Hashtags have become the most popular way to tag an event on social media and a way to go beyond your social followers to drive traffic to your website. Hashtags unite social users around subject areas. They are also used to align your company to popular trending subjects. But now the unassuming hashtag has taken on an unusual and disturbing importance. Now the most-watched sports event every four years has purchased the rights to specific hashtags, and has banned other companies from using them in their posts.
Wait! You can own a hashtag?
It takes about $300,000 to send a participant to the Olympics, and with 555 athletes from the US, its not cheap. The companies that sponsor the Olympics spend millions of dollars supporting them, and therefore, have the exclusive right to use particular hashtags. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is trying to prevent ambush marketing, which is when companies try to piggyback onto an event and associate their products with it when the event already has official sponsors. Of course, that’s the actual reason hashtags exist – so we can all engage in a subject area.
Which hashtags are banned?
Who can tweet?
Of course the great unwashed of daily tweeters will not be hunted down, but large companies (otherwise known as “global brands”) trying to use these words will be notified. Only the official sponsors of the Olympic games can use the hashtags above, and any combination/variation of them. This is also referred to as ‘Rule 40.’ If another company tries to use these words, the IOC will send a letter asking them to remove it within 24 hours.
Shockingly, Pope Francis – one of the most-followed people in the world – tweeted to show his support for the Olympic athletes, and was contacted to take it down. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump also got dinged for using the hashtags #TeamUSA and #Rio2016, and The White House for using #TeamUSA.
How can your business get around this on social media?
The Men’s Basketball team took a group photo, and since Nike was the only domestic sports apparel sponsor of Team USA, players that were individually sponsored by other brands had to cover up their logos. Players wore leather jackets over their jerseys or were turned sideways so the logo could not be seen. Brands could show the sport, but could not use the word Olympics or any of the logos. Oiselle, an athletic apparel company that sponsors individuals but is not an official sponsor, created their own words for the Olympics using the hashtag #TheBigEvent and referring to it as the “South American Rodeo.”
The idea of hashtags creating publicity for a specific event does not apply here. Its completely baffling because the Olympics is a worldwide event which generates so much attention, and will not be able to have a trending hashtag on twitter since the majority of companies or even popular individuals cannot use them. Owning the rights of a public idea, like a hashtag, now has its limits, but I hear the Pope is appealing to a higher authority. We’ll let you know how that turns out.