Today is the big day! Hashtags are rolling out to Facebook! So say all the headlines across the web. It’s an exciting concept, to be sure. Facebook is one of the social networks that has held out the longest on enabling support for hashtags. I’m not sure why, honestly, since hashtags are a really great tool. Why are they such a great tool?
What Are Hashtags?
Hashtags are a way that you can create links between content that wouldn’t otherwise be linked. Let’s say that you like to read #GreatBooks. Hey, so do I! If we both used the hashtag #GreatBooks in our posts, we would then be able to find each other by clicking on the link and reading other posts that people have made with the hashtag #GreatBooks.
So, hashtags are really about discovery. They help you discover who’s talking about what and how they are talking about it. Hashtags are great for finding like-minded or not-so-like-minded people. How cool would it be to find people who also like to talk about #HorseRiding or #GreatBooks, if those are your interests? But, will they want to talk to you? My thoughts are…not on Facebook.
Facebook Is Insular
Let me explain. Facebook is very insular. How many of us actually connect with people on Facebook that we don’t know in real life? Not a lot, I’d wager. I do, but only in certain cases. For some reason, on Facebook, it just feels wrong. Maybe that’s because most of us were introduced to Facebook by receiving an invitation from our friends or family. When we balked, they would explain, “Facebook’s a really great place to connect with your friends and family.” They don’t explain, “Facebook’s a really great place to connect with anyone.” And it’s true. Just look at how hard it is to find someone you don’t know through search. It’s pretty difficult sometimes.
Facebook’s isolationist view is really in it’s very DNA. Even in their advertising, they don’t talk about how you can “find interesting people using Facebook”. You can see an example of this on their front page where there push is to “connect with friends and the world around you on Facebook”. So, we’ve been programmed to think of Facebook in this way.
Hashtags Could Change All That
But hashtags could change all that. We could end up making connections far outside our own social circles. Which could be a very good thing. I for one, adore the ability to do this on Twitter and Google+. It has led to many connections that I wouldn’t otherwise make. It could be a very good thing for Facebook that they’re implementing this. But it means change, and not just an acceptance of the new feature, but a change in the very way we use Facebook.
Yes, we like things that our friend’s friends comment on, but does that mean we want to be friends with them? Not likely. However, for hashtags to really take off on Facebook, we will need to change that mentality. We will need to be open to requesting friends that are outside of our own social circles and “the world around us”, and be open to accepting those same type of requests.
Can We Change?
Maybe. Maybe we can get out of our own little worlds on Facebook. But it will take time. I, for one, am skeptical of how wide this new feature will be used. Or, at least, used to it’s fullest extent.
Will Anyone Use It?
Here’s how hashtags will work on Facebook. They will only show content that is public or shared within your own connections (that you have access to see). This is really no different than how they work on Twitter or Google+, but in the case of Facebook it is more limiting. The reason is that not everyone’s posts are public. In fact, I have multiple friends that only post things that can be seen by their friends. I suspect that you do too. That is not necessarily the norm on other social networks. So, how effective will hashtags be in this environment?
Then there’s the question: will anyone use it? Yes, it’s not that hard to click on a linked hashtag to find out more, but will people really understand what they’re looking at or be open to reading things by people they don’t know. Also, Facebook has a long history of releasing features that are only used by those of us who are considered “social media savvy”.
Oh, and one more thing. Facebook also releases features in stages. In other words, not everyone gets the feature at the same time. There is a lot of buzz today about how Facebook is supporting hashtags. That doesn’t mean that I can click on them now. In point of fact, I can’t. It could be weeks before every user on Facebook gets them (this being their normal method of rolling out a new feature). So, a lot of the hype around them will probably die down before they reach everyone. Less hype = less knowledge = less use.
Hashtags could be one of the best things that ever happened to Facebook, or it could really bomb. Remember video chatting on Facebook? Sure you don’t. Nobody really uses that feature, and it was one of the most talked-about features released at the big f8 conference 2 years ago.
So, I for one, am skeptical.