As podcasters, content creators, and regular parishioners at the Church of Social Media; we have internally been discussing the issues of hashtag ownership.
Let’s first look at hashtags themselves. Hashtags play a variety of roles in the circus that is social media. From a technical aspect, hashtags are super valuable tools for tracking communications. Whether you’re live tweeting a TV show, engaging your podcast audience, or hosting an online chat; hashtags are the easiest way to make sure that you don’t miss a great comment from the people you are online with.
For anyone who is trying to grow a social media audience, hashtags are both a marketing tool and branding. It is a way for your followers to monitor your posts about a specific topic. When we use the hashtag #GeekFit, it’s a signal to our followers that we are talking about Fitness. It is an easy way for people to monitor a specific piece of subject matter that you might talk about while avoiding the dark areas of social media like #Spoilers. But this is also where we start to stray into the minefield of ownership.
Owning a Hashtag
Being an online entity, we understand that there are some hashtags that are used by groups or individuals in the way they conduct their business. A few years ago, I let someone know that the hashtag they are using is typically associated with someone who does a weekly chat with other members of their community. Please note… I did not say that they OWNED the hashtag, but that is was associated with something that someone I knew has been doing for a long time.
So where does the line of ownership really exist?
First when it comes to the brand of the business. For the sake of this argument, let’s remove the legality of trademarking and copyrighting. When hashtags contain an element of the brand, people “should” recognize that connection between the entity and the hashtag. For example: If my podcast was African Big Cats and a Dog, and I was use #ABCDPodcast, and then one day, I noticed some unusual traffic on my Twitter page because Atlanta Bald Carpet Dealers decided to start using this same hashtag without checking it out the history of it, a conversation would need to be had with these Southern folically challenged rug pushers. Do either of the parties OoooooWwwwwNnnnnn this hashtag? Maybe you could claim squatter’s rights. but I only know of ONE group to go to court over their name. Sites like Twubs, allows you to “register” a hashtag, but it’s mostly an honor system. If you were using it before me, I would stop because it’s good karma and I want to win some big money from the Powerball one day.
But what about when the hashtag has nothing to do with your podcast, your business, or your creation? What about when a hashtag is your lighthouse in the rough, dark seas of the Internet Ocean? What about when a hashtag evolves into a beacon of solidarity.
Like Moths to a Flame, Burned by the Fire….
Hashtags have evolved beyond just being the funny little ending to close out a snappy comment. They can be a movement. A call to actions. A rally point. A common threat to tie people together.
This type of hashtag is more than just a symbol and a creative collection of alphanumeric characters. It is a unifier. It let’s people know, you are talking about the same thing that they are talking about. It is a way for a community to share an experience. One powerful moment that that exemplifies this experience is #TheWizLive. We laughed, we cried, we sang, we commented, we shared a moment. A moment that we can never relive again. A moment where many of us here were proud to be part of history.
Could NBC’s production of The Wiz have taken place without social media… OF COURSE. But it was amazing that this hashtag allowed for people all over to share in this moment.
While it is vital that no one is ever disenfranchised from something that they create. it’s also important to understand how the hashtag is being using within the social media spectrum. Finding out the historical origin of a hashtag has been made easier and easier, but many people don’t take the time to do that research. Sometimes it’s not until the originator speaks up, that the linage of the hashtag becomes visible. Many TV programs are now post their own hashtags to help gauge viewer reactions and engage with them. Modifying these hashtags to fit a particular demographic is like going on a field trip and everyone having to wear orange t-shirts. You now know that when you tweet, you know you are with your group.
The modern day hashtag has more twists than a Walking Dead Season finale. The great part about both… the hashtag and a season finale… There will always be more of both to capture your attention.