Demystifying Digital: Instagram & the Humble Hashtag 

What started life as a virtually useless button on your keyboard, now, arguably, holds the key (no pun intended) to your discovery, influence and success on social media. Was it an outcast? A little misunderstood? No, no. The humble hashtag, formerly known in America as the pound sign, simply wasn’t a ‘thing’ until San Francisco techie, Chris Messina, tweeted about the idea to use it as a way of grouping discussions. That was back in 2007, and while Twitter was quick to take it under its wing, it took a good two years before it was fully adopted and the hashtag really started to grow. While originally seeking fame from Twitter and undoubtedly receiving attention across other social media platforms such as Facebook, I would argue that it wasn’t until the inception of Instagram that the hashtag’s true potential was born. 


So, if I use hashtags on Instagram, does that mean I’ll get instant engagement and success? Well, yes and no. You may not gain a thousand followers overnight but one thing is for sure, and that is if you are using Instagram without implementing the relevant hashtags, you are likely missing out on a huge audience and wealth of opportunity for your brand, business or product. That being said, if you want to have a presence on social media, Instagram can be an incredibly effective way to do just that. In fact, thanks to the use of hashtags, Instagram is one of the only social media platforms where you can get organic reach. A study highlighted that by using 11 or more hashtags on a post, you will get an estimated increase in interaction of 79.5% compared to using none at all. 


All it takes is a simple Google search and you can find enough information on ‘how to become famous on Instagram’ to keep you occupied for the next twenty years or so. And yes, there is a whole host of different tactics around. But the simplest and most effective? You guessed it, it’s the hashtag. You don’t need to fret about buying followers or lose sleep over the countless apps that auto-like other people’s posts, because with well-researched and relevant hashtags, you can achieve great exposure and brand awareness on every post you publish. On Instagram, you’re allowed to use up to 30 hashtags on every picture – use these wisely! This could be a simple word such as #coffee or even a phrase like #theweekendishere. Take the time to assess which ones are relevant to your business or product by looking at what your competitors use and what hashtags are trending. A good way to do this is by using the ‘Explore‘ tab, a section within the app that showcases popular posts that have been liked by the Instagram community as well as accounts whose posts you have already liked. Provided your page is public, anybody searching for a hashtag that you have used will be able to see your post. Sounds like pretty good exposure, right? 


While you don’t want to bombard your audience with a sea of indecipherable hashtags, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to make full use of the 30 you are allowed per post. After all, each one of them is an opportunity to get your content directly to the people you want to reach. What’s more, it has been noted that for every hashtag you use, you’re likely to get on average 12.6% more engagement than posts with none at all. And this is Instagram we’re talking about, although not everybody loves them, there are ways to ensure they don’t come across as spammy. As with everything, there is a good way to go about it and a not-so-great way, too. If you add your hashtags in a comment immediately after you’ve posted the picture, your post won’t look cluttered and you can keep the caption clear and concise. Additionally, as you receive the majority of engagement within the first few days of posting, you can easily go back after a week or so and delete the comment for a completely clean, hashtag-free post. As I said earlier, success doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s true that proper implementation of hashtags can give you instant exposure. It just comes down to knowing your audience and doing your research. 


So, here we are, a whole decade since its inception and the (once) humble hashtag continues to thrive. Where will it be in another ten years from now, I wonder? I guess that’s up to all of us to decide. #watchthisspace