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Facebook has had a very busy summer. 

From preparing the groundwork for a video ad service, to pushing the Facebook hashtag, the social juggernaut has been trying to convince advertisers and investors that the platform is a hotbed of viral activity, not just the world’s biggest directory of human beings.

To Facebook’s credit, it seems to be winning the battle on Wall Street, with the stock trading over 30% above its flotation price after a disastrous IPO.

However, one battle it will not win is the social television battle against Twitter.

We have talked about the coming age of Twittervision in these pages before. The self-dubbed ‘Global Town Square’ is well known for being the place to be when news is breaking or when events are taking place. 

With users craving real-time interactions and advertisers waiting in the wings to cash in on the opportunities, Facebook made bold moves to enter the fray. As documented in Econsultancy’s Facebook Marketing Trends Briefing, June saw Facebook launch hashtags, making it easier for users to have contextual conversations.

On top of that, Facebook also released two APIs to selected media outlets, giving them access to demographic data from the entire Facebook population and specific posts from public profiles based on keyword searches.

It also chose to show off just how much people talk about TV on Facebook:

Facebook Social television statistics

However, even those lofty numbers are not enough to take on Twitter in the social TV battles. Here is why…

1. Branded content dominates Facebook contextual searches

For a platform that wants users to get involved in broader conversations, it doesn’t show a lot of user content. A search for #XFactor on Facebook at the beginning of last Sunday’s show gave me this:

X-Factor Facebook screenshot

Why I got results for X Factor US, only Facebook knows. Clearly this is all branded content.

On the other hand, when searching for #XFactor on Twitter, I got this:

X Factor Twitter social

The branded nature of the most prominent Facebook posts when searching for terms means I’m really looking at mini PR statements. But in the heat of my favourite TV show, I’m not looking for PR, I’m looking for reactions, things I can agree and disagree with.

As a user, that is more than likely going to come from Twitter.

2. Hashtags don’t work on Facebook

The early days of Facebook hashtags have not produced promising results either. Instead of improving the viral reach of posts, Facebook posts with hashtags have actually reached less users. 

Research by EdgeRank Checker discussed in Econsultancy’s Facebook Marketing Trends briefing show that not only do the hashtags create no additional exposure; they have a negative effect on virality.

It is not initially clear why this is this is the case. EdgeRank Checker suggests the cause for this is due to only being able to use data from public (brand) pages, who misuse hashtags by mainly using them for promotional material.

Whether this is the case or not, the fact that a post on Facebook is less likely to be seen by others if it contains a hashtag is worrying for a platform attempting to join together segregated conversations.

3. Facebook needs more speed

As the evening went on, I signed back on to Facebook to see what people had to say about X Factor. Here is what Facebook showed me at 20:13 when I searched for #XFactor after a Gary Barlow cliffhanger:

X Factor Facebook screenshot

And here are the search results after the judges had picked their final six at 20:56:

X Factor Facebook screenshot

The only thing that has changed on the Facebook feed is the number of likes the X Factor USA post received.

The very premise of contextual conversation is that the platform facilitates discussion among users around a TV show, event or anything else.

At this stage, it doesn’t appear Facebook do this. They may have several people talking about the same thing at the same time, but they are not part of a conversation. They are merely talking to the friends they have permitted to enter their digital diary.

So what does Facebook need to do to truly get into the social conversation? Or is Facebook’s approach to using hashtags sufficient for maximising their commerical opportunities? Let me know what you think in the comments.

For more Facebook insights and trends, download a free copy of Econsultancy’s Facebook Marketing Trends Briefing.

Bola Awoniyi

Published 4 October, 2013 by Bola Awoniyi @ Econsultancy

Bola Awoniyi is a Digital Consultant at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

27 more posts from this author

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Per Pettersson

Facebook is really good at cluttering and having no clear structure when you search for anything. You're a bit limited on Twitter, but it's realtime and the users steer the conversations. At least in Sweden, for now, hashtags aren't used. IMHO Facebook or Google+ doesn't stand a chance against Twitter when it comes to social TV. Their platforms isn't made for fast, small updates.

about 3 years ago

Amy Manuel

Amy Manuel, Content Strategist at United Kingdom

One of the advantages I can see Facebook has over Twitter is that you can order your news feed by most popular conversations or most recent posts. So surely there's something they can do with that, along with hashtags, to allow you to follow and interact better with the conversations your friends are talking about at that moment. There must be a way to improve the ability to have a conversation even with private pages?

about 3 years ago

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Kingsley Maunder

Twitter and Facebook are two very different environments and hence the way we engage in those environments while watching TV differs.

Twitter is like attending a cocktail party with a whole lot of people you don't know. You naturally gravitate towards a group of people who are talking about a show you love, The X Factor for example. There is a good chance you don't know any of these people, but you enjoy the conversation with these strangers.

Facebook however is like a house party where you get together with your friends to watch a show together. It is much smaller group, but the engagement is more intimate.

about 3 years ago

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Dave Nattriss

Bola,

Unfortunately you don't seem to understand how Facebook works. Most people don't use #tags on Facebook, because they don't need to, and Facebook has not told them that they can, nor suggested that they should.

If you want to find conversations about The X-Factor, just go to The X Factor page (or any of the fan pages or pages for the artists on it) and read the posts by fans, and comments on the posts by the page, or just click the comments button when an official post comes up in the search result (327 comments on that first screen grab!).

If you want to see your friends reactions, just read your feed (latest posts first) - you won't need to filter these as there won't be a huge number of posts by your friends and the brands/people that you are following within the last hour.

You got X-Factor (USA) posts coming up on your search because you specifically searched for '#xfactor', and that's only being used by the USA page (not the UK one). Why don't you do what an average Facebook user would do, and just type in 'x factor', instead of trying to make a Twitter convention work on a different platform?!

about 3 years ago

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Dave Nattriss

"Research by EdgeRank Checker discussed in Econsultancy’s Facebook Marketing Trends briefing show that not only do the hashtags create no additional exposure; they have a negative effect on virality."

This is such a naive and unfair conclusion to reach. The virality of a post depends on many things, not least the actual content of the post. It could just be that the bigger, most viral brands on Facebook, aren't using #tags on Facebook at all or as much as the less viral ones.

about 3 years ago

Ryan Sommer

Ryan Sommer, Freelance Consultant

I think post this announcement: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2300217/Facebook-Users-Can-No-Longer-Remain-Anonymous-in-Search

It's time to try again.

I also think this was an insightful and well done piece Bola!

about 3 years ago

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Issa

great article, I think hashtags where not supposed to be as part of the comments box just like twitter and trying to match a micro blogging channel approach is not correct.

FB should have added a separate Text box "hashtags box" with a CTA where comments and hashtags wouldn't contradict or eat each other but they would compliment each others' exposure

about 3 years ago

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