I used to be a hashtag hater.
As someone who lived and breathed social media, I had a set idea of what hashtags were for: searching specifics on Twitter. I’d search #Boulder if I wanted to see what people were saying about our fair city, versus going through tons of Tweets about climbing or Shrek references.
But then people started abusing it. All of a sudden, people were hashtagging #every #single #word, #hashtaggingawholesentence or even hashtagging that #they’reobsessed!!!!withhashtags. Searching #Boulder did lead to those Shrek references (#that #is #a #nice #boulder) and finding posts about our town got more challenging.
I still see hashtag abuse, but I’ve grown a softer lately. I understand how people use hashtags to point out an aside, like Kate Spade’s #BACONEGGSANDCHEESEPLEASE purse. My friends’ Snapchats with #viewfrommyboobs — or, more often, #drunk — show that the hashtag has become a way of indicating a humorous commentary instead of specifically being related to searches. After all, you can’t run a search from a Kate Spade bag or a Snapchat message.
And there are certain places where excessive hashtagging is actually a good thing. Earlier this year I decided I wanted to start following more than just my friends on Instagram, so I searched for posts related to Paris. When #Paris turned up photos of Paris Hilton, or wishful thinking posts, I noticed the ones I was looking for also had long lists of hashtags behind them, with things like #IGersParis or hashtags for the Zip codes of its neighborhoods.
I’m now following at least 50 different amazing, Paris-related Instagram accounts, and my like history is filled with their photos. The use of hashtags has become a form of SEO on Instagram, and where likes are serious social currency — look into how high schoolers use the app — hashtagging your posts into oblivion isn’t always a bad idea.
The hashtag battle can’t be fought without context of a platform. Twitter is text-based, so you’re meant to actually read what’s in the post. But Instagram is about the visual aspects — it’s not necessary to read a caption to enjoy a photo, so when you’re quickly scrolling through, it’s not a big deal to pass through hashtags.
And don’t use hashtags on Facebook. Please.
The Instagram defense still has some caveats. Your hashtags need to actually matter — #daschundsofinstagram says a lot more than #dog — and you need to be posting high-quality, engaging content. Blurry, poorly-lit pics of your #Eggo #waffles and drunken #selfies don’t count.
So go on, get crazy with hashtags. But make sure there’s some method to your madness.
Jess Ryan is a community manager and CU grad. She writes about nerdy things once a week for the Colorado Daily. On Twitter: twitter.com/JessicaLRyan