook population and specific posts from public profiles based on keyword searches.
It also chose to show off just how much people talk about TV on Facebook:
However, even those lofty numbers are not enough to take on Twitter in the social TV battles. Here is why…
1. Branded content dominates Facebook contextual searches
For a platform that wants users to get involved in broader conversations, it doesn’t show a lot of user content. A search for #XFactor on Facebook at the beginning of last Sunday’s show gave me this:
Why I got results for X Factor US, only Facebook knows. Clearly this is all branded content.
On the other hand, when searching for #XFactor on Twitter, I got this:
The branded nature of the most prominent Facebook posts when searching for terms means I’m really looking at mini PR statements. But in the heat of my favourite TV show, I’m not looking for PR, I’m looking for reactions, things I can agree and disagree with.
As a user, that is more than likely going to come from Twitter.
2. Hashtags don’t work on Facebook
The early days of Facebook hashtags have not produced promising results either. Instead of improving the viral reach of posts, Facebook posts with hashtags have actually reached less users.
Research by EdgeRank Checker discussed in Econsultancy’s Facebook Marketing Trends briefing show that not only do the hashtags create no additional exposure; they have a negative effect on virality.
It is not initially clear why this is this is the case. EdgeRank Checker suggests the cause for this is due to only being able to use data from public (brand) pages, who misuse hashtags by mainly using them for promotional material.
Whether this is the case or not, the fact that a post on Facebook is less likely to be seen by others if it contains a hashtag is worrying for a platform attempting to join together segregated conversations.
3. Facebook needs more speed
As the evening went on, I signed back on to Facebook to see what people had to say about X Factor. Here is what Facebook showed me at 20:13 when I searched for #XFactor after a Gary Barlow cliffhanger:
And here are the search results after the judges had picked their final six at 20:56:
The only thing that has changed on the Facebook feed is the number of likes the X Factor USA post received.
The very premise of contextual conversation is that the platform facilitates discussion among users around a TV show, event or anything else.
At this stage, it doesn’t appear Facebook do this. They may have several people talking about the same thing at the same time, but they are not part of a conversation. They are merely talking to the friends they have permitted to enter their digital diary.
So what does Facebook need to do to truly get into the social conversation? Or is Facebook’s approach to using hashtags sufficient for maximising their commerical opportunities? Let me know what you think in the comments.
For more Facebook insights and trends, download a free copy of Econsultancy’s Facebook Marketing Trends Briefing.