Who owns a Twitter hashtag?

Company A says, “Let’s create an event, sponsor some bloggers, and they’ll create a hashtag around it and we’ll give out some prizes. It will be great, Twitter will be buzzing with our company’s name.”

Or a group of bloggers might come up with:

“Every week we’ll be ‘meeting’ on twitter, using this hashtag.”

Sound like good ideas? Sure. And for many it’s been working. But what works right now, or yesterday, won’t always work. And that’s something you need to be aware of, whether you are a direct representative of a brand – or one of the moms who decides to use a hashtag, even as part of a simple discussion.

Just because you begin a hashtag, doesn’t mean you control the hashtag and what happens within the conversation it starts. It’s out there for everyone to engage in. The etiquette is still evolving. What is seen by some as polite is to allow people to push products or messages using hashtags. What is seen as others as polite, is to not fill their twitter streams with obviously sponsored messages with little real value. We’re all still working out the middle ground.

No company or individual is too big in social media... to fail. Pic credit: Flickr C.C. goldberg.

If your followers allow you to bleat positive company messages without interfering, it’s because they’re respecting your space and you’re not stepping on their toes enough to aggravate them. If, however, you flood their streams with inane garbage that really doesn’t invite balanced conversation, then you will most likely get what you deserve.

Everything you’re connected to in social media, both messages and people, says something about who you are.

The use of hashtags have some calling back to traditional methods of advertising messages. Social media is not controlled media. This is not your space. It doesn’t matter if you’re a company or an individual, you can’t control the use of a hashtag. You can pretend to control the conversation by making a hashtag a metaphor for a flag of membership to a particular perspective or even a particular conversation point – but if the general population decides to discuss something else, or bring other things into the equation under that hashtag, then that’s what social media is all about.

Ironically, the things you can control are the words you use, the images you use, and the connections you make. These three-dimensional aspects of your brand are far more telling about you than simple two-dimensional things like a single targeted message in a broadcast campaign. People expect you to have a variety of connections. I’m proud of mine – from .. ahem adult entertainers, through to famous musicians and academics. I’m known for my mulitplicity (do not call me Sybil). But inauthenticity is not.

If you want a fully controlled message, use traditional advertising in a mass media you’re familiar with – where you have the opportunity to blast one-way, two-dimensional controlled messages to the public. It gives you all the control, and if done really well, can create a semblance of a personality for your brand.

If you are ready to really engage with your target audience, then social media provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate a complete, three-dimensional personality for your brand that consumers can really connect and find resonance with. When done well, it will result in brand loyalty and brand ambassadors that you don’t have to buy off.

On Twitter the use of a hashtag organizes conversation around particular things. But it doesn’t organize the thoughts of those in the conversation, unless they’re willing to have it that way.

Don’t forget you’re dealing with conversations in an even playing field now. The old rules do not apply.


  • Indeed. And what happened with the Nestle family hashtag is a dramatic example of how things can escalate in an uncontrolled hurry. -Christine

  • Yep – there’s no coincidence this post came directly from some work I was doing today on exactly that. 🙂 Funny how you made the direct connection (or is it?)!

  • While you are correct on one owns a hashtag, you will find the community that has a conversation around a specific hashtag will bring you back into line.

    For example many hashtags are for weekly chats/conversations around specific topics like #blogchat #Speakchat and #HFChat. If someone tried to misuse this hashtag the community would be really quick to point out it is not how they talk there.

    So it is not a controlled message in the typical sense, yet the folks who participate will self correct folks who misuse the goodwill there.

  • Hi Michele, thanks for visiting. Yes, absolutely there are regular chat sessions that are identifiable using a hashtag – and as you say, the community support is what makes it stick to the topic. The point of this post (written over a year ago, but still relevant) is that while some brands might want to come into twitter and ‘buy’ a hashtag (you’d be shocked how often this comes to me as a question), that’s not how it works. As you recognise, the community needs to support the tag and its use for it to remain, and while that community would self-manage the tag if they were in favour of it, they would also ignore it or even purposely mis-use it if they disagreed with the content.

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