Instagram Hashtags Expand Organic Reach
Instagram recently made a change to its algorithm, allowing users to follow specific hashtags. Stories and posts that use the hashtag will be featured in a user’s newsfeed alongside the content they already follow.
Once users follow a hashtag, Instagram's algorithm will have to decide which stories to feature in users' feeds based on a variety of factors, such as quality, recency and engagement. Instagram’s hashtag algorithm is aided by machine-learning technology, so its initial rollout may feel a little disjointed to some users before the application can determine which posts are most relevant.
This update brings along a lot of questions about how Instagram will be able to determine relevance. For example, #goat can be used by people for posts proclaiming them to be the “greatest of all time” (g.o.a.t.) while others may use it to label a physical picture of a goat. Fortunately, Instagram provides users a button at the top of each post for users to label them as irrelevant.
This feature doesn't unfollow the post but helps Instagram to sort posts within the hashtag feed by its relevance to the individual’s intent.
This new update has split the Instagram following page into two categories: people and hashtags. Before the update, users had to click on a hashtag or search for it to view the top stories and most recent stories that utilize the hashtag. With this new update, not only do users gain the ability to actively track trending hashtags, they also receive curated content that’s actually relevant to their interests.
With the inclusion of hashtags into the user’s feed, brands will be able to significantly expand their organic reach. The key to proper hashtag marketing is to provide authentic posts and relevant topics to the hashtag.
This update could open the door to spam and misuse during the initial rollout, but Instagram's algorithm will be able to eventually weed out irrelevant posts. For brands looking to capitalize on trending and content-related posts, the focus yet again falls on quality. Posting a high-quality piece that gatherers engagement will most likely result in a post being included in more users' newsfeeds.
This will incentivize more users to hop on hashtag bandwagons to try and get their posts seen by their audience. I don't recommend this approach unless you have something to offer. Not only do irrelevant and spammy posts create negative sentiment around your brand, but it will theoretically make it much harder for your future posts to be actively displayed in hashtag feeds.
Just like with every machine-learning protocol, Instagram's algorithm will see that your brand’s account produces historically thin content and will be less likely to give any of your posts much organic reach in hashtag follow feeds.
Brands will be alerted if their posts appear in a hashtag-related feed. Brands that successfully conduct their own branded hashtag campaign will see their reach expand under the new update and be able to monitor the conversation. If Instagram allows advertisers to take advantage of this feature, brands could boost through sponsored posts to target specific individuals with carefully curated content.
The Advertising Question
Marketing Land brought up some excellent points regarding the potential for Instagram to monetize this new feature. Keep in mind that Instagram is owned by Facebook, so the idea of seeing sponsored hashtag posts in your feed is not too far-fetched.
Advertisers could theoretically pay to boost hashtag-related posts to their target audience members and also collect analytics on hashtag engagement. This could also be fleshed out to include analytics-tracking software on hashtag-related search results.
Shifting The Landscape
Influencer marketing will become more competitive and narrow on the platform after this update. With the hashtag follow feature, users can now view posts from brands and people without following them. This will mean that influencers will have to be more competitive to gather exposure within viral hashtag feeds.
With increased organic reach from a hashtag campaign, influencers could also significantly increase their follower base by reaching new customers. This places special emphasis on creating quality content so you’re not ignored and remain a valuable part of the conversation.