Facebook is Flirting with Hashtags, but Flickr Already Bought a Ring

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Over the weekend, Flickr quietly incorporated the use of hashtags into its iOS app. In the most recent version of the app, users are encouraged to take photos, apply a filter, write a brief description and now add hashtags to share with their followers. Those who didn’t notice the app changes were probably too busy doing the exact same thing on Instagram instead.

Flickr is one of many social networks to bring hashtags into their platforms. Last month, LinkedIn starting using hashtags to encourage users to spend more time on the site sharing content and networking with potential contacts.

Hashtags have become universally accepted online as the easiest way to track topics and express thoughts in one breath. They’re so prevalent that they bleed into social networks that don’t even use them. This is usually because of two reasons: multiple sites can be synced together so a hashtag-full post from one site moves into another (Instagram to Facebook) or simply because hashtags are so common for conveying thoughts that people use them anyway.

Facebook, the long-standing haven for haters of hashtags, has been rumored of late to begin incorporating them into its site. According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is looking to find ways to group similar posts together and keep users on the site longer. (It should be noted, however, that the WSJ’s source is “people familiar with the matter.”)

Frankly, it’s surprising that Facebook didn’t join the hashtag party sooner. They’re not just seen online anymore, but are found in print ads, TV shows and newspaper articles as a call to action. With Facebook taking advantage of hashtags, marketers will only need a word or phrase to track their brand or campaign across eight different social networks – at the least. (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest and LinkedIn if you’re not keeping track.)

Currently, it means that social media managers can’t be lazy with their content by either syncing accounts or using one-size-fits-all content. Posting a photo to Instagram and auto-sharing to five different social networks may be convenient, but is a quick way to isolate users. For example, Twitter is no longer Instagram friendly, and Facebook still doesn’t recognize @mentions. Also, posting the exact same content for all the different social networks can cause fan burnout. Your brand may not actually overpost, but fans who follow you over multiple networks may feel that way after seeing the same picture five times.

Not every brand has the resources to create several different types of content and maintain a presence over multiple networks, but companies large and small should make an effort to keep content fresh for the social networks they use. Nothing says “I really don’t care about my social media strategy,” like outdated content composed entirely of auto-posts from other sites.

Journalists and marketers seem divided on whether Facebook’s incorporation of hashtags is the next step for a maturing Internet or the string that finally unravels the thread of society. Hashtags definitely make life easier for marketers, but they also add the noise, which is where most of the backlash comes from. It’s entirely possible that Facebook’s choice to use (or not use) hashtags will determine whether they’re a hyper-annoying fad or the glue that finally pulls social networks together.

If you could describe the universal acceptance of the hashtag in a hashtag, what would you use?

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