What do Facebook hashtags mean for journalism?

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When Facebook announced it would be introducing the hashtag on its social network, there was a debate on whether it would be valued for its users. Some thought it was a brilliant idea, whilst others questioned it, wondering what the point was as Twitter was where hashtags were dominant.

Yet, with this introduction, there is potential for those who work across many industries, especially journalists. Though nothing formal has been announced when it comes to working with the hashtags, discussions are being made as to whether it can work for news organisations, and how it can be an effective part of their strategy to engage readers, viewers or listeners.

Alison Gow, the editor of the Daily Post newspaper in North Wales, says there is potential with Facebook’s hashtags. “Hashtags could be useful for journalists because it allows for searching for relevant conversations and people discussing topics,” Gow said. “It makes it easier to find pages. If you do a search on Twitter, you're far more likely to find a hashtag rather than people talking about it.”

Useful for journalists

Gow adds however that most journalists at the Post are already using Facebook well regardless of the introduction of the hashtag. “It’s important for my reporters that there is a good community on the page,” Gow said, noting that she wants her reporters to grow their reach through the ability to have on-going, deep conversations.

Jennifer Rigby, a social media producer at Channel 4 News, says there is a difference in how they approach Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, the three platforms where they have gained attention on social media, especially with regards to the hashtag. “From our point of view, hashtags have worked on Twitter, both for finding news and finding tweeters and sources, but also for getting news out there,” Rigby said. “We try to do all of our tweets and hashtag all our tweets #c4news. That's something that we just started to do on Facebook and Google Plus.”

Getting news out there

Rigby adds that the hashtag #c4news is popular with viewers, yet for them Twitter remains the dominant force for the hashtag. The hashtag could be useful in the future however. “It could make a big change, but now it’s a list of the social media tools, like Twitter hashtags,” Rigby said.

Channel 4 News did have some success with hashtags outside of #c4news, most notably #nogobritain, which took off after a serious of documentaries aired chronicling public transport for disabled people. The hashtag is still used heavily, Rigby says, on social media, to describe frustrations, and used by transport companies to reply to frustrated users. If the hashtag function on Facebook was available, Channel 4 would have used it, Rigby said.

Still, the effects of the usage of the hashtag on Facebook are still uncertain. Gow adds that the introduction of hashtags may cloud the conversation on Facebook. “Facebook hashtags may not have the attraction of Twitter hashtags. If I wanted to engage, I'd start a group or like a page. Maybe it is getting out of control and less user friendly. It could be a barrier.”

A barrier

Rigby adds that Twitter remains the home of the hashtag. “Twitter is still the birthplace of the hashtag and where it is strongest and more important,” Rigby said. “Perhaps in time the hashtag on Google Plus and Facebook would be important.”

So, will it be important? All we can do now is wait to see how it evolves, and whether it will revolutionise journalism on one of the largest social networks in the world.

What do you think? Will Facebook hashtags take off for journalism? Would you use the Facebook hashtag to interact with a news organisation? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Photo: Robert Scoble

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I'm one of Kettle's Managing Editors, as well as a contributing writer for the site.

I write about British media and journalism, as well as on current affairs and culture. I am also interested in the future of radio in the UK, particularly the role of the BBC and public service broadcasting.

I have been contributing and editing for Kettle since April 2012.

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