The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.
Excuse my French, but stealing hashtags is a dick move.
Especially if said hashtag is quite obviously something somebody else has been using for a while.
Like, years. Seriously… years.
Let’s rewind: I’ve been working as one of the main organizers of a recurring event for the last three years. We’ve been using the same hashtag since we started. Not until the last, oh, six months has anyone even used the same hashtag on a consistent basis. We would get people using it once in a while in long strings of hashtag babble – just people making things up, nothing that really made any sense – and it wouldn’t show up again. But about six months ago, some kids at a college began using it as a way to talk about their swim team.
Fine, we event organizers thought. That’s okay. They’ll figure out that we use it for an event and not their swim team. What good is it for them if their tweets gets mixed in with ours?
But it didn’t go away so easily. It kept popping up, time and time again. Eventually I got fed up and made a stink about it. And it took raising a stink twice to get the main message through: what the swim team members were using as a hashtag were getting lost among our tweets and making our marketing look really, really bad. Nevermind how bad it looked for us, though – it looked worse for them! It took that argument of looking clueless to get the ‘infringers’ to realize that maybe they should pick another hashtag if they were going to use hashtags at all.
Now, okay. There’s a chance that you’re sitting there thinking, “But… who owns a hashtag?”
The reality is that nobody owns a hashtag. It’s not something you can really just… own. That would take away some of what makes the hashtag on Twitter really important: anyone can participate in the conversation and add their voice to what is, essentially, a search term. Who’s talking about #startups? What are they saying about the #NHL right now? What’s going down in #sandiego? It’s important that hashtags aren’t controlled down to every single tweet. But with that flexibility comes the opportunity of abuse: if a hashtag – essentially a search term – becomes popular, or maybe its combination of words or letters has multiple meanings, searching for relevant tweets using the hashtag can become absolutely useless.
So can anything be done about hashtag stealing? Even in the age of everybody and their mother and a gazillion Beliebers using Twitter?
Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, why should anyone care what happens with hashtags? This may be a rant I was so motivated to conduct that I am sitting up at 3 AM writing about it, so I obviously get annoyed at this issue – but it’s not like this is that important in the grand scheme of things. Our marketing for this event may change in the next few months (imperative word: may – but it’s not likely). Twitter may not be the hot thing in two years (that’s more likely than anything changing on our side). But the fact remains: if your tweet isn’t about the hashtag you’re using – especially if someone else is using the hashtag for a very explicit purpose – what good does that serve you?
I guess the thing that really bugs me is this: I like certain rules. I like following rules for things that exist for a specific reason. For instance, traffic rules exist to keep everyone safe and make sure that everyone is communicating using the same language. Your turn signal means something specific. The signs on the road mean very specific things. If you follow these rules and adhere to the common language of the road, everything moves along smoothly. If you don’t adhere to that communication, signals get crossed and crashes happen. And people get hurt.
Okay, people aren’t getting hurt when hashtags get abused. But do you get my point?
Essentially, I would like if people adhered to some guide for hashtags. In the link I previously posted – to Twitter’s page about hashtags – there is a mention of hashtags.org. I think it’s a great start for figuring out hashtags and deciding which hashtags are relevant.
Oh, and our hashtag for our event? I’ve made a little bit of headway explaining to another ‘infringer’ that the hashtag works in a certain way and it’ll get mixed in with our messages if he continues to use the hashtag we’ve been using for a while. Hopefully that explanation will satisfy this one. With the next one? I’m sure it’ll happen again, so who knows.
If you’re also a marketer and have dealt with this problem, what did you do to combat it? Did you change your hashtag, did you call out the ‘infringers’, or did you just give up? I’d love to hear any and all feedback about this annoying problem.