Made popular by Twitter, the hashtag symbol has become a haven for a ménage à trois of bad grammar, breaking news, and celebrity gossip. It was only a few weeks ago that #EddieLongHairPiece was my favorite trending topic of the lot, nearly defeating my all-time favorite,#TakeKanyeInstead. Clearly, both Bishop Eddie Long and Kanye West are men with ongoing public image problems.
The typical way that personalities and companies fight their issues on Twitter is to open accounts for themselves, firing back at or engaging fans directly. In absence of this method, however, what if the aforementioned individuals had the power to purchase their hashtag names (or hashtag terms relating to them) and publicize all tweets within those specific tags that portrayed them in a more favorable light?
Many users are under the erroneous impression that trending topics are chosen by a democratic algorithm; that the displayed topics are truly the most popular amongst the collective Twitter community. However, as was reported in May, the algorithm was manipulated to prevent Justin Bieber topics from rising to the top of the heap day after day. Furthermore, trending topics involving religion are often censored. During the Israeli Flotilla event, it was also speculated that hashtags related to that topic were suppressed to keep them from trending.
Given that Twitter is not above manipulating the popularity of certain topics, including the new for-profit model of Promoted Tweets, why then do they not make use of the omniferous hashtag in order to bring in even more income? Major record labels, movie studios and the like already use hashtags to track their user base. Imagine a market for the buying and selling of registered hashtag names in the vein of the domain name market.
While I’m not suggesting that ICANN become involved, I speculate that Twitter as a singular entity could further brand itself by allowing specific hashtags to be bought and sold as a commodity, with exclusivity rights germane only to Twitter. That is, the hashtag rights would not be transferable to other social networks (i.e., Facebook) unless they, of course, chose to follow suit. In that scenario, a theoretical “tagging” competition could be mutually beneficial for both companies in terms of net profits.
It’s a radical idea, but not one that should insult the users of said platforms. Twitter, like Facebook, is valued in the billions in theory, but does not share the same amount of active users. Though we may like the idea of an unadulterated social network, in reality, those cease to exist after employees are hired, office space is rented, and investors start demanding to see liquid returns on their investments.
Is buying hashtag names the next big thing? Could they one day be bought and sold like stocks? Would YOU be willing to spend time on a social network that linked your witty comment about #Coke directly to the Coca-Cola website with said company becoming the official owner of yourcomment?It may be too early to tell, but for Twitter’s ROI (and Eddie Long’s toupee), the recoupment clock is ticking.