Facebook hashtags are great for 'eavesdropping'

Businesses should rejoice the arrival of Facebook hashtags as it makes finding out what people are posting much easier.

Taking a cue from Twitter, Instagram, and every other social media service out there, Facebook launched support for hashtags last week.

For those of you who don't know what a hashtag is, it's a word or phrase prefixed with a # that is commonly used to label a status update or photo. The hashtag is then searchable so you can find all posts with that hashtag, for instance, #lessonfortheday.

As a business, hashtags are great for seeing what people are posting about--whether it's something specific about your business (#standingsushibar and #tanukiraw for my restaurants, for example) or about related information (#sushi #japanesefood #cocktails #hangover).

Browsing through hashtags on Instagram, I see people's pictures and also the comments of others. It helps me know what items are popular, what people are thinking about, and generally whether sentiment is positive or negative.

Prior to hashtags in Facebook, the only way it was possible to see what someone was posting about was if you were friends with them or if they tagged you (or the business) in the post. Facebook Search did not surface any functionality to let you "eavesdrop" on what folks were saying, so the addition of hashtags is very welcome. Now you can click a hashtag and it brings up recent Facebook posts with that hashtag, assuming the person's privacy settings allow the post to be visible.

As you post your own updates, it will begin to encourage people to use the same hashtag for your business. So, #whatwillyourhashtagbe?