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Facebook hashtags - #shouldIcare?

June 14, 2013

As of Wednesday Facebook begun rolling out hashtags to selected users (with all users getting the feature within the next couple of weeks). We wanted to try and get behind the curtains and talk about what this feature means for the users and for Facebook’s business model. So we sat down with two experts in Social Media and Analytics with very different point of views on Facebook’s announcement.

Marie Wallace is an Analytics Product Manager & Strategist at IBM working in the intersection of Analytics and Workforce Engagement in a Social Business.

Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz is an Associate Partner at IBM working within the fields of Smarter Commerce and Marketing.

Q1: So as you are already familiar with, Facebook launched a hashtag-feature this week and are now rolling it out globally. What was your initial reaction on the announcement when you heard about it?

Marie: My initial reaction was “why has it taken them so long?” With the growing volumes of social media content, it’s impossible to find anything. Hence the growing focus on improving the discovery process through the knowledge graph (ala Google) and the social graph (ala Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Facebook is clearly trying to layer some semantics onto the social data that they currently have so they can improve their search experience. This also clearly improves their ad targeting and any subsequent analytics they may run on their graph in order to better profile people.

Cristene: Drat. That was actually my first reaction.  Coupled with “oh no…” See, I have three distinct viewpoints here.

  1. I am a lazy hashtagger.  Okay, maybe lazy is the wrong word.  I basically am not a hashtagger unless it’s #EPICFAIL or #whydoIcare?  There are lovely and wonderful people who are completely dedicated to making their content findable in this way. I appreciate and applaud their efforts.  I am – and I suspect I am part of the majority – simply not into making sure it happens.
  2. I believe in letting the meta-data do the talking. Such systems exists that can detect content and context and I am all for letting the algorithms do the heavy lifting and help guide me.
  3. Hashtags in and of themselves are fraught with potential problems. Spelling errors, spaces, underlines, etc. Getting it right means not simply consistency, but also that the users can derive and apply the right meaning in a natural and simple way. For instance, consider customer experience – that’s a lot of characters to waste.  So you want to shorten it.  Is it CE?  Is it CX?  Is it Cust_Exp? Can the system use CustExp, Cust_exp and recognize that CsutExp is intended to be the same thing and bucket appropriately? 

So, my basic comment is, let the data do the talking.  The value-add is minimal.  I realize this is controversial. I believe each user does it a little differently and that’s the beauty and beast of it. 

Q2: Where do you see the value from a user perspective with such a feature?

Marie: Well, on the one hand, it’s likely to improve the searchability of information, and on the other hand it’s likely to increase the amount of targeted advertising that people get. It’s the familiar double-edged sword of social media and analytics.

Cristene: For those disciplined delightful folks who do this, they get a nice ability to index and scan content. The problem however exists if the majority is not willing to do this or fail to do it consistently.

Q3: How do you think Facebook could potentially utilize hashtags in their business model?

Marie: The obvious areas are in improving search, ad targeting, graph search & navigation, and potentially other analytics-driven services. For example; applications running on the Facebook platform could be more context-aware by knowing more about people’s topics of interest.

Cristene: I am sure this is another way to create more ads and potentially more targeted ads. Even if it’s better Facebook advertising, it’s still getting dreadfully invasive. So much so that it is significantly detracting from platform value.  The value of innovation is in mutual value. I defined innovation in this way: The application of a new idea, method, device or construct;

  • That delivers shared value to those who create and the consumers who use it;
  • Not based on an instance but offers some level of sustainability over a period of time. It has some durability; (In other words, it’s not a feature)
  • Not invention – but its application to solving a particular problem or enabling a new use or increased insight that the consumer now has;
  • Disrupts the current way of doing things sufficiently to create new categories, markets, products and interactions

In this way, I do not think what Facebook is doing delivers innovation, and I do not think it adds a mutual value. It may be good for them on some temporary front, but long term, I suspect it will cause more platform alienation, driving users away, which decreases the value to Facebook and the advertisers, which in essence, ends up as #EPICFFAIL.

 These are just two opinions, but tell us, what do you think of hashtags being added to Facebook?