The hashtag, which appears as the # symbol and was first popularized on Twitter, enables users to follow specific topics of conversation within a social network’s ever-changing stream of user comments.
Facebook users will now be able to group comments on the same topic by typing the hashtag alongside a keyword – such as #election – at the end of a post.
The hashtag has proven to be a handy system for social networking users to join online conversations as events unfold in real-time, such as political debates, television shows and sports. And it provides an easy way for advertisers to reach a particular audience.
“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,” Justin Osofsky, director, platform partnerships and operations at Facebook, said in a blog post. A recent episode of the Game of Thrones series on HBO generated 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, he said.
Until now, however, Facebook said in a separate blog post, its service lacked a “simple way to see the larger view of what’s happening or what people are talking about.”
Whether conversations about events on Facebook will have the same level of activity and comments as on Twitter is not clear. Unlike tweets, which are public and viewable to all users, most comments posted on Facebook are only viewable to a user’s circle of friends.
The company said that hashtags were the first of several new features that will be introduced to highlight discussions about events on Facebook.
The company is rolling out hashtags to roughly 20 per cent of its users, with a full global launch expected in the coming weeks.
Although Facebook’s own users have been using hashtags for some time, often as an addition to comments and status updates, they will now be able to click on the hashtagged words as a search term and view a feed of discussions relating to that topic.
The search bar at the top of the Facebook homepage will also allow users to look for hashtags, and hashtags on Facebook will also tie in to those from other services such as Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and Twitter.
Facebook’s Greg Lindley wrote that “Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them. Whether it’s talking about a favorite television show, cheering on a hometown sports team or engaging with friends during a breaking news event—people on Facebook connect with their friends about what’s taking place all over the world. To date, there has not been a simple way to see the larger view of what’s happening or what people are talking about. To bring these conversations more to the forefront, we will be rolling out a series of features that surface some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people, and topics. As a first step, we are beginning to roll out hashtags on Facebook.”
Analysts oberserved that Facebook’s new move effectively piggy-backed on the success of existing Twitter marketing campaigns, with even the recent Eurovision Song Contest using a hashtag theme for its backstage coverage.
By Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor
Originally appeared here.