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Hash It Out!

Posted by: Nicole Briggs on April 29, 2013

Starting today at 5PM EST/2PM PST, Comedy Central and more than 50 popular comedians such as The Daily Show’s Al Madrigal, Lil Rel Howery and Amy Schumer are participating in a social media event that brings the Comedy Central and Twitter brands together. Building on and disrupting the Twitter Party, the brands are launching #ComedyFest.

Tonight’s kickoff event, Mel Brooks Joins Twitter, features Carl Reiner and Judd Apatow as moderator. Following the hashtag #ComedyFest, people can join in all of the action from @MelBrooks’ historic first tweet tonight through Friday, May 3.

Twitter PartyBusinesses and bloggers have long known the opportunity that lies in the Twitter hashtag to create Twitter Parties, promote products and ideas and find follow-worthy content. Twitter began using the hashtag as early as 2007 and they’re very popular today. Chances are you’ve used a few. (Hashtags are words or phrases that follow behind the # symbol.) They’re currently found in use on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and GooglePlus. Now Facebook too is weighing getting in on the hashtag action.

Facebook is working on incorporating the hashtag into its network as a way to start up group conversations. The feature will allow users to grab posts regarding aspecific topic or event in order to build conversations, keeping users connected and logged on even longer than before.

This move could be a result of Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram last year. Instagram already uses the symbol to sort photos.

Spectators believe the new feature speaks to the ongoing business rivalry with Twitter. While Facebook is and remains much larger than Twitter, generating $4.3 billion in advertising last year, the competition is prevalent.

The WSJ reports, “Facebook's work on a hashtag is a sign of the heightening battle between Facebook and Twitter, as both compete for mobile users and fight for advertising dollars. For years, Twitter and Facebook seemed to occupy different poles of the social-media spectrum. While Facebook was the home of close friends and family, Twitter was the real-time broadcasting device for the rest of the world.”

Facebook Hashtag Protest

Some are totally against the new feature. A Facebook page named “This is not Twitter. Hashtags don’t work here.” was set up and has more than 12,000 likes. However, there are many social media experts and users alike that think this is a great feature that will enhance user experience.

Marketing seems to benefit the most from the use of hashtags in social media. Experts encourage companies to use hashtags in marketing messages on Twitter and other social media platforms. Continuous use of hashtags can help a brand go viral and generating more traffic.

Hashtag MugHashtags can also help humanize brands, making them appealing to consumers. Hashtags make information easier to find, and that’s important. As a social media user myself, I enjoy having information given to me at lightning speed without the hassle of a full internet search. Other benefits of hashtags are promotion, unification, conversation, targeting and innovation, as Forbes noted.

Question: So if Twitter is responsible for the success of hashtags, why don’t they own a trademark for it? Answer: Twitter has yet to register for a hashtag trademark.

In fact, none of the major players in the social network industry have applied for trademark registrations for the word or symbol. From a trademark perspective hashtags could also be considered as an industry standard and functional in the category. If so, Twitter cannot claim rights to hashtags, if it is essential to the use or purpose of the offering.

The use of a product feature as a trademark would put competitors at a disadvantage. This could be the reason Facebook does not own the trademark for the word Like, outside of its famous thumb up design. While we love a great trademark dispute, there won’t be one brewing here. Just seems like a game of fair or unfair competition.

Nicole Briggs is an Associate Trademark Consultant for Interbrand.

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