To Hashtag or Not to Hashtag? The Dos and Dont’s of the 2016 Olympics

Hashtags are one of the strongest tools a company can use in a digital marketing campaign—they are free, easy to use, draw attention, promote content and create conversations. Developing a successful hashtag is marketing gold. They give your target audience a way to look for you. When implemented correctly, click-through rates increase, search queries increase and the hashtag itself will resonate with your audience.

Consumers use hashtags to search for conversations that are taking place on social media so that they can join in or follow a trend. Whether you’re a small brand or big brand you want people talking about you online, correct? Well, not necessarily.

Certain brands such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl say that non-sponsors cannot use official Olympic hashtags. #what

These brands are trademarking these hashtags and terms making them protected property under the law. These big-name brands aren’t afraid to take measures to end the usage of certain verbiage, which is confusing because it defies the whole purpose of a hashtag.

A recent article from ESPN explains that the United States Olympic Committee’s reasoning is to make sure that an athlete’s sponsor is only supporting that athlete and not mentioning the Olympics in their marketing campaigns unless officially designated to do so.

Are you rolling your eyes yet? Well, to be fair, it does make some sense. They put billions of dollars into their brand and their sponsors need to have some level of exclusivity to make their investment worth it. This, however, doesn’t answer the question of how consumers who have a business aspect to their profiles can use the hashtags without repercussion. (Don’t worry, if you are a true, general consumer you’ve been given the #goahead to use the hashtags.)

In theory, brands would want consumers using the hashtag in order to create a community celebrating similar content and to direct more traffic to the brands who are allowed to use that hashtag. But who is acting as the hashtag police and monitoring whether consumers or businesses are using the hashtag? Monitoring that sounds just about as messy as the infrastructure of the Rio Games this year. #hotmess

The Olympics aren’t the only brand doing this, the NFL has tight regulations on their “Super Bowl” hashtag which is tied to the ad space big brands are purchasing for up to $4 million. So, if you pay $4 million for a 30-second commercial then you’re allowed to use the official Super Bowl hashtag in your marketing campaign—a $4 million hashtag, HA! #KeepDreaming

What do you do when you can’t pay $4 million to use a hashtag but your brand would benefit immensely from being associated with big events such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl? Or maybe you just want to support the event?

There are some work-arounds. You can use different verbiage such as “The Big Game” to describe the Super Bowl or you can insinuate certain values that coincide with the Olympics like “giving it your all,” Nike did a superb job of doing so in this commercial.

So should you being sweating it out before sending out a tweet that may cause legal turmoil? It’s a grey area, and it’s probably best to be safe rather than sorry.

But hey, luckily for us digital marketing gurus, creativity runs through our blood and anything easy is boring. So get your visionary flow going and find new ways to create conversations that will coincide with these big events.

Here’s a list of phrases you CAN’T turn into hashtags (#nonos):
Olympic, Olympian, Team USA, Future Olympian, Gateway to Gold, Go for the Gold, Let the Games Begin, Paralympic, Pan Am Games, Road to Rio, Rio 2016, and many more.

Here’s a list of creative game-related hashtags you shouldn’t get in trouble for:
#teamamerica #brazilgames #thebiggame #thebiggames #worldwidesports #allin #inittowinit #usausausa