I belong to many Facebook groups for business women. They are a great place to get motivation, learn new things and seek advice. While scrolling through one today, I saw an interesting conversation regarding hashtags. A fellow business owner was frustrated that another Instagram user was using their hashtag despite it being registered and having sent a cease and desist order. I was taken back! I didn’t realize that registering a hashtag was even a thing! I immediately began to wonder if I had done my own business a disservice by not registering our hashtags.
In researching this issue I discovered that there are quite a few different companies offering to register your hashtags. Some do this for free and other charge a large fee. While looking at these different websites I started to ask myself, “Is this even necessary?”
Upon further inspection I discovered the copyrighting a hashtag isn’t even possible. It is possible to get a trademark for it. However, this trademark can not keep others from using your hashtag and provides you little legal ability to challenge it’s use. There are very limited situations where it allows you to challenge another person using your hashtag. That person would have to be using it to sell your products while essentially pretending to be you.
So, if obtaining a trademark will not keep others from using your hashtag and provides no legal protection, what is the point of getting one? There really isn’t much point. Some of the companies that offer this service provide a registry of sorts. This would allow others to lookup a hashtag and see who owns it. That may be a little helpful if a customer is trying to track you down. Outside of that there is little use to registering a hashtag.
If registering a hashtag doesn’t keep people from using it, what can you do?
Pick a hashtag that is very specific to your business. When selecting a branding hashtag pick something very specific that would be unusual to see outside of your business. If you business name is Donna the Cupcake Lady using a a hashtag like #cupcakelady is probably a mistake (I’m referring to unique branding only here). However, #donnathecupcakelady is unlikely to be used by anyone but you.
Play fair with others. When selecting your hashtag make sure that others aren’t already using something similar. Ask yourself if you would be upset if the roles were reversed. Others may not extend you that same courtesy but change almost always starts with us, not others.
Assume good intentions. If you notice someone using your specific hashtag assume they do not realize its already in use. A polite message letting them know that it’s already in use will almost always receive a more favorable response than threats.