If you're already using Twitter, Instagram, Google+, or Tumblr, hashtags are just part of navigating from one public topic to another. Facebook, which has made a mantra of its mission to bring offline friendships to the web, with official “friending” requiring approval from both sides of the relationship, has now announced that it too will incorporate hashtags in a move that can change a discussion previously limited to friends on the network to one that invites the public to join in as well.
For individuals, the move to conversations linked to hashtags brings the potential intimidation of engaging in conversation with a more public and potentially less friendly audience. For businesses, on the other hand, the potential for public participation in searchable hashtags can expand the reach of published posts from friends/fans/etc. to a public audience that is exponentially larger.
The objectives behind the move to hashtags are two-fold; to move into Twitter’s turf as a resource for unfolding news events and to build a footprint in the “interest network” space occupied by the likes of Pinterest, Instagram, Thumb, Tumblr, etc. In both of these types of networks, organization and functionality is centered on a topic or interest as opposed to a network of friends, as is currently the case on Facebook. Facebook will incorporate the new hashtag tool in the search bar, which will enable the viewing of and participation in posts on Facebook and other social networks where the same hashtags are active.
While not the primary driver of the move to hashtags, businesses on Facebook will derive numerous benefits from the move by expanding their reach and growing their audience by incorporating their high value keywords into Facebook’s hashtag system.