Tech

Hashtags aren't Facebook's main problem against Twitter, Tumblr (Opinion)

By Jordan Mammo , May 28, 2013 02:32 PM EDT
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Facebook may be the world's largest social network, but one thing it's worried about is the fact that the younger generation isn't as into it as it used to be. In fact, teens would rather use Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram to connect to their friends.

Even though Instagram is owned by Facebook, the decline in interest among younger users isn't good news for the social network. After all, most social media thrive on the fact that young people spend significant amounts of time using it to share, converse, and get into arguments.

One way that Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr differ from Facebook is that they incorporate the use of hashtags to organize status updates and conversations. Clicking one will automatically take you to a feed that includes the posts of any account using the hashtag phrase. It's an effective and simple way to start or join a conversation on a given topic.

Facebook doesn't have this, though recent rumblings indicate that it is planning on incorporating them soon. They're long overdue and, as CNET's Jennifer Van Grove notes, their absence clearly shows that in some respects, Facebook doesn't quite understand today's youth, or how it likes to express itself.

According to Grove, bringing hashtags into the network's system "could help Facebook lure young users ... and provide the missing link to so much that goes on across social media, from celeb gossip and breaking news to advertising offers and goofy memes."

But is this true? Can bringing back teen users be as easy as incorporating hashtags? Facebook may be on the outside looking in concerning teenagers these days, but it's not just because you can't use hashtags on the site.

In fact, Grove's article may have inadvertently hit on the reason why and skipped on by.

After noting that hashtags are like slang, she adds that "just like slang, people use them to show that they belong to the group that's in the know."

That's the issue right there. Using slang to show that you're hip isn't the answer. Imagine your parents using slang that you and your friends used often as teens... suddenly, you don't want to use it as much anymore. It isn't cool.

The dilemma Facebook is staring down isn't one that has an easy answer, if it has one at all. Teens want to get away from their parents, not share social networks with them. They want to differentiate themselves; they don't want their parents using the same phrases, the same expressions, the same anything!

Not even the same social network. According to the latest report from the Pew Research Center, teens "dislike the increasing number of adults on the site." Only five percent of them limit what their parents can see on their profile, perhaps because they don't want to get in an argument with mom and dad about what they're sharing.

So what's a teenager to do when their parents follow them online? Go somewhere else. That's why so many have flocked to Twitter, Tumblr, and even Instagram. It allows them a degree of separation from their parents and from adults that's just not possible on Facebook, and adding hashtags isn't going to change that.

In this way, at least, Facebook's immense success has actually gone full circle and is now a hindrance. It might just have to figure out a way to live with that.

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