This is a guest post by Michele Blood, Ph.D.
In early June of 2013, Facebook began rolling out a brand new feature that is making business owners, public relations folks, content marketers and others drool. Facebook’s newest feature involves clickable, searchable hashtags. The function of a hashtag is to group large chunks of data related to a single topic or idea.
Though Twitter is probably the best known for its ubiquitous use of this data organization strategy, its roots extend back to the infancy the internet chat when modems crackled to life over landlines, and floppy disks littered the desks of fledgling geeks across the planet.
The incorporation of interactive hashtags on Facebook is a game changer. Skeptical? Head over to Facebook and type the following into the search bar:
Now that you’re convinced, let’s talk about how you can harness this new functionality to find useful information.
Track your competitors.
Keeping an eye on your clients' competitors is PR 101 tactic for all public relations pros. The addition of hashtags just made it easier to find those conversations on Facebook.
Imagine searching #your_primary_competitor on Facebook, and discovering a lengthy list of posts referencing a problem with a certain product. Scanning through the posts, you find out your competitor is facing an onslaught of angry customers due to a recent product recall.
Those poor customers now have a need, and they are leery about having that need filled again by your competitor who has just disappointed them. Guess who can be right there to fill in the gap and provide a quality alternative by targeting their marketing efforts specifically to that now underserved segment?
You can only target those ads quickly and position yourself and your business properly if you have real-time data that helps you track your competitors’ business dealings. Facebook’s hashtag functionality provides the window into your competitors’ world that will allow you to do precisely that.
Track discussions about your industry.
How do you stay on top of the latest developments in your industry and with your clients' consumer base? Trade magazines and conventions are helpful, but they are inevitably one step behind. Trade publications often find themselves reporting on what is already happening.
By using Facebook’s new hashtag functionality, you can gather data on new trends in your industry as they happen. Rather than waiting two or three months – or more – to read someone else’s take on trending developments, you can read about them yourself, as they happen, and adjust your business strategies accordingly.
Start now by beginning a list of hashtags related to your industry, and run quick searches on them daily.
Track discussions about your brand.
To protect your clients' brands, you need to understand threats to your brand and be able to neutralize them on the spot.
Use Facebook’s hashtag functionality to run a search on your clients' brand. What did you discover? Are the posts generally positive? Are they associated more with complaints than with accolades? Did your brand somehow become tied with a recent news story?
Once you discover the tone of ongoing conversations, you can strategize methods for addressing any threats you've uncovered. Daily searches on client brands, in other words, are the ultimate in real-time feedback on how the brand is currently perceived by end consumers.
Track discussions about individual products.
Did a client recently add a new product or service to the lineup? Perhaps you invested a great deal of money running focus groups or other types of research prior to launch. How can you inexpensively assess the reception of this new product?
By now, you know the answer to that question: #hashtags. Search for references new purchasers have made regarding your product. What's the general tone of those posts? Do they indicate an unexpected problem you can address? Are your purchasers’ posts indicating a new use for the product you didn’t anticipate, but could incorporate into your PR?
The addition of hashtag functionality for Facebook users represents a windfall of valuable data for businesses. This new functionality holds great promise for promoting and tracking your own brand as well as staying on top of competitors and industry happenings in real time.
How much money can your business make by leveraging the power of Facebook’s new hashtag functionality?
There’s only one way to #find_out.
See you on #Facebook!
This is a guest post by Michele Blood, Ph.D.