I am guilty of aggressively using hashtags on Instagram.
Here’s why. My favorite thing about Instagram is the ability to explore and discover all different kinds of visual content from around the globe. It’s an endless metaverse crowdsourcing visuals from all walks of photography to satisfy whatever your inner aesthete desires – lurid duckfaced beezy selfies, NatGeo-worthy landscapes and cultural spectacles, the street styles of lesser-known models discovered by Jarvis Derrell…and other such portraits illuminating the human condition. I wanted to see what a pair of enormous holographic platform sneakers looked like IRL because stock photos are lifeless and insufficient, so I checked the brand’s hashtag. That’s how I know that they are, truly, a rainbow explosion. Other times I feel like Apparating to fashion weeks around the world, but as I still haven’t received my Hogwarts letter, I must resort to the lowly muggle hashtag for runway-side views.
Hashtags allow photo junkies like myself to filter, sort, and navigate content by relevant topic of conversation – though of course, some of the popular ones end up straying a few degrees off target. Like when you’re looking for pics of puppies and rainbows but get retinally ambushed by some smutty Eastern European “model” spamming those feeds because, obviously you guys, that’s how she’s going to become famous worldwide (…worldwide…worldwide…).
I completely understand why people are grossed out by excessive hashtag use – I used to be, and still kind of am, one of those people. They’re ugly and obtrusive and irritating to read, and long strings of them can reek of desperate famewhoring. But the fact is, they’re necessary vehicles for discovery, especially on a network like Instagram, and I’ve embraced that. I suppose the best thing to do is to use them as relevantly as possible with respect to the overall volume of a particular conversation.
Case in point: if you’re one of those people hashtagging #photo on Instagram, I…I don’t think I can help you. That’s just downright digitally nonsensical. It’s kind of the equivalent of putting your mailing address at the top of your emails, or my very favorite, telling people what your email address is…via email (you’ve seen that, right?). With this in mind, you should know that #photo has been used on Instagram 47,876,234 times – though of course, this includes usage by funny people who like to be all satirical and ironical ‘n’ somesuch.
Using #me in your selfies is similarly puzzling. Unless you’re engaging in a philosophical discussion about the self as conceptualized through the lens of meta-referenciality in a social-digital world – in which case, GET OFF THE INTERNET JACKASS, NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR GRAD SCHOOL THESIS.
FYI, people have used #me 288,017,644 times on Instagram as of 9/30/2014 at 8:38PM PT. Again, this includes all usage with and without irony. In comparison, #endworldhunger has been used a whopping total of 3,697 times (hopefully never ironically), so you should all be really proud of yourselves, you fucking narcissists 😀
While we can’t do much about Taylor Swift being a cancer on this world, at the very least we can try to fix our hashtags. The best approach? Relevance with respect to conversational volume. Don’t use something like #photo or #me because it’s a) so relevant it’s irrelevant and b) you’ll have a lot of noise to battle through for people to find your pic, so it’s neither an effective nor an efficient way for your content to be discovered (and subsequently appreciated or ridiculed). This isn’t really the worst offense, though, when you think about it – the real trouble is when you’ve got an entire string of hashtags that are all moronic iterations of the exact same concept, like Djordje Djukanovic’s famous example of what not to do.
My suggestion is to do some poking around on the network and use your best judgment to prioritize textual real estate for those hashtags. Ones that aren’t too general/popular or too specific/obscure will give you the best possible results. #chihuahua is more relevant than #dog, just as #douchebag is more fitting than #20yrold #guy #in #fedora #edhardytank #and #truereligion #jeans. Which brings me to a related point: not a good idea to write actual sentences while integrating hashtags at every other word. It’s a goddamn eyesore and frankly, #people don’t #appreciate you #drawing #attention to how #fucking #millennial you are #ohandbythewayBUYMYPRODUCTimmarketingtoYOUgoddamnitOHLOOKapostmillennial.
You’ll see that I often add long strings of hashtags to my posts, sort of like an SEO keyword list. The trick is to not put all of them in the caption, but add the additional ones as a comment on your photo instead. This way your photo will still make its way into relevant spheres of conversation, but that ugly block of hashies will get pushed up into the hidden portion of the thread once enough people start commenting on your pic.
Obviously if you don’t care about content discovery or are just principally against the concept of the hashtag, then you have little to worry about (but also, I’m fascinated you’ve read this far). As always, I’m simply a proponent of the two-way conversational capabilities afforded by platforms which simultaneously facilitate the discovery of valuable content and the cultivation of global communities. Just remember the rules of social karma are pretty simple in the end: you need to give love to get love.