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#Hashtags on Facebook: What It Could Mean For Disaster & Event Medicine …

In Disaster Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Event Medicine on March 17, 2013 at 20:23

What The …?
Facebook may well be implementing hashtags in the (near) future. You aren’t moved, you say? So what? Well, allow me to try to get it to sink in.
It was an article in the Wallstreet Journal, that was picked up by the LA Times, and quoted by The Age, a Melbourne newspaper. All of that within the same day, as is possible today. Regardless of deadlines, too, of course.

No biggie.
No biggie. Or so it seems. A lot of people seem to be annoyed. “No hashtags oin Facebook! I will erase my acoount!”. But how does this concern you? Or your “friends’ on FB?

Is this about you?
Most importantly, how does this concern you as a healthcare worker or manager? Or even as a marketeer? Facebook certainly does feel the heat from Twitter. And the difference between both is bigger that you think. While their ultimate goals aren’t. At least not anymore.
Both have a different angle on how you interact with your peers, but also on who are your peers. Both have different features, and do share similarities. It’s not taste or color preferences that make you choose one or the other. Not even if you have both. Both have advantages, and both have shortcomings. And often, their “actions” that you may or may not understand (e.g. buying Instagram, for Facebook, and consequently Twitter changing the way they display Instagrams), are a result of the same thing. The ultimate goal, that both of them share.

Have I got you hooked yet?
Don’t worry, it’s not a Da Vinci kind of secret. It’s what you probably thought you already knew, or, in fact, already did know.
To be heard, and therefore to be found. And to hear, therefore to find. Information, that is.
That’s it. (“What? That simple?”). Well, I’m afraid so. The principle is simple. But the nature of the concept on which most of Social Media are based, is the difference in dynamics between the ones who create the feed, and who or how many read it. And that’s were some of the advantages of Facebook may just well be considered a disadvantage, compared to, let’s say, Twitter.

The Numbers
Believe me, it’s in the numbers. And thus the impact on dynamics. And hence the marketing potential. And in the end of the exercise, the number of people who can obtain a certain kind of information, or even a single piece of information, and how fast they do so, will be the target. Because whatever way you spin it, the impact of information will always be related of how fast it spreads: less time, more people, wider spread within the targeted or general public. And a very close tie with that number exists with the martkeing potential of ANY news. Whether it is worth money, or just strengthens the brand of the “network”.

Friends, vs. Followers.
The difference that matters most, for our line of work (Event and Disaster Medicine) lies in the way we hook up with people on Facebook and Twitter.
You generally are only associated with someone on FB after they added you as friend, or after they approved your friend request. You never directly see, or FIND what they said, if they’re not your friend, or a friend of a friend, who shared the content. One of the important and very much evolving features that bypass this necessity, is the possibility to create and/or follow a “page” on FB. You don’t need to be friended, or even know the person or people who made the page, to be able to see and follow the contents. But for now, it was usually through a FB friend’s sharing it, that you got to know such a page. Once you liked it, you get the updates of the page, without the need for the tie with your friend. Even a Google or Bing search can find you the page.
But as we now know, messages and pages with hashtags make it much easier for search engines to (rapidly) analyse and show a page in results.
This will, among other things, drastically change the uses we have for facebook during disasters and events.

Permutation.
Within the realm of Event and Disaster Medicine, we are starting to know that there is a difference between well known sources and officials spreading news and announcements, and the possibility of real time establishment of conversations with ad hoc communities. Even within the public, #hashtags make it possible to overcome the barriers of the masses. In the right hands, and with the right tools, hashtags are an instrument that can even form ad hoc communities during events. This includes disasters, and even more so disasters during some mass events. Statistics have shown these mass events are visited by a proportionally larger population of smartphone touting individuals, than the general population at any given place and/or time in everyday life.

More Money. More Lives?
So hashtags = more efficient searches and = more direct relationships. For facebook it means more money. For us, maybe, more info on what’s going on during disasters, and maybe, just maybe, (but I’m hopeful it’s probable) being more efficient and saving more lives as a result of that.
And I don’t think a few thousand “against” rants will stop this.

But hey, that’s just me.

Thanks for devouring the whole thing. It turned out longer than I intended.

The original WSJ article:
http://on.wsj.com/XAtruK

The only “raw” analysis of the factual reasons and implications of FB’s adopting hashtags that I found, was on Wired.com (after 3 days screening). But that should not amaze you one bit. Because it’s very much their turf to analyze that sort of stuff.
You can find it here: http://bit.ly/WLlrX7

Christophe Laurent (http://twitter.com/spoedman; http://about.me/christophelaurent )

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