What Facebook Hashtag Targeting Might Look Like

An interesting conversation with SocialCode CEO and founder Laura O'Shaughnessy led us to speculate on a real-time ad targeting model for Facebook based on hashtags.

Social networks will build a common language, but Facebook's first challenge remains building adoption for the use of hashtags. If it catches on, hashtag ad targeting could look similar to Twitter, where marketers can either advertise against a brand, the person tweeting, or the conversation. The hashtags have allowed Twitter to advance its ad platform, and we will likely see this happen with Facebook search ad targeting as well.

More consumer data on Facebook could mean a gold mine for marketers. As hashtags mature, O'Shaughnessy believes marketers will have an option to overlay data on hashtags to target ads in a specific geographic region, giving marketers the ability to categorize and aggregate real-time events.

On Twitter, SocialCode sees much higher tweet and reply engagement rates with keyword targeting versus standard targeting. The unidentified brand that ran a Twitter campaign between April 16 and May 18 garnered 2,138,184 impressions with a standard targeting rate of 0.08% vs. 0.26% for keyword targeting.

Given what we have seen with the use of hashtags on Twitter, and slashtags on search engine Blekko -- which no longer required the symbol to aggregate categories to customize searches -- it makes sense that Facebook would follow with some form of alternative. On Blekko, users relied on slashtags to target searches.

Facebook launched Graph Search, but in its preliminary stage it needs work. Hashtags would give marketers the ability to aggregated search terms in real-time. It will allow advertisers to target people who are engaged in the conversation, which O'Shaughnessy calls a step down the marketing funnel.

Some of this conjecture around Facebook remains speculative based on the company's announcement in early June. A couple of sentences provide insight on future services. "Any hashtags that you use on other platforms that are connected to your Facebook Page will be automatically clickable and searchable on Facebook," according to Facebook. If Facebook builds a common language with Twitter -- hashtags -- into its search platform does that mean cross-channel ad targeting, or at the very least cross-channel search marketing?

Mostly speculation, of course, but there is as much potential as there are unanswered questions, such as how the use of hashtags on Facebook will surface on Bing, given the partnership between the social site and search engine?

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