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April 2nd, 2013

The Emerging Need for Hashtag Search

If you’ve been part of this social media party for more than a few years you likely remember when Technorati was an indispensable part of the marketing and monitoring toolkit.

Technorati was great because while Google, Yahoo, Ask or some of the other search engines that were around at the time worked well for web-wide discovery, T’rati allowed you to not just search blogs specifically but also search for tags and categories. So you could not just find everything related to “movie marketing” but also refine your search to look for posts that had been tagged with “movie marketing.” There was a taxonomy to the early social web that brought similar information together under similar headings.

As Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms came to the forefront we started to lose that taxonomy. You can’t categorize your Twitter updates as “Social Media” or your Facebook post as “Digital Publishing” the way you can on a blog. So we started to lose some of that aggregated community knowledge.

Hashtags have emerged as the taxonomic currency (an excellent band name) of the current version of the social web, having been adopted by Twitter (where it was originally a user-generated feature), Google+ and Instagram for the time-being, with Flickr beginning to integrate them and it being part of Facebook’s roadmap for getting more real-time conversations (and subsequent ad dollars).

But what’s missing is the Technorati for hashtags, a universal search point that stretches across and brings in content from all platforms.

While I have little doubt such functionality will eventually become part of standard search engines that doesn’t really get to the point of what’s needed. While having hashtagged social posts be part of a standard page of search results would certainly be inclusive, it doesn’t provide the kind of actionable intelligence that can be drawn out of social-specific results.

There are certainly limitations to this kind of search being implemented. Chief among them is that many of the platforms that would need to be indexed don’t want to be part of a larger ecosystem and are fine with their own walled gardens, thank you very much, no matter how much they might talk about connecting with outside websites.

But as hashtags become more and more part of the public conversation – watch a major network TV show and you’ll see at least one as a transparent bug in the corner of your screen – there’s going to be a need for this sort of collection. Those TV show calls-to-action to use a hashtag rarely specify a platform to use, de facto leaving it up to the audience to decide what they’re comfortable with.

A recent study showed most people use hashtags either for discovery or for some sort of self-expression. Respondents found it useful for searching for and connecting with brand publishers and about 40% will click on a hashtag to see what everyone’s saying about that topic, though it’s safe to assume what they’re seeing is specific to the platform they’re on.

RadiumOne-Primary-Uses-Hashtags-Apr2013

So it’s hard to imagine companies who are trying to rally people around these conversation hubs not putting increased pressure on those platforms to open up so they can monitor the entire conversation in one place.

The social web has traditionally relied on taxonomies in some form or another to help make sense of the chaos. To bring out the signal from the noise. But that necessitates a single point of search. That needs to happen sooner rather than later or we risk losing all that great information that’s sitting out there, just waiting to be surfaced.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Blogging, Publishing Programs, Social Networks

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