Facebook just made a move that may have some asking, "What took you so long?" Following in the footsteps of Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, the social networking giant has incorporated live hashtags into the mix. In other words, hashtags like #nbafinals will be clickable.
"Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them," Facebook's Greg Lindley wrote in a blog post. "Whether it's talking about a favorite television show, cheering on a hometown sports team or engaging with friends during a breaking news event -- people on Facebook connect with their friends about what's taking place all over the world."
Clickable hashtags aim to help Facebook users do just that. This is somewhat of a conversation-starting breakthrough that should drive deeper engagement on the site, given that until now there has not been a simple way to see the larger view of what's happening or what people are talking about on Facebook.
For example, Lindley pointed out that during primetime television alone, there are 88 million to 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook. That's roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every night.
And the recent 'Red Wedding' episode of Game of Thrones received more than 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, he continued, representing a significant portion of the 5.2 million people who watched the show. Finally, he said, this year's Oscars buzz reached an all-time high on Facebook with more than 66.5 million interactions, including likes, comments and posts.
"To bring these conversations more to the forefront, we will be rolling out a series of features that surface some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people, and topics," Lindley said. The clickable hashtags let you add context to a post or indicate that it is part of a larger discussion. Many Facebook users are already putting hashtags in their posts and connecting directly to Twitter. Now, those hashtags will be even more useful
Hashing Out Hashtags
Here's how it works: When you click on a hashtag in Facebook, you'll see a feed of what other people and Pages are saying about that event or topic. You can search for a specific hashtag from your search bar, such as #NBAFinals. You can click on hashtags that originate on other services, such as Instagram. And you can compose posts directly from the hashtag feed and search results. Facebook was quick to point out that users control the audience for their posts.
We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the clickable hashtags move and why it took Facebook so long to head in this direction. He told us it's not entirely clear why it took them so long. However, he added, they had to build some additional functionality so that users could tap into the "hashtag feed" for a particular topic.
"This gives Facebook a way to access the new and growing phenomenon of brands using hashtags with advertising, especially TV campaigns. While hashtags are also used on Google+ and Instagram, they're still predominantly associated with Twitter," Sterling said. "We'll have to wait and see whether Facebook users like and adopt hashtags en masse."