The Instagram Hashtag
By now, you should know what hashtags are on Instagram. Basically, they're a quick way to help you share and publicly archive your images to the hash tagged word. (Read more about it on Instagram's blog here). Instagrams blog post even states that hashtags are a way to "find new followers and share your photos with more people
Instagram Hashtags Are Broken And Tricky
The Hashtag system was a great way to share your images on Instagram; that was until Instagram hit it's global popularity status. Instagram recently announced that it has hit the 300 million monthly active user milestone making it the premier photo sharing service of the world.
The popularity and sheer number of active users has essentially made the hashtag pretty bad at it's job. Under the more popular hashtags (e.g. #vsco, #vscocam), your image will get flooded into oblivion in a matter of microseconds.
Let's be real here, people searching for hashtags won't ever look at more than the first 30-50 images. If you post an image and within 1 minute your photo is immediately pushed beyond the first few pages of results, no one will see your image.
The Trick To Using Hashtags Properly
Ideally, hashtags are meant to connect you with likeminded people and communities and allow you to share your images within those circles. This would be the fastest way to find and connect with new followers.
Which Hashtags to use:
That is why it is best to stay away from the most popular hashtags; especially the one's you find on the "popular hashtag lists" and "popular hashtag apps". Whatever you do, do not Google hashtags to use. They will do you no good.
Instead, find very specific, community based Hashtags. This will ensure that you connect with people who are interested AND looking for pictures like yours - ensuring a high engagement ratio. It should also go without saying that you should keep with the theme of that hashtag and only post images that are relevant. Nothing is worse than an Instagrammer hash tagging all their photos which have absolutely no relation to the theme/topic (see hashtag hijacking below).
The Hashtag engagement needs to be balanced in terms of popularity and active usage. You want your image to stay in a top results position for long enough to be seen by a good amount of users. At the same time, if your image sits in the top results of the hashtag for too long, it usually means that no one is really using & engaging with that hashtag.
Engage with account specific / competition specific hashtags. The more popular accounts usually have their own account/community specific hashtags that they use - you can find them in their profile description. It is also worthwhile entering some of your relevant images to competitions that Instagrammers and Brands run.
The official @instagram account runs a Weekend Hashtag Pproject (#WHPxxxx) that has a specific weekly theme. They pick a bunch of winners weekly and tag their accounts. If you don't know, @instagram has one of the largest accounts that run competitions so it's great exposure for you. Read more about it at their blog.
Hashtags can often be hijacked. It is because hashtags are public domain, that they can be easily hijacked beyond it's intended purpose. For the more popular hashtags you often find tagged photos that have nothing to do with the original hashtag.
Users who are desperate for likes will usually google the most popular hashtags and just spam them all over their photos. Doing so only destroys the value of the hashtag and makes it useless; hence why you should never Google hashtags to use on your Instagrams.
It is for this reason that Hashtags often have a finite shelf life, so it is necessary to keep up (or create) the latest, most relevant ones.
Managing your Hashtags:
Find good (Relevant) Hashtags and then create a list of the one's that work for you. For obvious reasons, you won't find a list of recommended hashtags in this blog post, because if I did, they would immediately be rendered less useful. Instead, you'll need to find hashtags and communities that are relevant to the themes and styles of your Instagrams and experiment with them.
You can add / edit / delete Hashtags that are in your Images caption. Now that Instagram has enabled the edit feature for your image's first caption, you can add, edit & delete Hashtags at will. Please note that once you delete a hashtag, it won't remove it from that hashtag's search results. One image can have a maximum of 30 hashtags.
You cannot add hashtags to other users photos, only your own. I often see users commenting hashtags on other Instagrammers images. This does nothing. Only the original user can add hashtags through the caption and comment section.
At the end of the day, the only real way to grow your account is to have great pictures, although using Instagram to it's fullest potential will help you get noticed.
Overall, I think someone needs to design a more efficient archiving & tagging system (at least for Instagram) as I don't think it is efficient enough to support 300+ million users.
Leave a comment below of your thoughts on this and let me know what works for you :)