Hashtags on Facebook: A Declaration of War on the Twitter PR Machine

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The amount of confidence brand managers and marketing executives have placed in Twitter has always perplexed me. We know that Twitter is a “shouting platform” rather than a conversational platform. Whether you’re a brand or a pissed off, grounded airline customer, you’re using Twitter as a cry for attention or help. As such, Twitter has attracted personas of all types — many of which are illegitimate marketers, shameless self promoters, altogether fake people, and the like — all infecting your stream with messages you more than likely want to ignore.

It therefore stands to reason that Twitter has such a massive number of fake accounts — by some measures as much as 45 percent or more.

Contrast that with Facebook, where a two-way friendship is required for anyone to have a relationship. You haven’t been able to broadcast your message to millions of people easily by comparison. Your frustrations, concerns, misgivings, and insecurities are broadcast primarily to the various social networks you’ve participated in throughout your life. Your “friends” can elect to listen to you, console you, harass you, or mute you. Edgerank uses the wisdom of interactions with your social graph to determine what you see and what you don’t. And behavior of that “crowd” in turn determines who you get to influence.

For those reasons, the percentage of fake profiles on Facebook is far lower — closer to 9% according to a study released in August 2012. Put another way, Facebook has 4-5x the number of users of Twitter, but may have about the same number of fake accounts.

It’s like my friend Brian Carter mentioned in a great presentation, if Facebook is Vin Diesel and Google is The Rock, Twitter is Mini-Me. So true, but especially when you take into account what is real about the user base of each social net and what is not.

The reality is that Twitter is the black market of humanity — the personas we want to be at any particular snapshot in time. Facebook is humanity itself in all its genuine glory — good, bad, triumphant, and embarrassing.

But you wouldn’t know that from the PR battle being waged by Twitter. Twitter has dominated mindshare with stories about its purported adoption by younger demographic groups, its position as an “alternative” to Facebook, it’s “dominance” as the only “real-time social network”, and a second screen phenomenon.

The June 12 news that Facebook was releasing hashtags functionality is a shot across the bow at Twitter. Enough is enough. Facebook is fed up with Twitter’s successful repositioning in the marketplace as the bully. How in the heck does Mini-Me beat up Vin Diesel? It’s because Twitter PR has been playing offense while Facebook PR has been playing the incumbent PR game of “don’t screw up.”

Hashtags are more than just a way to categorize a status update. With a single # character, a hashtag becomes implicit permission that a Facebook user can give to make a status update public for all the world to see. And then what good is a hashtag without ways for other Facebook users to discover said hashtag — to find opinions and thoughts shared by others in real-time?

To date, Twitter has dominated the conversation about real-time social data. But don’t be fooled by the PR. Facebook is a much richer, much deeper, much more authentic, and more widely adopted platform. The data has always been there, but it’s been tucked away behind confusing privacy settings and ambiguity about what data is truly available via the Graph API, the new Graph Search feature, friend and network access, and the like.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Facebook wants to put more of our observations online for the public to see. They’ve been doing it for 9 years. But it shouldn’t scare us either. People do it every day on Twitter. But now, the opportunity exists for people to use Facebook much like they use Twitter. Maybe that will help brands and marketers understand that genuine conversation among friends is more valuable than the random observations of shouting personas.

Chris Treadaway
This bi-monthly Facebook column is contributed by Chris Treadaway. Chris is co-author of Facebook Marketing An Hour a Day with Mari Smith and Founder & CEO of Polygraph Media, a Facebook data mining & analytics company. +Chris Treadaway
Chris Treadaway


CEO Polygraph (@polygraphmedia) - turning data into better social advertising. Ex-MSFT. Data nerd. Dad. Co-author of Facebook Mktg An Hour a Day w/ @marismith.
@novaspivack fascinating - 2 days ago
Chris Treadaway
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