A # can be many things: the symbol for a number, a phone’s pound button, or even a very small picture of a tic-tac-toe board. But as the vast majority of people under 50 who don’t live under rocks can likely agree, it now represents, more than anything, hashtags.
And, roughly a decade after Chris Messina, a very early adopter of Twitter, became a lifelong Jeopardy answer by becoming the first person to employ it, the hashtag is ubiquitous on social media. Whether utilized for its original purpose, categorizing content on Twitter, or its less practical but seemingly more common purposes, avoiding sentences and trying to be funny, the hashtag is damn-near inescapable on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
This has no doubt caused many social media users a great deal of consternation – check out The Rant: Why Hashtags Must Die,from Esquire, or just Google “hashtags suck” – but I’m here to contend that, when used for one purpose on one platform, the hashtag does not only not suck but can actually improve your user experience.
Yes, I’m talking about the relatively recent ability – unveiled in a press release from Instagram on December 12, 2017 – to follow hashtags on Instagram.
Here are a few reasons why, roughly four months after its launch, I think this is #awesome:
- Most essentially, following a hashtag enables you to see far more of the broad categories of images that you like to see. At the risk of #tmi, I can’t overstate how much better my Instagram experience has become since I began seeing more images tagged with the likes of #4runner, #farmlife, #johndeere, and #snowshoeing, among many additions to my feed.
- Following also helps you discover new accounts that you might like to follow in a much more natural way than the Explore tab, which always seems to contain a pretty random mishmash of things that I’m very interested in – e.g., puppies playing in the snow – and promoted content that I have never shown any interest in – e.g., a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills appearing on QVC. It’s hard to imagine I’d have ever found and started following oatmeal_stories, a page full of beautiful food images posted by Magda, a comfort food lover and mom of 2 and creative soul in the Netherlands, without first following #healthyfood.
- Speaking of places, following location-specific hashtags allows you to vicariously experience a place.Whetherfollowing well-known places (e.g., #NYC or #london), places you love (e.g. #annapolis or #chesapeakebay), or future travel destinations (e.g., #newzealand or #vancouver), having images with these hashtags pop up in your feed can satisfy your curiosity, nostalgia, or need to make a list of must-visit restaurants and sights.
- Lastly, as is the case with all social media, following hashtags can provide a daily dose of entertainment. Just try adding one of the following to your daily pre-sleep Instagram scroll, as I have, and see if your abs don’t get a little more work:
Reflecting on these four reasons, my overarching takeaway?
Being able to follow hashtags is a welcome Instagram innovation because it makes it more likely that you, me, and however many of the other estimated 800 million Instagram users who choose to use it will be able to consume, engage with, and discover more of the content that we want.
It puts more power in our thumb tips. And who can argue with that?
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