Instagram has announced that users will now be able to follow specific hashtags on the platform, in addition to profiles, with posts using those tags appearing in your main feed.
As explained by Instagram:
“Following a hashtag is just like following a friend. To get started, search for a topic you’re interested in or tap on a hashtag from any post. You’ll see relevant hashtags displayed in your search results along with related accounts. When you find a hashtag you like, open the hashtag page and tap on the follow button. You’ll begin seeing top posts from that hashtag in your feed and some of the latest stories in your stories bar. You can always unfollow a hashtag at any time.”
The new option expands the potential of Instagram as a discovery engine. Of course, you’ve been able to find related content and posts from accounts you might like via Explore for some time, but the option to follow specific hashtags not only acknowledges the relevance of tags on the platform, but also the way in which they’re used within specific communities.
The challenge will be in filtering - some of the more popular tags see thousands of new posts added every day, way more than you’ll be able to see in your feed. To counter this, Instagram will be using an algorithm to select the best of each, based on a range of factors. Users will also be able to improve their feed by selecting an ‘I don’t like this’ option from a drop-down on each.
The addition of hashtag following may also lead to communities using more specific tags to better filter their own content and messages. Maybe, rather than #flowers you get more specific, using #yellowroses or similar, which smaller groups can then follow. Of course, the more popular the tag, the more open it’ll be to trendjacking, but if you can build smaller communities around very specific tags, that could make them a more viable addition to your regular feed (without overwhelming it).
Adding more capacity to this, Instagram will also display which hashtags each profile follows (top right image above), so you can get a better idea of the tags which may be of interest. As with their regular follows, users can choose to hide their hashtag following list also.
It’s hard to tell what hashtag following will add to the Instagram experience, but clearly, from Instagram’s perspective, they’re keen to expand users’ horizons and show them more of what the platform has to offer.
In a separate test, Instagram’s also adding ‘Posts you might like’ to people’s feeds to show them more of the content they might be interested in.
Obviously, it’s in Instagram’s interests to get you checking out more content, and if they can get it right, and provide more ways to help you uncover relevant posts, that could keep users locked into the platform for longer, while also providing Instagram with more data and opportunities to show ads.
The ability to follow specific hashtags also opens up new opportunities for marketers. Now, if you’re running an event, for example, you can direct your audience to follow the dedicated event tag, which could help boost exposure by lessening the onus on users having to go searching themselves. The function could also help boost hashtag campaigns.
The true value of the option, however, will largely come down to the effectiveness of the algorithm, and Instagram’s ability to filter out those looking to tap into trending discussions. But definitely, it could add a significant element to the platform’s process.