The word ‘hashtag’ has spawned a plethora of generators, analytic sites and threads to track particular niches within a social network. From their origin of wanting to connect people through common interests to the convoluted ones that our grandparents make up, these little blue characters that appear alongside our posts are a powerful way of sorting through content that we might find valuable. As an individual who has worked in multiple PR firms and has engaged in influencer marketing, hashtags are extremely helpful in honing in on specific niches and targeting the shit out of those with a large following to gain maximum reach. However, with the abundant saturation in the majority of popular hashtags and such a high refresh rate at high traffic hours of the day, is it really #worthit to even #try?
When I got my first iPod touch back in the stone age, I was very reluctant to jump on the Instagram bandwagon. From its conception on my iPod, it became a reclusive space where I could use hashtags to search for beautiful destinations, my favourite celebrities and random fandom-based content that would be weird to show to your friends. It was an immediate way of connecting me to others visually that Facebook didn’t seem to have as it isn’t based heavily on aesthetic like Instagram is. Hashtags became increasingly popular when I realised that they could benefit my own posts with my close friends letting me know about the ones that would get me TONES of likes (at this point in time, maybe 10-20 likes was OUTSTANDING for me – it still kind of is). The tags that had the most relevance at this point were #likeforlike in its various forms and #followforfollow which was a thread that would notify others to follow and like your Instagram profile.
As I continued to post, I crafted a specific list that I would utilise for my profile which tended to assist in generating likes for my extremely subpar content. However, the saturation that these so called ‘popular’ hashtags now exude makes them somewhat useless. Currently, there are over 45 million Instagram posts which link to the #followforfollow thread which, in my own experience, added no meaningful followers to my page and instead attracted spam accounts and dodgy brands automating a response like “Hi babe! We love your content, it fits our style and would love to have you in our program, DM us hun! xx.”
In an era where users search for authenticity on a fabricated site like Instagram, hashtags that don’t result in loyal, meaningful followers are not recognised as being useful to growing your following. This can be attributed to the evolution of the platform being utilised as a tool to spread conversation, to influence audiences and foster meaningful connections, sharing content that your followers and tagged threads will enjoy. Users have had to become more creative with their tags and relating their content to current events, add geotags when eating at overpriced aesthetic restaurants with mates, and understand the hash-tagging Instagram algorithm.
When I first downloaded Instagram, I kept it a secret from my parents. To my dismay, they found my public profile, followed me secretly, and began to judge my every move; I would say they learned how to use Instagram off me, but if I did, I would be #lying. Digital natives and immigrants engage and interact with this social media imperative very differently. I find myself using hashtags that I would want to find and hiding them at the end of my post with dots galore, or making a comment under my post so others didn’t see them attached to my post. I believe it is due to the insecurity of people seeing that I need hashtags to get the amount of likes that I do and that my following alone isn’t enough.
I can’t stop doing it to avoid looking like a fraud as the ratio of followers liking my posts continues to dwindle. A strong juxtaposition to this way of thinking is a digital immigrants’ (more specifically my parents) way of sharing posts. It contrasts greatly in that my preparation and concern for the judgement of my profile does not exist in their Instagram world. They aren’t apprehensive of follower to following ratios, the quality of their content, and most importantly their cringe captions with hashtags everywhere. Nothing bugs me #hashtag more than #having hashtags spread #throughout a caption. But, they do it anyway because in their eyes, it means their fitting into their own niche and blending in with everyone else; which is another thing these little blue tags seem to do extremely well, include people.
One good thing is their creativity in creating hashtags. The amount of times I see a whole sentence as a hashtag or more than 24 characters in one, I #KnowImInForAGoodTime. I wish that I could have more freedom with the way that I create and collate my hashtags however with the of pressure of numbers and happiness being synonymous with each other online, I can’t help but feel the need to hide my hashtags as a taboo derived from Instagram culture. Their usefulness as a tool is becoming less important with influencers barely using any to share their content as they begin to collaborate with other influencers instead of tagging their content in heavily saturated and niche threads.
The only plausible use for these blue tinted characters is for niche markets sharing content and attempt to create connections with each other, further emphasising the worth of rare and niche markets. I believe this is due to the overly saturated mainstream market being very results-focused and thirsting for ‘perfected’ content without the use of hashtags unless they are absolutely necessary in tagging an event, period, time or landmark.
In a #hashtag world where these #hashtags are becoming less and less important in our #online persona content sharing, I believe there will be very little chance of people discovering mainstream influencers that align with their values and beliefs. However, is that really a #hashtag bad thing?