Facebook Hashtags: When Monetization Clashes With Branding

Considering that my startup CyBranding owns a thriving website named hashtagify.me and sells a product called Hashtag Intelligence, you could easily see why hashtags (probably) coming to Facebook is very good news for me. But, as a person very interested in branding, I can’t help questioning this move from the Facebook brand point of view.

For its users, Facebook’s core expectation can be described as “easily sharing with friends and family through the Internet”. It is a very compelling expectation, Facebook owns it in the mind of billions of people, and thus their website has become the most engaging in the World as all the stats about time spent online tell us.

Facebook’s problem is that its core expectation isn’t as easy to monetize with advertising as, for example, Google’s “quickly finding what I need on the Internet”. Or even Twitter’s “publicly sharing on the Internet”, which is much less compelling than Facebook’s to most people, but which has that “publicly” attribute that makes it much more compatible with infotainment and advertising.

Facebook already took many steps towards making itself a better platform for the public sharing and consuming of content – think pages, “follow”, privacy changes, etc. – so adding hashtags, that were integral to Twitter’s success in that space, would only be a logical move in that same direction. The big risk for Facebook here is that this move could actually work – and, if it will work, it will also significantly dilute Facebook’s brand expectation of “sharing with friends”.

Why is that a big risk? Because public and personal don’t mix well; by diluting its core expectation, Facebook would leave the door open to some competitor completely focused on “personal”. This move could very well bring a short and medium-term benefit to Facebook’s bottom line and market capitalization, but, by putting in jeopardy its nearly complete domination of its current, incredibly compelling focus on “friends and family”, it could also sow the seed of its own undoing.

The good news? After all, if the history of branding has something to teach us, Facebook is most likely not going to “become the Internet”, closing us all inside a walled garden. In the world of brands, you just can’t be everything to everybody.

[UPDATE] I just read an article on Time about the “tragic beauty of google“, where the author says that he likes Facebook more because it feels more “warm, personal”. Will it still feel that way if the move toward more public conversations will work?

Are hashtags too geeky for Google+? A meditated answer to Loic Le Meur

I was able to join Google+ last week, and found it very interesting for three reasons:

  1. Circles
  2. There are mostly early adopters, and this generates some very interesting conversations
  3. It isn’t blocked at my office yet, so I don’t have to resort to dirty tricks to use it like I have to do with facebook – yet

Is it all good then? Of course not, there are many useful features that could be added. But the one I really miss is tags. I fell in love with tags since I first started using del.icio.us (before the yahoo-less-licious days) and were delighted to see them spreading to more and more uses. It’s no coincidence that I created a website completely devoted to (hash)tags!

Today I found out I’m not alone when I stumbled upon a post on G+ about the use of hashtags on G+ itself. After all, the use of hashtags on Twitter started exactly because there wasn’t a tag feature there, like on G+ now. And, as I discovered later, the same Chris Messina who first proposed their adoption on Twitter did the same for G+ just four days ago.

Not everybody agrees, though. Loic Le Meur commented on that same post where I first read about the debate that “hashtags are geeky and they shouldn’t be added to G+”.

I answered that hashtags are geeky, but simple tags aren’t. But, on second thought, the real answer should have been: Hashtags can’t be “added” to G+; they weren’t even “added” to Twitter, only half-heartedly supported after their use became widespread.

So the real question should be: Should tags be added to G+? I definitely think they should; is there any better way to allow the discovery of interesting conversations? And: Are tags too geeky for G+? Considering that they’re also used on Facebook, I guess they really aren’t.

So please, Google, add our beloved tags to G+; and, while you’re at it, also add a sampling streaming API for public messages so that all sorts of interesting research could be done and, why not, so that I could also add the data from G+ to hashtagify.me 🙂