We’ve all been there. You’ve spent time brainstorming, testing, and designing the perfect hashtag. Then you start researching. Suddenly, you find that your hashtag is already being used by someone else. Enter crisis mode and start googling, Can I reuse a hashtag?
At this point of the internet, it is highly probable that someone else has created a similar hashtag. Serendipity is not uncommon and happens frequently in all disciplines. There’s even a scientific term for it: simultaneous invention.
If Newton and Liebniz can simultaneously discover calculus, then it isn’t a crisis for two people to stumble upon the same hashtag. In some cases, it may even be appropriate to reuse it. As time progresses, there will be fewer and fewer “clean” tags so some recycling must be allowed.
Before you decide to reuse a hashtag, consider four criteria.
How recently was the tag used?
Where was the tag used?
How long was the tag used and how likely will it be used again?
How prominent was the tag?
1. How recently was the tag used?
The first recorded instance of hashtags on Twitter, according to hashtag.org, was from technologist Chris Messina in 2007. Over a decade later, we’re still using tags to group content. There is not an exact rule for how recent is too recent to reuse a hashtag, but our general rule of thumb is to look for tags without major use in the past two years.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
As social media continues to proliferate, this rule will undoubtedly change. But two years of tag inactivity should suffice in most cases. Note that inactivity doesn’t necessarily mean that tag is completely dead. A couple of blips of activity are fine and common.
A huge amount of geography between the originator and the new tag user is often enough to qualify re-use when combined with the other criteria on this list. Is your event or campaign in the Americas while the original hashtag was in Eastern Europe? If your efforts are location-specific, you may be able to comfortably use existing hashtags.
Also consider the platform where the hashtag is already being used. If your audience is exclusively on Instagram and the originator’s tag is specifically on Twitter, then you may be in the clear. Some legacy tags may only have existed on older social networks. If you’re marketing to a younger audience, you may have a clean slate with newer platforms.
3. How long was the tag used and how likely is it to be used again?
The Adidas campaign was only promoted for a short period of time. It is reasonable to assume that the album promotion will have limited duration too. This tag could be ripe for use again in a couple of years.
Maybe your hashtag is already being used today? You could shelve it, substitute for a time, and come back later when the opportunity presents itself.
4. How prominent was the tag?
Even if a tag has been inactive for a period of time and was not used for very long, if it held a major prominence in a news cycle or popular culture then even inactive tags should be avoided. These tags poison the well and generally make the tags unusable in the future.
Consider #Kony2012. The hashtag, and social campaign, was incredibly popular when the documentary Kony 2012 brought global attention to the plight of Ugandan child soldiers under the regime of Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. The tag has languished in recent years with occasional spikes in interest when the documentary makes the rounds on social. The tag and associated handles
Another set of tags that are unusable for the immediate future are the #savebritney and #freebritney. The controversy around the conservatorship of pop icon Britney Spears ebbs and flows. It is the subject of discussion, activism campaigns, and podcasts. Given the fame and infamy of the topic, and rumors of pending litigation, the tag will be associated with her easily into the next century.
Yes. Avoid crisis mode. Do some research and move forward. Just because someone is already using your hashtag does not mean all hope is lost. Reuse a hashtag when you can or start again from scratch. There’s a lot of hashtags out there. You next perfect hashtag is waiting.