In case you were busy during the holiday season, we’d like to bring you up to speed with what’s been going on with Instagram. On December 12th, Instagram announced that users can now follow hashtags the same way they follow user accounts. Following a hashtag doesn’t mean you see every post with that hashtag; instead, Instagram uses an algorithm to decide which of the posts that have that hashtag show up in your feed.
Thus far, reactions to the change have been mixed. While users have reported appreciating the convenience of following favorite hashtags, especially compared to the laborious search process they previously needed to use, there have been complaints about feeds becoming cluttered; Instagram’s algorithms aren’t flawless when it comes to finding content users truly want to see.
For brands, the appeal of followable hashtags was immediate and obvious. Using hashtags can help brands boost their visibility by making them part of trending conversations and exposing their content to audiences who would have otherwise never encounter them. Additionally, users can see what hashtags other users follow: this will boost the impact on influencer accounts.
It’s unclear how Instagram’s algorithm is deciding which posts to surface, leaving brands to experiment; this situation is exacerbating, rather than relieving, the clutter problem. Add to that the issue of shadowbans – where Instagram limits an account’s reach based on its use of seemingly innocent hashtags such as #books or #meme – and it becomes clear that monitoring one’s Instagram’s account closely in the coming days is a very good idea.
Why has Instagram made this change? The dynamic nature of the platform is part of the typical social media struggle to stay relevant and provide a better user experience, of course, but there is also another reason. Instagram is a business, and has its own revenue requirements. The changes to hashtags will make it much harder for brands to stand out in an increasingly crowded field, forcing those companies depending on the platform to adopt or increase a paid strategy.