he hashtag has been enabling users on Twitter to join and follow conversations for the best part of 10 years. Its cultural status is such that it was recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary.
However some predicted the end of the hashtag only last year following reports that Twitters Head of News referred to them as “arcane”. But with the mighty Facebook following You Tube, Tumblr, Google+, Linkedin, Flickr and Instagram in introducing hashtags, it would appear that they are here to stay for the short-term at least.
The hashtag continues to be popular for brands and media organisations alike
For brands the hashtag has evolved and is increasingly seen as an important engagement tool. Coca-Cola’s #makeithappy hashtag was central to their recent US campaign which broke in the run up to the 2014 Super Bowl and is lauded as an example of how to leverage hashtags for brand engagement (http://onforb.es/1CZJW1w ).
The BBC recently leveraged the power of the hashtag to significant effect to mark the 30th anniversary of top British soap EastEnders. #EELive was promoted on the broadcasters TV and radio channels in the run up to and during a week of live TV broadcasts of the show. The hashtag trended number one on Twitter in the UK and was used on an estimated one million tweets during the weeks’ climactic episode.
There are of course plenty of examples of campaigns prominently featuring hashtags which have backfired and probably too many to list here.
Where are the opportunities for sports properties?
The opportunity for athletes, teams, leagues and event organisers to leverage hashtags for fan engagement purposes is fairly clear and well documented (including by Twitter itself). What is less clear is how the aforementioned sports properties can harness the power of the hashtag to add value to their commercial partners.
The success of sponsors own hashtags is increasingly becoming a key performance indicator for sponsors and it is common for property holders to assist with the amplification of sponsor hashtags. However hashtags are fairly limited in value if the conversation they promote does not resonate with fans. Sponsors are increasingly expecting sports properties to provide access to content that can help put their brand at the heart of fan conversations on social media.
While broadcast rights holders will, by definition, have access to official content, sports properties might have to work a bit harder to ensure their official sponsors are served in this regard. Lack of official content is a serious concern for sponsors and one touched on recently in an insightful interview by IEG with Visa’s Ricardo Fort ( http://bit.ly/19ZvUWJ ).
With broadcast rights holders holding much of the live audience and plentiful content in their hands, sports properties can play a role to proactively support their official sponsors by providing alternative hashtag options, along with creative content ideas to drive the conversation, which might complement and enhance sponsors own hashtags. The Football League’s recent #OwnTheArch campaign was a brilliant example of a property holder delivering value to its sponsor through a well-executed campaign grounded on a simple concept and hashtag (http://bit.ly/1MlhlL2 ).
The hashtag as a brand asset
This leads nicely to the question of legal protection of hashtags. At first consideration, the thought of legally protecting hashtags sounds like a contradiction in terms. However, this is a topic for sports properties to keep an eye on. Perennial sports sponsor, Coca-Cola, brought this topic to the fore by reportedly filing two trademark applications for hashtags in the US (#cokecanpics and #smilewithacoke).
Successful hashtags are short and informative (for more tipps on what makes a good hashtag read this: http://bit.ly/1BiDvsu ) and will most often feature unprotected terms (e.g. shortened versions of a sports team or event name), which can in theory be leveraged by ambush marketers. Twitters trademark policy is evidence of an existing commitment to combatting infringements of trademarks (http://bit.ly/1LrEtVR ).
At the very least, hashtags should be developed through the lens of a sports properties brand strategy. There is a lot to admire in the Scottish FA approach to developing and building awareness in hashtags which, in addition to being familiar to fans, reinforce the unique positioning of each of its national team properties. A sports property that has a clear policy in place for the development of its own hashtags is better placed to guide its sponsors in terms of how the sponsors should or shouldn’t make reference to the property in its hashtags.
As live sport continues to be a fertile topic of conversation in social, sports properties need to get on the front foot and give some real consideration to how they can leverage hashtags not only to support fan engagement, but to drive value for sponsors.