Are hashtags still relevant today for social media usage?
In short, yes. But its usage is not the same as it was originally intended.
What was once a hyperlinked tag used to categorize posts for easier discovery is now additionally used by social media algorithms to rank posts and show them to users who would likely be interested.
In some applications instead of users using hashtags to find posts, the social media platforms do it for them.
How did hashtags start?
Hashtags were first utilized in 2007 by San Diego resident, Nate Rider, who started appending his twitter posts with the hashtag #sandiegofire in efforts to raise awareness about the wildfires burning in California at the time. Twitter formally adopted hashtags in 2009, and later introduced “Trending Topics”, where the most popular hashtags were displayed and tweeters could join in on the trending conversations.
Hashtags were created as a way to filter relevant content for users. Individuals would search for a “#tag” in the search bar. The most popular social posts with the searched hashtag would be served up in the search results.
How are hashtags used in 2022?
Hashtags are still a great way for users to categorize their content, which in turn helps Instagram and other platforms serve up posts to relevant audiences. Using “#”‘s to search for posts is becoming less and less prevalent.
Today, over half of Instagram users do not actively search hashtags to find new content or people to follow. Some still do, but the hashtag’s function has shifted over to the social media algorithm.
Instagram’s algorithm analyzes hashtags and caption content to show your post to the right people or boost your post if it contains a trending topic/hashtag. Social media algorithms are becoming increasingly intelligent by the day, meaning they are analyzing BOTH the content of the caption and the hashtags used. This suggests that one day hashtags may no longer be necessary for social media. But for now, it is still the primary way social media algorithms will identify and categorize your posts.
How do algorithms work on social media?
While each social media platform uses algorithms differently, they have a common goal: They want to get the right content in front of the right person.
The Instagram algorithms, more than one, use a set of rules that determine which content is seen. Each time a user opens the app, algorithms immediately comb through all available content and decide:
- Which posts go to the top of the newsfeed, and in what order.
- Which posts are featured on the Explore Tab.
- The order in which stories, live videos and reels show up.
What else are the algorithms doing?
There are different factors that go into the algorithms’ decision-making processes, but, the three main aspects that are taken into account are:
- The relationship with your followers. Does this user interact with you frequently?
- The relevancy of your content. Does this user typically engage with this type of post and content?
- The timeliness of your content. Was this posted recently? (Pro tip: Instagram will prioritize newer posts over older ones.)
In 2022, Instagram algorithms sort through your feed and stories. Their goal is to predict how likely you are to interact with the post based upon how many likes a post got in a certain amount of time. It is also based on how many times you have interacted with the person who posted or your activity.
With this information about the advancing technology of social media algorithms, you maybe asking:
How can we effectively utilize hashtags today?
- Focus on using hashtags that are relevant to your niche. The hashtags you use should be phrases that describe the content. The more closely your hashtags are related to your content, the more Instagram will boost your content to the right audience. You can identify your most relevant hashtags by researching what your competitors are using and searching Instagram for key words to see which ones have the most engagement.
- Do not use overly-popular or too specific hashtags. A hashtag like “#EggsBenedictWithPepperJackCheeseAreTheBest” will not give you the results you want because it is too specific. Simply put, content with these types of #’s are unlikely to be seen because there aren’t enough people searching for it. (Searching as in, Instagram will not recognize your post as a relevant topic and will make it harder for it to find your ideal audience.)On the contrary, overusing popular hashtags may not give you the volume of engagements that you desire. The usage of hashtags like, “#instagood” or “#fashioninspo#, are oversaturated and the likelihood of your post getting seen is slim amongst the billions of others using the same hashtag. You may also risk not reaching your target audience because they’re simply too generic and overloaded with spammy content.
- Diversify the hashtags you use.
Common sense suggests that consistency will produce results, but with hashtags this is not the case. When you use the same set of hashtags, you are reaching the same group of people over and over again! Most importantly, when you use the same hashtags for every post, Instagram will flag your content.
Try switching it up. Test new ones. Research trending ones, then create a couple sets of hashtags for different types of posts.
See an example of how we use hashtags in our post above.
This post was following an event we conducted for Earth Day. We invited our clients to participate in recycling used glass products with us, which was then dropped off at Glass Half Full Nola.
In order to get maximum visibility from the right audience, we made sure to use broad hashtags that were unique to Earth Day. Our goal was to attract the attention from environmentally conscious users and those who were participating in this annual environmental movement. Using the trending hashtag “#EarthDay” allowed us to gain visibility from those outside of our followers. We also wanted to tap into the niche group of those who were familiar with Glass Half Full Nola, New Orleans’ only glass recycling depot, so using hashtags pertaining to this non-profit helped us to do just that.
The truth is, hashtags are not completely dead – yet. The purpose of hashtags, and the way that we use them, has evolved.
If you refocus your efforts to gain the attention of the algorithms, you can have much more success in building your following within your target audience and increase your engagements. Let us know if any of these Pro Tips work for you and your business!