June 13, 2013, 11:35 AM

Facebook embraces hashtags

The symbol will help marketers do better targeting on the social network.

Lead Photo

A look at one of the new Facebook hashtags.

Facebook yesterday introduced hashtags to its social network. Any word that starts with a pound sign (#) is a hashtag, which becomes a clickable link to all other mentions of that word.

In doing so, Facebook joins Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and other social networks that help consumers find posts around a common topic via hashtags.

“The world has adopted hashtags for social conversations,” says Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at the business research and advisory firm Altimeter Group. “People had been using hashtags on Facebook even before yesterday because they are used to using them. Because they were cropping up anyway, Facebook had no choice to adopt them.”

Hashtags will make it easier for consumers and marketers to find comments related to a particular topic, Facebook says. A user can search for a specific hashtag in the search bar. For instance, a user may search #NBAFinals to find posts about the series between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. He can also click on a hashtag within a post in his news feed to see what other people are saying about a particular topic. The news feed is the first page a user sees when logging on to the social network.

“Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them,” wrote Greg Lindley, Facebook product manager, 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.” Hashtags, he wrote, will help those users connect and join public conversations.

With hashtags, Facebook will enable marketers to better use current events to deliver a message, says Lieb. For instance, in the midst of a blizzard in Chicago a snow tire company could post messages using the hashtag #ChicagoBlizzard to reach consumers who are interested in what others are posting about the storm. Marketers have long used hashtags while posting those types of messages on Twitter.

“Facebook has to compete with Twitter in terms of real-time marketing,” says Lieb. “This will help it do so.”

Based on how brands have successfully used hashtags on other platforms, Lieb suggests marketers listen and respond to what users are already talking about rather than try to create their own hashtags. “That way they’re joining in the conversation, rather than trying to create a conversation out of thin air,” she says.

Hashtag-related tools are available to about 20% of the social network’s audience. The tools will be rolled out to all its users in the coming weeks, the social network says. It also says it will add additional features, like a section that shows trending hashtags, in the near future.

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