Sunday, June 30, 2013

#Editorial: #Facebook #Hashtags

Since this is my blog, I guess everything here is an editorial of sorts. Still, this post is particularly “opinionesque.” Understanding the level of passion some of my friends also have about this topic, I’m sure to get at least one overly long email with some CAPS plus excessive and/or lack of punctuation. 

Controversy aside, it’s just one of those things I feel I must address. I can no longer stay silent.  

So... you may or may not know that Facebook recently announced the addition of hashtags. Maybe you heard, but don’t care? My social media addicts friends will #tell #you #that #you #absolutely #should #care. #A lot.

Here’s what I think:

Advertisers like hashtags because it will someday help them target customers so they can sell stuff and make money. Facebook likes money too. It’s a match made in cyber-heaven.

For those who think Facebook is just trying to make the experience better for you and it's not about revenue, I'm sorry to burst your bubble.

It's a basic rule of commerce:  If it’s free, you are the product, not the customer.  

Facebook isn’t (just) a product that you are using. YOU are a product that Facebook is using. 

That said, if you are leveraging the Facebook platform to sell stuff and/or to exert your influence for a specific purpose, then you too can harness the power of the hashtag. 

You can. But will you? Should you?

Like most decisions in life, it's wise to start by clearly identifying your intentions as well as possible outcomes and limitations. Know the best way to achieve your goal(s) prior to hurling yourself into the hashtag mosh pit. Otherwise, you'll just trample / annoy your entire friend-o-sphere, thereby negating any strategic benefits. I have some additional thoughts on this that I will share in a moment.

In theory, hashtags make it easier to find posts on a theme, make new friends, form groups, and have as much fun as them folks in Twitterland.  

But ya know: “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”

Personally, I'm curious to see if enough people will adopt the practice to make it truly worthwhile. To that point, I asked Facebook friends for reactions about hashtags coming to our heretofore #-less space.
Here are the comments:
  • “Hate it.”
  • “I use them when I tweet so why not on FB?” [i.e. "in theory.']
  • “Yes on Twitter. No on Facebook.”
  • “Too complicated for most people."
  •  "Don't like them - just makes words messy and cluttered. Maybe I'm just old?"
  •  "I use them to make a particular word or phrase stand out." [Isn't that what bold is for? Oh right, FB doesn't do that.]
  •   “I haven't had hash in...wait..... Wait... I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing somehow. What are hashtags?!”
If you do decide to venture forth into Facebook hashtagging, I beg of you – as your friend and trusted advisor – to consider the following:

1) Since Facebook doesn’t have a character limit, it makes zero sense to hashtag words in the middle of a sentence. It’s much less invasive if you type your status update as you normally would, then # the keywords you want associated with that post and to be potentially searchable by your target audience.

2) If you INSIST on using hashtags in the middle of your text post, think in context of someone using air quotes in real life. Imagine how annoying it would be if you were hanging with a friend and they did “rabbit ears” in your face every time they said a word. Annoying right? “Trust me.” It’s “wicked” “freaking” “annoying.” Less is more.

3) Run a basic Google search and pretty much every article about Facebook hashtag etiquette says to keep the number of hashtags to a max of three per post. I’m good with that. I’d also recommend variety. Particularly if you are an entrepreneur, remember that social media should still be social.  For example, I sell (among other things) the world’s most delicious and nutritious coffee. Even my best friends and customers will tune me out if I’m all like #coffee #coffee #coffee every single day.

4) Since you are still the product even if you are also selling stuff, you could be targeted with your own hashtags, particularly once Facebook figures out the analytics piece. No whining about "privacy" or being surprised when you “coincidentally” see crazy ads on your Facebook sidebar. Remember that funny sign you saw in #Mexico about #free #Viagra? Yep, so does Facebook.

Finally, please know this: 
Even if you intend to be as friendly, helpful, and entertaining with your status updates as you always have been -- once you introduce hashtags, the dynamic changes. It just does. It’s the difference between having coffee with friends and being on a conference call. No matter how much I love you, when you #hashtag at me, it feels like you are yelling into the Polycom. 

Once video surpasses everything else in social media, this whole discussion about text hashtags might be mute. In the meantime, thanks for listening to my rant #advice.

Yours truly,

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