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Facebook’s new hashtags are just the beginning of its social TV push

Twitter’s success with TV is waking up a social giant. As rumored months ago, Facebook announced it’s beginning to roll out hashtags to make it easier for users to discover shared interests. The company says it’s just the beginning of a larger effort to attract more credit for driving conversations around TV.

As Twitter says, “95% of live TV conversation currently happens on Twitter,” and that assertion drives Facebook nuts. Technically, it’s 95% of the public conversation, but with the vast majority of Facebook’s conversations happening in private, there’s been no way to know.

“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,” explains Facebook’s Justin Osofsky, who oversees the company’s platform partnerships. “A recent Nielsen survey found that 29% of respondents post on Facebook about TV shows.”

Osofsky added that Facebook users mentioned the “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones 1.5 million times while it was on the air — and that’s out of 5.2 million total viewers. “In fact, during the slot that ‘Red Wedding’ aired, there were more than 70 million people logged into Facebook in the United States alone,” he said.


(Here’s the #NBA and #NBAFinals hashtag pages to see those conversations)

But Facebook knows, just revealing those numbers doesn’t go far enough. Advertisers may realize that Facebook is bigger, but Twitter hashtags were featured in five times as many Super Bowl spots than Facebook URLs. And then there’s Nielsen’s partnership with Twitter to create a Nielsen-Twitter rating, which brings more advertiser credibility to the table. And Twitter Amplify, those sponsored in-Tweet video clips. And Twitter’s TV-targeted Promoted Tweets, which begins to scale the long-anticipated dream of interactive TV.

For an advertising-driven company, that’s a wake-up call. With so many TV dollars at stake, Facebook had to respond, and that brings us back to the hashtag. As we wrote back in March, if you see a hashtag on TV, you instantly think of Twitter. While Facebook’s addition of hashtags isn’t going to change that perception overnight, it could start to commoditize the convention — and in a way, Facebook begins to piggyback on those on-screen hashtags. More importantly, it begins to open up private conversations, which Facebook says is the beginning of a larger effort.

“Hashtags on Facebook are just a first step,” Osofsky said, explaining that the newly-redesigned news feed and the launch of verified pages and profiles “better surface the conversations about TV” and other shared interests. “We’ll be rolling out more features in the coming weeks and months that make it even easier to discover and participate in conversations about shared interests on Facebook,” he said.

With those conversations increasingly public, third parties that measure social TV conversations will begin to account for Facebook’s role, lending it more credibility. During the Lost Remote Show in New York, SocialGuide CEO Andrew Simosi was asked whether Nielsen (which acquired SocialGuide) would utilize Facebook data if it became public, similar to the Nielsen-Twitter rating. His response? Yes.

Twitter has a tremendous head start, but Facebook is ramping up its efforts to engage partners around social TV. “We look forward to working with media partners, broadcasters, and journalists on how best to leverage these new tools,” Osofsky said. “As always, as we launch products and experiences, we want your feedback on where we can improve and what we should build next.”

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