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Hashtag 101: How Can Your Business “Own” a Hashtag?

Recently updated on March 3rd, 2017 at 08:02 am

The hashtag is almost omnipresent nowadays, showing up in most social media networks, across marketing campaigns, as well as daily conversation. Not many people know the real story of how it began though.

The history of the hashtag

(It’s longer than you think.)

The pound sign that we now refer to under a different name started in the infancy of the internet during the late 80s early 90s. It was used by Internet Relay Chat (IRC) networks to label groups or topics, similar to how it is used today.

Inspired by the IRC from the early days of the internet, the hashtag was suggested by Chris Messina as a solution to arrange topics of interest in Twitter. It has spread further into other social networking sites and is now the de facto tagging system of the social media word. Anything that had the pound sign became hyperlinked to each other. Users can click on these hashtags to easily navigate posts.


Hashtag trending topics on Twitter
Hashtags are used to track trends at any given time.

The accessibility of the hashtag gave rise to the term trending topic and helped pushed advocacies and coverage on national and international issues. It also created a new channel for marketers to explore. TV shows, movies, advertisements and even physical products have their own hashtags associated with them.

Why should you create a hashtag?

For one, it’s free and it doesn’t require a lot of resources to create. The hashtag can be a great tool for promoting your own brand while simultaneously encouraging users to associate it with you. It can be a great tool for networking and lead generation.

Depending on the social media platform, it can be used for promoting a new product or service, holding a question and answer segment, or communicating with customers for suggestions and complaints. With businesses and brands becoming more human-like, it can also show which advocacies you support and what your opinion is on some issues relevant to your industry.

A person using Twitter
Interacting with customers has never been easier since hashtags came on the scene.

Make it your own.

The first thing you should note before crafting a hashtag and creating a marketing campaign around it is that you can’t literally own a hashtag. Most taglines and slogans, even by big brands, have failed to be trademarked. The same goes for the hashtag. But the trademark process has interesting points that can be applied to the hashtag.

Most trademark rejections are on the grounds that the slogan is not distinctive enough or that they are just a collection of common dictionary words that describe their product. US legislation specifically states that phrases cannot be trademarked if they are purely descriptive or not distinctive enough.

To overcome these issues, companies who want to trademark slogans should be able to prove that their phrase has acquired a “secondary meaning” through its usage. Consumers should be able to associate a slogan to the brand or the company that it could create consumer confusion when used by a secondary party.

For example, the sentence “Open Happiness” immediately calls to mind Coca-Cola . “Think different” will always be associated with Apple. Nike and “Just Do It” are almost used interchangeably.

Coca-Cola Open Happiness Hashtag advertisement
Coca-Cola’s online and offline campaigns always include a hashtag.


Therein lies the secret in “owning” a hashtag—usage.

The more a company uses a hashtag, the more the consumers pick it up and use it themselves, creating a “secondary meaning” that associates it to the brand.

Tips on how to get your hashtag used more often:

  1. Before promoting the hashtag, create great content with it.

    This is especially true when using Instagram or Vine. Users who will immediately check your hashtag would expect that content that is relevant to your business is already present. If they see that the content aligns with their interest, they will be more likely to use it. Just make sure you take this first step.

  2. Use it consistently across all of your marketing channels, both online and offline.

    It goes without saying that consistency is important in creating a successful marketing campaign. If possible, include it in your tweets or posts. Put it on your product packaging or on your physical store signs to lead your customers to your social media sites.

  3. Build a contest campaign around that hashtag.

    Contest marketing is not only a great way to promote your brand but it also increases your social media base. Crafting a hashtag around it could make categorizing posts easier and interested users can find your faster.

The ubiquity of the hashtag is not going away soon. It has already become an integral part of social and will continue to do so in the future. Its evolution from the IRC channels to marketing campaigns proves that usage can indeed provide a “secondary meaning.” Maybe, it’s still #evolving.


 Do you have more hashtag tips? Comment below!


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