You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the announcement earlier this week that Facebook will begin implementing the use of hashtags for personal profiles and brand Pages. Like all other Facebook updates, the new feature will be gradually rolled out to users over the next couple of weeks. Hashtags are certainly not a new phenomenon in the social media space. Basically every other major social media service — Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr — already support the functionality. Facebook, with it’s billion users, seems to have reached a point where it feels it cannot continue to hold out by being the only social network (as consumers consider it) or content marketing service (as marketers consider it) to not employ the use of the hashtag “to add context to a post or indicate that it is part of a larger discussion.”
While some users have already been using hashtags in their Facebook status updates and cross-platform posts from integrated social media services such as Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, until now the hashtags would not render as live or clickable. What I find interesting (but not all that surprising) is that there seems to be a great deal of negative sentiment from personal users around the implementation of Facebook hashtags. Personally, I’ve found that there are three main grumblings with the announcement, and I’m here to debunk those grievances.
Complaint #1: #HashtagsAreSoAnnoyingAndPointless #IDontEvenGetWhatTheyMean
I agree that people overuse and abuse the use of hashtags to the point that it can be annoying, but how is this different than any other cultural or technological phenomenon? I mean, email marketing campaigns are intrusive and irritating, but that doesn’t change the fact that email is still one of the most efficient methods of communicating for both personal and business purposes. I’m not going to completely abandon using email altogether just because some retailer somehow tricked me into giving them my email address and now they spam my inbox with offers and promotions several times a week. That’s ridiculous. Rather, if I really feel that bothered by said retailer, I will find the (albeit tiny and hidden) “unsubscribe” button which they legally have to include at the bottom of the marketing email and the problem will be solved. Remember, you have the right to de-friend people as well. Exercise that right, if need be.
Furthermore, if you exercise your ability to look beyond or ignore the plethora of random, self-serving and sometimes just outright stupid hashtags that people use and you do just a little bit of exploration, you may actually understand the true power of the hashtag as a folksonomic tool (yeah, look that word up). Like many other technological innovations, the story of how the practice of hashtagging words and phrases came about (first introduced on Twitter by Chris Messina) is actually extremely interesting, and it has, no doubt, completely revolutionized how we discover and consume content on the internet.
Complaint #2: “OMG?! This is such an invasion of my intensely personal usage of the world’s largest FREE SOCIAL network!”
This one should be self-explanatory. Everyone who complains about invasion of privacy and being inundated with targeted marketing and advertising on Facebook, remember this:
Facebook is, and (with 99.9% certainty) will always remain, FREE. Name one other product, service, digital platform or piece of technology that provides the breadth of personally tailored content, knowledge share, entertainment and social connection that Facebook does for over 1 billion people FOR FREE. Okay, fine… Google. I defy you to name another. And if you are that displeased with Facebook over hashtags, go use Google+. But guess what? Google+ uses hashtags too.
Facebook is the largest SOCIAL network in the world (and it bears repeating again, it’s completely FREE). What in the world would lead someone to believe that Facebook should afford them anything close to utter and complete privacy? By title and definition it is meant to be SOCIAL. Facebook has gone to great lengths to create customizable privacy settings and ensure that Facebook is a safe environment, but why should it go so far as to just give its users a completely privatized platform (again, FOR FREE). If that’s what you’re seeking, go use Path. But guess what? It was built by former Facebook folks, so don’t be surprised if it starts getting more Facebook-y at some point.
Complaint #3: Rabble, rabble, rabble… Hashtags should just stay on Twitter… Rabble, rabble, rabble…
Consider the following points:
In April, right around it’s 10th anniversary, LinkedIn announced the ability to @mention or tag someone’s name in a status update (much like on Facebook). Seems like an obvious feature-add; in fact, I can’t believe it took 10 years to implement.
In May, Google announced over 40 updates to it’s social networking platform Google+, the most noticeable of which was a very Pinterest-esque layout.
At the same time, Google stole a page out of Foursquare’s playbook when it announced major enhancements to the ubiquitous Google Maps which incorporates a social layer based on your Google account activity, ie: everything you do online, essentially. (See video here.)
Bottom line: Expansion in a crowded playground means reaching into each other’s sandboxes (h/t to digital marketing firm Where 2 Get It’s blog for that line). Facebook incorporating hashtags is not only expected, but if history is any indication, it will be just another step in pushing innovation in the social media space.
In conclusion, while this may have sounded like a personal rant at people who are not excited about the prospect of clickable hashtags showing up all over their Facebook News Feed, rather it was meant to be an explanation of this casual observation:
Those that are quickest to dismiss innovation - especially with technology - generally do so in a knee-jerk fashion without taking the time to truly gain an understanding of the implications (positive or negative) of the potential change. In time, those same people usually end up becoming core users.