The Future Price of a Hashtag



This is a guest post by Lauren Cannon. Lauren is a fellow mohawked writer, currently for Brokelyn. You can follow her on Twitter, @laurenthedark.

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.

This is a guest post by Lauren Cannon. Lauren is a fellow mohawked writer, currently for Brokelyn. You can follow her on Twitter, @laurenthedark.

  • Katie Delahaye Paine

    Hashtags will only be bought and sold when they truly deliver value, so you would have to know that a hashtag caused you to click thru to a page from which you bought something or downloaded something. They aren’t like URLs that can be used to track online behavior.

  • ColderICE

    Is it a “radical idea” YES, too radical? Quite possibly, here is why. Hashtags are only as popular as people use them. So if the record label, per se, owned them … why would the public use them only for happy thoughts? While Twitter might censor right now, but to censor for $$$ would be kinda scummy, ya think? I don’t see how users would go for that one?!?

    John (ColderICE)

  • jbrotherlove

    The idea of purchasing tweets seems to be what the Promoted Tweets/Topics model is all about (be interesting to see the numbers on how successful they are). As others have mentioned, I don’t see enough value/longevity in a hashtag to buy it? And once a company claimed to “own” one, how quickly would users just choose a different one – or, start trashing the hashtag?

    BTW, the Coke scenario you mention already exists. A hastag can be tracked and displayed on a website now. But that doesn’t make the website owner the owner of that tweet (although their policy may bot be updated to address that). I don’t see how that could be enforced.

  • Green Net Guy Tokyo

    Interesting thoughts Lauren. These are early days for twitter and the platform will continue to expand and be tinkered with.Anything that gets more people using it and talking about it is good

  • misaacmom

    I had no idea that Twitter had control over trending topics. Not sure how I feel about that yet, but generally opposed to censorship.

    A website URL can be controlled but it would be interesting to see how someone would try to manage it with hashtags.