Hashtags: you either love them or hate them–or perhaps you just feel mildly confused by them. I was recently talking to someone I work with about hashtags, and was surprised to discover how deep my passion for them runs. Yes, I know that they can be used in a very spammy way, but I think that’s a misuse of a tool that has a lot of potential for good, rather than an inherent problem with the tool itself. Like pretty much all social media and modern technology, hashtags are what you make of them.
At their worst, hashtags are a spammy and desperate cry for attention (“Come like my photo! Follow me! I want to look popular! #like4like #like4follow”). Other people use hashtags as an extension of their caption or as a funny aside, with no real intention of joining a wider conversation (“Best night ever! #besties #wasted #nightout #cantstopwontstop”). Nothing wrong with that, but in essence this kind of hashtag user doesn’t particularly want “strangers” to engage with their photo or caption, and they’re not going to browse through the hashtag thread to see what other people are saying there.
However, if you don’t want other people to find your post, then it’s worth asking why you have tagged it with a hashtag at all. Used properly, hashtags are actually meant to be tags that mark your posts as being a part of a wider conversation. They are a way of organising content on social media platforms: you can scroll through any given hashtag feed and see all of the posts that people have tagged with that hashtag, and so browse and/or engage with that particular conversation. They are a communal storytelling tool, a way for you to connect with other people and for others to connect with you. They can unite people around a cause (usually this kind of hashtag does best on Twitter, for example the recent #MeToo campaign, or #CapForStrat), raise awareness about an issue, and even sometimes make such an impact that concrete action follows “in the real world” as a result.
On Instagram, hashtags don’t have to be quite so connected with whatever’s trending and Big Conversations. Because the platform is so visual, they can function as a tag that connects your post with a discussion about a certain mood, light, or time of year. For example, I created the hashtag #thisjaneaustenlife on Instagram to unite everyone who secretly wishes they lived in a costume drama, and I love scrolling through it to see people’s Elizabeth-Bennet-style hearty country walks, beautiful manor houses they wished they lived in, quiet and cosy moments spent writing a letter or having tea by the fire.
People who use hashtags with intention on Instagram generally use the same hashtags that they like to browse themselves; they choose them carefully, tending towards smaller, more niche hashtags that are very relevant to their caption and/or photo. They choose hashtags where the other photos in the feed fit with their own aesthetic, tastes, and interests.
If you fall into this last category of hashtag user on Instagram, I’ve started a little project you might like to get involved with… so, read on!
There are so many creative conversations and inspiring hashtags out there; Sara Tasker has an awesome hashtag roundup newsletter that I highly recommend joining if you are a fellow hashtag-obsessive–scroll down to the section titled “Hashtags for Instagram: Monthly Newsletter” to sign up. But, it’s been bothering me for a while now that I didn’t have one place to collect all my favourites and credit the creators in a neat-and-tidy and user-friendly way (in case you couldn’t tell, I was the kind of kid who used to collect stamps–as in, properly steam them off envelopes and organise them in a stamp collecting album–when I was growing up). I tried Trello, but that was a bit cumbersome and didn’t work very well. Then the other day I made this Pinterest board, and I really love how it’s been working for me so far. It means I can organise the hashtags into sub-categories on the one board, as well as linking to a visual and crediting the creator. I’ll keep collecting lovely Instagram hashtags that I come across over there, and hopefully over time this will grow into a really useful resource.
Of course you are most welcome to follow along and use it as a resource to find new and lovely hashtags that interest you. But, if you would like to join the board so that you can add your own discoveries and favourites, I’d love to have you–the more the merrier, and it means I can be a little lazier if other people are pitching in! Just send me a request either by commenting on one of the pins on the board to let me know that you would like to join and pin, or by sending me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org with your Pinterest handle so that I can find and add you to the board.
The hashtags you pin can be any size, though in my experience better conversations and connections tend to happen on smaller hashtags vs. more spammy behaviour (people follow-unfollowing you, leaving random irrelevant comments etc.) happening when you use bigger hashtags. The two major requirements for a hashtag being pin-worthy for this board are that a) you can trace back to the source of who created it, and b) that it is a lovely or fun or unique (or all of the above!) hashtag that inspires you, and is sparking genuine, authentic conversations and connections between people; in other words, it’s building and enhancing the Instagram community in some way.
Please follow these rules when pinning (to keep my inner stamp-collecting-child happy):
1. Pick an image to pin from the Instagram feed of the creator of the hashtag that you think best represents the ethos of the hashtag.
2. Follow this format when captioning your pin: [#hashtag] by [@Instagram handle] // Description: [if needed – if it’s super self-explanatory, you can skip this bit!]
3. Please use the relevant section on the board, but feel free to create a new section if you feel like we need it.
NOTE: You’ll need to pin the Instagram images from your phone; unfortunately I haven’t found a way to pin Instagram images on a desktop computer yet, but let me know in the comments if you know of a clever way to do it. Here are some handy instructions on how to pin something from Instagram on your phone—once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll see it’s super easy and you’ll be as addicted as I am.
That’s it! Thanks for getting involved, and for helping to create such a lovely community here and over on Instagram.