The launch of hashtags makes Facebook a direct competitor for Twitter and Social TV startup companies.
Facebook hashtag for the NBA Finals
How is Facebook implementing hashtags?
Users will be able to add a hashtag describing a subject, such as a TV show (#theapprentice), at the end of a Facebook status update, like Twitter users do when sending tweets.
To join a discussion, Facebook users will be able to click on a hashtag and view a conversation on that subject. This comes from people and pages in their network using the hashtag, plus people outside their network with public Facebook pages.
They will further be able to search hashtags from the search bar, click on hashtags from other services, such as the Facebook-owned Instagram, and create new posts within the hashtag discussion or search results.
Hashtags are being enabled for some 20% of Facebook users shortly and to all users worldwide in the coming weeks.
Integrating hashtags encourages users specifically to discuss television via public conversations.
As Facebook’s Greg Lindley explained in the blog post Public Conversations on Facebook, “Hashtags are just the first step to help people more easily discover what others are saying about a specific topic and participate in public conversations (our emphasis).”
This will reveal the massive scale of Social TV engagement that already exists on Facebook, but is currently hidden away in private exchanges amongst family and friends.
A comprehensive suite of Social TV tools
The launch of hashtags comes soon after the debut of the Watching action, which lets Facebook users say in a post what they are watching on TV, with an automatic link to a page about the TV show. (See our previous blog post for an in-depth analysis.)
It is evident that Facebook is developing a comprehensive suite of Social TV tools to enable and encourage its massive user base to participate in discussing, sharing and discovering television programming.
Said Lindley, “We’ll continue to roll out more features in the coming weeks and months, including trending hashtags and deeper insights, that help people discover more of the world’s conversations.”
Strategic implications for Social TV
1) Facebook has decided that Social TV is a market worth fighting for
The hashtags blog post is packed with Social TV statistics intended to convince broadcasters and advertisers that Facebook is a worthwhile partner.
“Between 88 and 100 million Americans log in to Facebook every night during prime time TV hours, which represents a significant opportunity for broadcasters, advertisers and our other partners.”
“During the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones a couple of weeks ago, we saw 1.5 million mentions on Facebook (which is significant given the episode’s 5.2 million total TV viewers).”
Previously, Facebook had apparently conceded that Twitter was the dominant social network for viewers to discuss TV shows during their live broadcast. Facebook positioned itself as the social media company best-suited for engagement with programming all the time – 24/7 – and not just while a show is being broadcast.
Now, with hashtags and Watching actions, it is taking advantage of Twitter’s efforts in convincing broadcasters and advertisers of the value of hashtags for viewer engagement.
This makes Facebook a direct challenger to Twitter as the leading social media platform for real-time discussions, too.
2) Ramps up the competition over Social TV
Facebook’s launch of hashtags breaks Twitter’s effective monopoly on facilitating real-time social conversations about TV programming. Offering an alternative can only be advantageous for broadcasters and advertisers, in terms of viewer engagement and advertising opportunities. (However, advertisers will not immediately be permitted to target people who are using hashtags about specific TV programming or sponsor a hashtag, as is possible on Twitter.)
3) Gives a huge boost to Social TV participation and data
Facebook hashtags (together with Watching and the forthcoming features) will bring Social TV discussions to even more social media users, given Facebook’s 1 billion global user base.
As Facebook users represent a larger proportion of the overall TV audience, including older viewers, this gives broadcasters and advertisers even more reason to incorporate hashtags into TV programming and commercials. As more hashtags appear on television and in Facebook, this can create a virtuous circle, with the hashtags becoming increasingly relevant and useful to all social media users.
An increased volume of public conversations via hashtags also creates more data for Social TV analytics companies to process and feed back the results to their clients.
4) But crunch time for Social TV startups?
With Facebook as well as Twitter now enabling their users to discuss television in real time, will the leading Social TV startups (such as ConnecTV, GetGlue, Viggle and Zeebox) still be able to attract new users?
Will broadcaster promotion (ConnecTV and Zeebox) and alternative Social TV offerings (GetGlue’s community and Viggle’s rewards) be enough to keep them growing?
With over a billion Facebook, Twitter and mobile messaging users discussing their TV viewing on second screens, Social TV is crucial for ratings success and advertising effectiveness.
Futurescape’s Social TV report is the most comprehensive and authoritative analysis of this complex and vibrant digital sector, consulted by media executives worldwide.
It provides a full strategic context and data to plan Social TV activity, set targets and evaluate results, for broadcasters, producers, advertisers and agencies.