Rise and Shine

Can I Own a Hashtag?

HashtagI heard an amusing story the other day. Someone had created a hashtag and had been using it to market their website. A smattering of followers began to use it in reference to that site, and then it was used for occasional Twitter chats. … After some time another person began to use it for their needs.Most of the people reading this are probably thinking “Ah, shucks, I hate it when that happens!” and then considering what might be done to find a more appropriate hashtag in the future. But some of you are outraged. That was his hashtag! How dare someone else use it?!That would be the reaction of the creator, who claimed it belonged to him and led to an alleged PM tirade invoking web lawyers and a whole lot of Internet Tough Guy Syndrome. Which, of course, did nothing but cause hilarity among those who had the message forwarded to them.

For those who were outraged, and are now confused about what the hapless Twitter user did wrong, it is simple: you cannot own a hashtag. While you can claim one for your personal use, and continue using it as long as you like, it never becomes your property. So it someone else begins using it, or something similar, your only two options are to ask them to stop and hope it words, or just suck it up.

Why Can’t I Own a Hashtag?

Hashtags are not tangible or even intellectual content. They are a means of grouping posts and easing search efforts. In its more unofficial capacity, it could be used for context, or injecting some emotion into tweet or other site post. But it is ultimately a keyword and nothing more.

The funny thing is they there’s no mention of a “hashtag” in Twitter TOS.

Trying to claim you own one would be like claiming to own the world ‘purple’ or the number twelve

What If Someone Starts Using My Created Hashtag?

What If Someone Starts Using My Created Hashtag

Like the guy in the story above, you are pretty much out of luck. You can contact them through PM – and be polite! – about the issue. They might not realize the tag is already being used. Since that is ultimately a way of grouping their posts or Twitter chats, they probably won’t want to use one already established by someone else due to potential confusion for their followers. So a head’s up could fix the problem rather easily.

If they refuse to stop then you have two options: (1) Either continue to use the hashtag, or (2) choose a new one. If you do decide to continue using it, you might want to let your followers know that someone else is also using it just so they don’t become confused by the new, unrelated posts.

What If Someone Is Hashtag Bombing Me?

This is something a bit different. A hashtag bomb is when someone uses hashtags that are trending or frequently used and stuffing several into a random tweet. Usually these tweets will have a link to a third party site or blog, and the idea is that they are exploiting hashtag popularity to bring visibility to their account.

In fact, this case has its mention in Twitter rules:

Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be spamming are:

If you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #, trending or popular topic, or promoted trend;

This means that you have the opportunity to actually report any misuse of “your” hashtag if you think your hashtag is being used for the sole purpose of getting into your feed.

Sometimes this method is used by phishers and scammers in the same way as Twitter accounts that post to your profile with a URL and nothing else. So report them to Twitter and move on.

Should I Just Stop Thinking about Branded Hashtags from Now on Then?

There are solid reason why relying on a hashtag may actually make your brand vulnerable. Hashtags can cause reputation management nightmare, or, what’s arguably worse, they can be used by someone else who will enjoy your built glory.

But does it mean you need not utilize them?


Our industry is still new and evolving; no marketing method in it is perfect or reliable or predictable. A smart marketer doesn’t avoid user-generated content simply because of spam… or shy away from guest posting in the fear of low-quality pitches… or neglect hashtags at the risk of losing them…

The thing is, the benefits of the above methods for brand building outweigh risks or disadvantages.

Having a branded hashtag will boost your brand exposure and have *more people to listen*. It will unite your community and give you the easiest way to engage them (through Twitter chats for example). Let the fear never hold you back from innovating! And let’s hope Twitter will give us some way to protect branded hashtags from being so vulnerable!

Ever had a situation arrive where you wish you owned a hashtag? Do you think Twitter should allow official registration of hashtags, or should they remain opened? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credit: hashtag, posess.


  1. Nice post Ann, I use hashtags but not in a branding sense. You have definitely had some experience with this and given us some food for thought. hashtags are great, powerful and help us extend our reach, but as you have pointed out, they are not without their pitfalls. I see this even with common hashtags – great content is surrounded by junk and I am not sure what some people are thinking using them. I guess often they are not. But of course reaching those users who do care is worth it in the end.

  2. This is incorrect information. You can own a hashtag. As a marketing trademark to promote your classs of business. Trademarks are good in certain classes, and social media is one of them. Are you qualified to give out this type of advice.

    • If it’s a trademark, can you legally prevent others from using it on Twitter?

      • Kevin R /

        my opinion would be NO… just the same as I can say to a friend or an audience of x number of people… I like Levi’s.

  3. Emma Redding /

    I have a trademarked brand ‘company name’ and it is being used on instagram as a hashtag naming the brand (#companyname) . Is this breach of trademark if they are doing it to purposefully trade as us??

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