Image captions, comments, Instagram Stories, profile descriptions – there isn’t a place on Instagram where hashtags are not welcome.
Even though they are here to help Instagram “categorize” your post and improve user experience, it’s not breaking news that they are often misused in an effort to get more engagement.
As it always is, some hashtags are more popular than others and those hashtags are often the most misused ones. We have noticed that – both on our business and personal profiles – and decided to do a monthlong Instagram hashtag analysis.
Why do people even use wrong Instagram hashtags?
We could say that popular hashtags are the same as viral spoofs and news – whenever something goes viral, people jump on it as fast as possible and try to get their own piece of virality. (Remember the blue-gold dress? Yeah.)
Hashtags on Instagram are the same thing; only on a daily basis and not changing that often (the top 10 hashtags are more or less the same for a few years now).
People use them to try to reach as many users as possible, even when their content has nothing to do with the # in question. It’s simple – the ultimate goal is more important than how you get there.
Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t, at least on Instagram.
What are the consequences of using irrelevant “#”?
While we were doing the research, every day we’d save one of “bad” posts for each hashtag and now, as I was looking through them to show a few examples, lots of those posts were not available anymore.
Did the owners delete them or were they banned from Instagram? Both things are equally possible, but let’s focus on what Instagram is doing to punish those who use misleading hashtags.
1) Instagram Shadowban
You might have heard this word whispered among Instagram influencers who shiver even thinking about it. What is Instagram Shadowban and how is it different from the “plain old” ban?
Instagram users who are shadowbanned – or who think they might be – will notice a significant drop in engagement on their posts no matter how many and which hashtags they use. That is because their posts are visible only to people who already follow them and will not be shown under hashtags they mentioned.
Shadowban happens when users use the social network the wrong way – buying followers or likes via automated services, posting too often, using too many hashtags, using the same hashtags all the time or going on a “like” spree every now and then, liking hundreds of posts in short time.
If you noticed a drop in engagement but are not sure if you’ve been banned or not, you can check it online or go through your recent Instagram posting habits to see if there might be something that raised a flag – and stop doing that.
Instagram Shadowban lasts for 2 weeks and after that, your numbers will go back to the way they were before – unless people unfollowed you because they stopped seeing your posts.
One way to battle shadowban is to share all your new posts in your Instagram stories and invite people to like or comment on them. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself on your own platform!
2) “Don’t show for this hashtag”
When it comes to using wrong hashtags, the “Don’t show for this #” is something perpetrators are most afraid of, and something regular users find very useful. This became available after Instagram introduced the option to follow hashtags and main purpose is to make Instagram a better place for its users.
It’s pretty straight-forward – the user follows a hashtag, runs into a post that is definitely not related to that hashtag, and reports it to Instagram. This is not an instant ban for a reported user but, if there are more posts marked as irrelevant, it might turn into one.
But enough of our rumbling, let’s see how we set up our Instagram hashtag analysis and what do the numbers show.
How did we set up the analysis?
Just like with any analysis, you need to set up some terms, guidelines, and pointers so all our daily Instagram scrolling wouldn’t be pointless (like it usually is!). We have used this list of top Instagram hashtags and picked a few to track.
The idea was to track the top 10 Instagram hashtags through 20 working days spread across one whole month. The hashtags we chose are 8 of top hashtags from the above list, plus 2 hashtags we often see used in our niche – digital marketing.
Now, the 8 top hashtags are not THE top 8 – we decided to skip the “like4like” and similar ones and just focus on those that are related to photos and could be objectively classified.
These Instagram hashtags we followed were:
- #love – 1,679,713,209 posts
- #instagood – 1,041,881,400 posts
- #photooftheday – 718,519,058 posts
- #fashion – 728,874,340 posts
- #beautiful – 613,298,146 posts
- #happy – 543,543,841 posts
- #cute – 530,088,675 posts
- #tbt – 502,897,953 posts
- #digitalmarketing – 8,561,029 posts
- #marketing – 33,508,441 posts
To avoid spending hours checking Instagram every day but still get relevant results, we have decided to track all these hashtags across 2 categories – “popular” and “most recent posts”.
We would check Instagram using Chrome web browser every workday around 4.30 pm CET – which is morning in North and South America, midday in Europe and evening/night in Asia and Australia. We picked this time simply because it’s still inside our working hours, and we can grab diverse profiles.
For each of the 10 hashtags, we would do the following:
- open each post in the Most popular section
- open first 9 posts in the Most recent section
- compare the content of each post to the hashtags we’re checking
- make a judgment if it’s related to the hashtag or not
- write down the number of good posts out of 9
This is still a somewhat subjective analysis as something we find relevant for #instagood, someone else might not. But that was unavoidable. We did try to be as objective and as consistent as possible.
What did we learn from analyzing the hashtags?
The numbers have confirmed our initial impression – yes, there are quite a few posts using unrelated hashtags every day. Some of the popular hashtags have had more fake posts while others have been more or less okay.
From looking at the summed up numbers, it’s easy to see that there were more bad posts among the “recent” ones compared to the “popular” section. In general, 66% of posts in recent sections have not been related to the hashtag, while the same was the case for 80% of the most popular ones.
As mentioned before, we checked at the end of our working day and there were lots of posts in the “recent” section coming from Asian and South American profiles, and those were often the bad ones.
Most of the time, posts with irrelevant hashtags were trying to sell something – sneakers, clothes, food supplements, even marketing courses.
The absolute winner (or loser?) of the analysis is hashtag #tbt – Throwback Thursday. Among the most popular posts for that hashtag, only 50% of them were actually related to it, while the percentage drops to 41% in the recent section.
First of all, the hashtag is not used on Thursdays only! I know, shocking 😉 Second, it wasn’t always easy to determine if something really was about someone remembering their past or just using the hashtag’s popularity (because of the language barrier or no way to know the actual date of the photo) but we used common sense and other photos on those accounts to compare.
On the other side, the hashtag #beautiful had the best score out of all of them, with almost 100% (98.9% to be exact) good posts in the most popular section, and 83% among the recent posts. It’s not hard to see why – a lot of subjects can be tagged as beautiful, from people to products, so there is a broad range of subjects that can be classified as relevant.
Unless it was something like the example below!
If you are using Instagram for sales or marketing, you definitely want to have as big of a reach as possible and great engagement on your posts too. That can be achieved by using popular hashtags, but with a few things to have in mind:
- Your content has to be relevant for the hashtag. If you’re trying to reach real people, you have to pay attention to that. No one who follows #love hashtag is interested in you selling flip-flops. Even if they are – this is not the time nor the place for it – they might even block and report you so you will end up doing yourself more harm than good.
- Mix up your hashtags every now and then. Don’t use the same batch of hashtags for months – Instagram will hand you a shadowban.
- Don’t go crazy with the number of posts and engagement. Posting too often, liking everything you see and leaving spammy comments will raise a flag with Instagram and, even if you are doing it manually, they will think it’s automated and ban you. Plus, your followers might find it annoying!
- Definitely don’t pay for likes and followers. We can’t stress this enough. Just no. Don’t even think about it.
Posting high-quality content on a regular basis is definitely the hard way to get the most out of Instagram but also the one that pays off the most. Anyone who is using Instagram on a daily basis as a part of their marketing strategy has to be focused on that. Quality posts that cater to your target audience will not only keep your followers entertained but also help you grab more attention in the “Explore” tab.
Do you have any questions about the research or want to tell us how much irrelevant tags annoy you on a personal level? Join us in the comments below and get that out of your system!