Facebook playing with trending topics — how can it make hashtag search better?

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Shortly after Facebook borrowed from Twitter (and Instagram) by making hashtags clickable on the site, industry leaders and other Facebook marketers wondered when Facebook would import another Twitter staple: trending topics.

According to AllThingsD, Facebook is testing a trending section on its mobile website for select U.S. users. When a user taps on a topic that is trending (for instance in the above photo, Alex Rodriguez, Shark Week, Jeff Bezos or Vince Young), they’ll see posts from their friends about that topic, as well as public posts — similar to what happens when a user searches something via hashtags on the desktop version of Facebook.

It looks like Facebook is also suggesting topics on the results page when a user searches on desktop via hashtag.

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While #sharkweek is a popular topic on Facebook, so is #tbt (Throwback Thursday). There’s plenty of room there to include other trending hashtags, and it will be interesting to see if (or when) Facebook moves in that direction. They’re currently testing trending topics in mobile web, seeing how users engage with this feature.

AllThingsD spoke with Facebook about its test of trending topics:

Justin Osofsky, the Facebook executive who oversees platform partnerships and is heading up the “public” push, said the company isn’t trying to move Facebook away from its original mission — connecting users with people they know.

But he said that lots of people are already using Facebook to sound off about politics, or TV shows, or celebrities. Like Facebook users who generated 65 million “Likes” and comments about the Oscars on the day of this year’s awards show.

The new initiative, he said, will help Facebook “unlock and surface the conversation about shared interests that’s already happening.”

As time goes on, more brands and users have been taking advantage of hashtags. In the above example, the hashtag worked on Facebook because it was something automatically posted from Twitter. Several brands have been using Facebook’s hashtags to seamlessly cross-promote a product or campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Inside Facebook reader Adam Rosenberg pointed out that Facebook has added a module to the hashtag search result page, showing popular posts tagged:

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However, the hashtag search has lacked power, as there’s really no way to rank results. On Twitter, you can search topics and filter based on top contributors, all Tweets and Tweets by people you know. When a user does a hashtag search on Facebook, the first results are from their friends, and then it’s strictly chronological. If you’re searching for important updates around a certain news event or celebrity, it’s most likely that users will see posts from random people and pages around the world, and not trusted and popular sources.

Though it would be another sample from Twitter (following @ mentions, verified celebrity profiles, hashtags and embeddable posts), Facebook could make its hashtag search much more powerful by including trending topics. It would give a glimpse into the worldwide conversation on Facebook. Maybe, also like Twitter, users could drill down to geographical areas to see popular hashtags.

The site could top Twitter in this regard by indexing hashtags by network, such as what U.C. Berkeley students, Facebook employees, or people who live in Paris are talking about.

Readers: How often do you either post a hashtag on Facebook or do a hashtag search?

Top image courtesy of AllThingsD.

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