#BadOlympics: The USOC Is Trying to Control a Hashtag

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The United States Olympic Committee just took a giant leap for hashtag marketing, and have completely screwed up the point of using them.

“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

This comes from a letter penned by the USOC, sent out to sponsors and large entities about their branding. Apparently in order to keep certain aesthetics and to avoid misuse or “trolling” the USOC is prepared to take legal action against anyone who uses the hashtags.

More and More Brands Are Trademarking Hashtags

I first read about this on Social Media Today. And, as any content strategist I was completely fucking confused by this move. Like me, the author questioned it but provided the reason why companies are now trying to make it illegal to use these trademarks. Entities are trying to preserve the sanctity of their brand. Controlling their hashtags, they think, allows them to go after trolls and prevent their tags from being hijacked. This makes sense; in theory. But let’s review the facts:

  • Hashtags were created to group posts together.
  • Companies wanted a way to search and track data.
  • From this, marketing agents developed a new style of online advertising including reliable user-based data.
  • A form of constant engagement was created.

Trademarking is the historically safe way to go when you don’t want non-contract sponsors to use or advertise your goods, let along hijack them for political statements. This move, however, also means individual competitors can’t use the hashtags too. And if athletes misuse them, they can fall in under that misuse clause and be sued.

But– No One Cares

Trademarking these hashtags won’t work. The Internet of Things unfortunately has no respect for when brands tell them no; and furthermore an organization on the brink of being labeled crap needs all the help they can get. Brands wanting a tighter hold on hashtags are usually ones scared of negative comments. These are brands willing to go to the ends of the world to have a bright and shiny image.

If you want to make sure no one misuses your branding, you may want to ask yourself why they would to begin with.

#Rio2016 and #TeamUSA are two the most basic tags for the event. The USOC has a huge problem because #Rio2016 is already being used to scrutinize the massive health risks, potential security risks, the issues of athlete safety and comfort in an otherwise third world country.

Those trolled comments will happen regardless. What the USOC should be focusing on is the experiences of those whom are 100% with #TeamUSA at #Rio2016.

Changing the Brand Focus

They’re trying to put out fires before they begin, and in the process, losing a huge opportunity to create a rebranded, user focused event experience in their media marketing. Even if trolls came out to play, why can’t the USOC be accountable enough to have a planned conversation about what’s happening?

Brands with the best strategies are the ones who can identify the risks, the problems, and then turn it around in a smart way to address the concerns of the users. An international organization already has major releases and conferences on the problems — why step back when you can be the ones stepping forward in a very diplomatic way? Why not just come out and say it, instead of trying to awkwardly avoid the conversation like the plague?

Share the good, the positive, the gold medal valour. Have an athlete working with a charity addressing those issues in a non-partisan way and accept the realities of the situation. Work with the problems, instead of sweeping them under the carpet. This tactic would have made for a better PR angle on not only the USOC, but also the media users who expect only the cleanest image to be portrayed.

No one brand is perfect, but trying to legally take away a public domain because you’re afraid — it just works against the Olympic spirit.

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