Let’s be frank for a minute. You can’t get away from hashtags any more and you’ll never be able to again. Whether you’re a lover or hater, hashtags are an integral — and helpful — aspect of the digital landscape.
With the World Sporting Event That Cannot Legally Be Named without Paying for It upon us, there are several interesting subplots happening in the hashtag world. Let’s look behind the scenes of two social stories currently being battled out.
Twitter vs. U.S. College Football Fans
If you’re going to cheer on a team, say Great Britain, Twitter wanted to be sure you had a tweet-worthy hashtag. That’s why they reallocated the University of Nebraska’s longstanding Go Big Red hashtag (#GBR) and triggered the addition of a British flag to it (creating a temporary #hashflag). Seems easy enough, right?
Turns out Nebraska fans don’t like it one bit. While the school doesn’t own the hashtag — since you can’t own a hashtag (more on that in a minute) — they’ve been using it for many years. Equally peeved are Purdue University, Eastern Carolina and even SEC stalwarts the University of Georgia Bulldogs. With football season fast approaching, expect #UGA tweets to sport a Ugandan flag for the duration of the Big Sportsing Thing.
United States Olympic Committee vs. Nonsponsor Marketers
Remember how I said you couldn’t own a hashtag? Apparently you can trademark them as the Committee has pretty effectively done. To prevent ambush marketing, the USOC “advised” brands against marketing that referred to “Olympic results, shares or re-tweets of the official Olympic account, or use of official hashtags including #Rio2016 and #TeamUSA.”
Don’t worry, they’re not going to come after us Everyday Joes — individuals who tag their #phelpsface memes with official hashtags. In fact, the way some brands skirt around the mention is getting them some serious tweetplay.
Hashtags are here to stay. Not the ones #youandyourfriendsjustmakeup. Real hashtags that integrate varied marketing strategies to multiple audiences in platforms ranging from Instagram to Facebook. Hashtags are indexed by social networks and searchable by anyone. That’s staying power you can harness for free.
However, if your hashtag has grown into a valued brand asset, you now have some means to protect it. You can invest in trademark protection for a hashtag via the United States Patent and Trademark Office. At a cost of about $275 and six months, you can register a trademark though you may experience bumps in the road based on the hashtag content.