Facebook launches hashtag feud with Twitter

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UPDATE: Facebook officially entered the world of hashtags today (Wednesday, June 12, 2013) by giving 20 percent of its users the ability to search for conversations.

The highly anticipated move came in a Facebook blog post early this morning.

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“Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them. 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,” Greg Lindley, a Facebook product manager, wrote in the blog post. “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.”

Facebook users also will be able to click on hashtags from Instagram, a wildly popular photo app that the largest social media company purchased in 2012 for a stunning $1 billion.

Twitter user Chris Messina started the hashtag trend back in 2007 and Twitter users popularized it.

Twitter quickly embraced the system of organizing tweets around topics. Following that lead, Tumblr, Flickr, Google Plus, AudioBoo and most other social networks have made hashtags a central feature of their service.

 

In competing against Twitter with hashtags as its primary feature, Facebook also said it would unveil other tools such as trending hashtags.
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Twitter turned 7 on March 21. And with this milestone, the feud for social media domination is on.

Media reports — including the The Wall Street Journal — are reporting that Facebook soon will begin using hashtags, a popular symbol first used on Twitter that soon spread to Instagram and other social networks.

The reason? Adopting hashtags will boost Facebook’s search rankings with the ultimate goal of appealing to advertisers.

facebook-hashtag

Facebook also announced immediate plans to simplify its News Feed and launched a newGraphic Search that will make the social network feel more like its top competition — Twitter.

Hashtags help users categorize their conversations by subjects and ideas.

The hashtag quickly became synonymous with Twitter after its launch at the South by Southwest interactive festive in Austin, Tex. in 2006.

Take this survey on let me know who will win the hashtag feud:

According to Twitter’s tools:

  • People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase (no spaces) in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter Search
  • Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other Tweets marked with that keyword
  • Hashtags can occur anywhere in the Tweet – at the beginning, middle or end
  • Hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics

Some examples of hashtags that I’ve created that have become trending topics on Twitter:

The #TransitForum -- an event organized by Ted Nguyen -- became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter on a Friday in February 2010.

The #TransitForum — an event organized by Ted Nguyen — became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter for California on a Friday in February 2010.

The hashtag for Orange County Social Media Summit or #OCsms was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter on the same day as the Facebook IPO, beating that hashtag in Southern California.

The hashtag for Orange County Social Media Summit or #OCsms was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter on the same day as the Facebook IPO, beating that hashtag in Southern California.

#Florens2012 became a trending topic in Europe with millions of online impressions for the international cultural arts event in Florence, Italy.

#Florens2012 became a trending topic in Europe with millions of online impressions for the international cultural arts event in Florence, Italy.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, live-tweeted from the stage at the 2012 Opening Ceremony. A London native, his Tweet was “for everyone” followed by #London2012

Sir Tim Berners-Lee who invited the World Wide Web live-tweeted from the stage at the 2012 Opening Ceremony. This London native’s tweet was “for everyone” followed by the #London2012 that trended for two weeks during the Olympics.

Hashtags haven’t been well received as many Facebook’s users tease people who add hashtags to posts.

Dave Charest of Constant Contact included hashtags on a list of “25 Things That Make You Look Dumb on Facebook.” It ranked fourth.

“Umm, hashtags are for Twitter,” Charest wrote. “If you’re just cross-posting from Twitter, that also signals that you don’t care enough about your Facebook fans to create updates just for them.”

The appeal to advertisers, however, seems to have compelled Facebook to embrace hashtags. WSJ says enabling users to search trending topics and similar topics based on hashtags would give users more reason to stay on the social networking site.

WSJ also notes that incorporating hashtags is Facebook’s next step toward advertising dollars. Zuckerberg’s social network has already adopted other aspects of Twitter, such as sharing, searching, disseminating news, and tagging.

A Facebook spokesperson neither confirms nor denies the reports, stating that “we do not comment on rumor or speculation.”

But just today Sriram Sankar, an engineering manager on Facebook’s search quality and ranking team, wrote in a post that Facebook is focusing on providing better search for mobile and new content (hat tip to CNET).

Now that Graph Search has launched, he writes, Facebook is including text processing and ranking in search capabilities, but also “building a completely new vertical to handle searching posts and comments.” Mr. Sankar predicts Graph Search is just on the verge of expanding into a comprehensive search engine.

Digital marketing strategist Ernest Barbaric, says hashtags hint at Facebook’s move toward subject-based networking as opposed to friend-based networking in efforts to satisfy advertisers and shareholders.

hashtag

While hashtags could be well-received and profitable, the social media site might sacrifice its user experience and brand appeal, Mr. Barbaric says.

“They [Facebook] almost seem to be going the way of AOL to be everything for everybody, to have a dominant website presence,” he says. “Where the value comes in? It’s going to come in for advertisers who can make sense of this complex world Facebook has.”

It’s what Barbaric describes as a brand-identity crisis. While Facebook has retained its leverage as the dominant social network, it has shifted toward incorporating other elements in an attempt to become the hub of the Internet.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg perhaps said it best at the Facebook News Feed announcement on March 7, where he describes Facebook as “a personalized newspaper” that can have a broad quality of content and customization.

The risk is that Facebook could lose its appeal as the dominant social network in its efforts to become master of all, Barbaric says. Many people like separating online resources from social networks to some degree, so the larger implications of Facebook’s reported changes could overwhelm those who prefer to keep Facebook friend-based and other networks subject-based.

Despite any repercussions, however, Facebook could still come out on top in its move toward subject-based networking, Barbaric says. It’s a gamble for the social network.

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Check ou this article from the Wall Street Journal:

Facebook is working on incorporating the hashtag, one of Twitter’s most iconic markers, into its service by using the symbol as a way to group conversations, said people familiar with the matter. It is unclear how far along Facebook’s work on the hashtag is and the feature isn’t likely to be introduced imminently, these people said.

On short-messaging service Twitter, the hashtag—a word or phrase preceded by the “#” pound symbol—is a way for people to collate many Twitter messages about a single news event or topic, like the selection of the Pope (#PopeFrancis). The hashtag is closely associated with Twitter, and fans of the service use the hashtag as short-form creative expression.

Facebook is testing whether to follow Twitter’s lead and allow users to click on a hashtag to pull up all posts about similar topics or events so it can quickly index conversations around trending topics and build those conversations up, giving users more reason to stay logged in and see more ads. Instagram, which Facebook acquired last year, already uses hashtags, allowing users to sort photos by the symbol.

Facebook’s work on a hashtag is a sign of the heightening battle between Facebook and Twitter, as both compete for mobile users and fight for advertising dollars. For years, Twitter and Facebook seemed to occupy different poles of the social-media spectrum. While Facebook was the home of close friends and family, Twitter was the real-time broadcasting device for the rest of the world.

Facebook has now increasingly moved onto Twitter’s turf. The Menlo Park, Calif., social network is prodding users to share more content with the public. In recent years it has mirrored some of Twitter’s features by creating “subscriber” lists for users, and allowing people to tag celebrities and brands with the “@” sign.

Check out this video message from Twitter commemorating its 7th birthday: “Since @jack first tweeted in 2006, Twitter has become a global town square. Thanks to all of you, our open, real-time platform is thriving: well over 200 million active users send more than 400 million Tweets every day. Here’s to your creativity, curiosity and experimentation on our platform. We’re gratified that so many millions of you have made Twitter yours. Thank you.”

Earlier this month, Facebook unveiled a simplified website redesign. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook was building the foundation to be the best “personalized newspaper” for users, an ambition Twitter has also expressed by working closely with publishers and improving its news-surfacing engine. Facebook, which also recently revamped its search engine, has also said it plans to make public posts searchable in the future.

And while closely held Twitter is a fraction of Facebook’s size, it is competing with Facebook for mobile and online advertisers, especially as some advertisers flock to Twitter to advertise against real-time moments. Twitter has bulked up its sales staff and released more advertiser-friendly products. Last month, Twitter opened its ads platform to third-party partners so that advertisers do not have to directly buy ads from Twitter.


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“Historically, Facebook has come first for advertisers and Twitter has been a nice add-on,” said Debbie Williamson, an analyst for eMarketer. “Twitter has been more aggressive.”

Twitter is expected to make about half a billion dollars in advertising revenue this year, according to eMarketer. Facebook generated $4.3 billion last year from advertising.

The gap is narrower in mobile advertising, where Twitter is expected to make $249 million this year, versus Facebook’s $851 million, according to eMarketer.

Twitter users came up with the hashtag more than five years ago as a way for people to collect tweets on a favorite topic, like a news event or interest groups. Hashtags also have morphed into shorthands for cultural memes, helping to catapult Twitter into the public eye. For example, commentary about actor Charlie Sheen‘s 2011 publicity campaign against his bosses from the television series “Two and Half Men” was commonly appended with the hashtag “#winning.”

The hashtag also plays a key role in Twitter’s moneymaking efforts. The San Francisco startup encourages companies like Coca-Cola Co. and General Electric Co. to invent hashtags as a secondary brand for their marketing messages both on Twitter and in other types of marketing.

Twitter last month said half of the 52 national TV commercials that aired during the Super Bowl included a hashtag in the ad. For example, Paramount Farms Inc.’s Wonderful Pistachios brand created the hashtag #CrackinStyle and flashed it on screen during its Super Bowl ad featuring Psy, the singer behind the “Gangnam Style” viral online video.

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