October 07, 2015

Instagram & Hashtagging 101

I remember Instagram as this happy place - a place full of pretty pictures of sunsets, food, nature, architecture and barely any selfies. But back then, the app was available only for iOS users. I know I sound like a snob, but it's not wrong to say that when Instagram was made available across all operating platforms, it allowed almost everyone with a camera phone to click and post pictures. Even though people may think that owning a 13MP camera on their phone qualifies them to call themselves a photographer, I would like to let those people know that even toddlers know how to take pictures on phones these days. So the power of your phone alone does not make you special. Glad we got that sorted.

All of a sudden almost everyone joined Instagram and what used to be a sacred photo-sharing platform became a compilation of people's 'Profile Photos' album.


I can bear to look at many pictures of the same person's face clicked in different backgrounds, layered with one, or two, or even FOUR Instagram filters in the hope that it will somehow mask their flaws. I can deal with that, seriously. I can also bear with photos where you are with the same set of people – people that I don’t even know – every week, and sit back and wonder why I decided to follow you in the first place.

But maybe we’re friends outside of social media or maybe you have that app that lets you know who unfollowed you, or both, and I don’t want to be rude. And that's why, instead of protecting my borderline-OCD-driven (in)sanity and just simply unfollowing you on Instagram (and maybe even on Facebook), by writing this post I will try to passive-aggressively let you know that you’re annoying the spelling nazi, the grammar nazi and (what’s left of) the human in me.

What annoys me more than duck-faced selfies is how people (mis)use hashtags. Like, do you even know what they are?

No? Then you’re in the right place. Consider this post as a handy guide of Dos and Don'ts - mostly Don'ts - on Instagram (and by extension, even Facebook.)

This is going to take a while, so why don't you grab something to eat or drink?

What the F are hashtags?

Let's start with the basics, okay? Hashtags are categories that help group photos and videos together. Still confused? Let me give you an example.

When you upload a picture of a nice little chocolate pastry, what are the appropriate categories for that? Dessert, cake, pastry, dessertlover, cakelover, chocolate, chocolatecake, ilovecake and other related things. Me, I, U, are, funwidfriends are NOT RELATED categories.

What do you accomplish by adding a hashtag?

Well, glad you asked.

As I said earlier, hashtags allow you to group photos and videos. When you click on a hashtag, you'll see all photos uploaded by everyone on Instagram using the same hashtag. For example, when you click on #dessert (go on, click on it. It'll open in a new window), you'll see many gorgeous photos of cakes, cupcakes, pies, puddings - everything that qualifies as dessert.

You can even create your own personal hashtag - like ours is #AzadCats. We have at least one cat in each Azad household and whenever we upload a cat photo, we tag it #AzadCats. We also have a specific hashtag for each cat, like #BilluAzad which is where you'll see all pictures of my cat, Billu. This allows me to create my own little albums, categorise my photos and helps me save time in case I'm looking for a particular photo.

It's also important to remember that if I tag a picture as #Azadcat instead of cats, it will create a new hashtag. Same goes for #Desert (instead of dessert, which is a totally differnet thing.) Upper and lowercases don't matter, but spellings do. Yay, English! :D

Hashtags are also used by companies or stores to run contests and see all the entries at once. For example, say a pet store is giving away a gift voucher. You may be required to upload a photo of your pet with the hashtag #ilovemypet_storename. This will be a specific hashtag created by the store and when you click on it, you'll see all photos uploaded for that contest.

So if you think adding # before a word is for fun with no real use or meaning behind it, believe me, it's not.

How do I add a hashtag?

By placing the # symbol BEFORE a word or a phrase that's without spaces.

Notice how I said 'ilovepastry' above and not 'I love pastry'. Ignoring the spaces was not an error. I don’t make such errors. Not on purpose. And this post has gone through more rounds of editing than some of the novels out there. So yeah, missing the spaces was not an error.

If you do this - #I love pastry - the hashtag created is 'I.' What the F is that? NOTHING. Maybe it is a feed full of selfies clicked by narcissists, but nothing more than that. So get rid of the spaces.

Also, don't add a hashtag to EVERY SINGLE WORD of your photo caption - #I#love#cake#so#much. That's just annoying and I won’t even bother to read it.

Even if you leave spaces - #I #love #cake #so #much

And especially not at the end of the word. That doesn't do shit. I# love# cake# so# much#

Adding the same hashtag twice, doesn't help get your photo noticed twice either - #I #love #cake #so #much #cake #love.

NO. Seriously. DON'T.


Once your photo is published, all hashtags should be active links; they should be in blue, whether on Instagram or Facebook – like this.

But if the hashtagged text is in black just like the rest of the caption, it means you’ve made some mistake because the tag is not active.

Speaking of rest of the caption and tags not being active, what the F is this??

This is a screenshot of something that showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. Before I analyse what code that is supposed to be, let me just say that for someone who doesn't have the patience to spell 'should' and writes 'sud' instead, they sure have a buttload of patience to put # before every word. I mean, how do your fingers not automatically press the space key after every word? For me, I don't even have to try; pressing 'space' is a reflex.

When I saw this first, I almost went, 'My eyes! MY EYES!!!' just like Phoebe. What were they trying to do? Blind people? Then I took a screenshot and thought to myself, This would make a great blogpost, and here we are.

The point I'm trying to make is - under any circumstances do NOT add a hashtag to all the words in your caption.

For one, it looks tacky. Secondly, the hashtags don’t even make sense. Even sillier is the fact that even though these hashtags will work on Instagram even without a single space in between and you’ll have all your stupid tags (yay!) it does not work on Facebook. Just look! Except the first one, none of the hashtags are even active! 

Hashtag Etiquette

So you've added a hashtag (or 30 - the maximum limit - thank God!) to your photo(s). What do you do next?

Well, nice people click on all the hashtags they've added - yes, individually on every single one of them - check other photos in that feed, and like and maybe even comment on a few. So when you add a hashtag, you may get a few likes (or many, if your photo is really great) from people who aren't following you. It's just polite to return the favour. That's how other Instagram-ers discover you and you, them.

Instagram Etiquette

Unless you're a celebrity - a real one, not just in your head or among your friends who don’t have the guts to tell you otherwise – or you have so many thousands of followers that it’s humanly impossible to visit every single one of them even if you spend all day on your phone, there’s no excuse for you to not visit others.

If you only log into Instagram to post pictures and don't visit others or like their images, you're going to become unpopular pretty quickly. Instagram is a community and as much as people do freely like and comment on most of the things they see in their feed, it's not nice to just take and not give anything in return.

Even if you don't follow the people who follow you, it takes minutes to visit other people's profiles and like a couple of photos, leave hearts or emojis as comments.

We get it; you're busy, you have other important things to do, chores to take care of, real people to talk to. But if you have the time to post on Facebook or Instagram, you can certainly take out the time to visit other people. If you were really THAT busy, you wouldn't be posting pictures in the first place, now would you?

But wait, my account is Private.

Well, then why the F are you even on Instagram? If your account is private, I assume it's because you only post pictures of your kids, your family or (God forbid) yourself. It also means that your INSTAGRAM feed is basically a copy of your Facebook Photos, which, in turn means that if I have to look at the same content in two places, I won't bother to follow you if you're already my friend on Facebook.

And if I don't know you outside of Social Media, then well, I'll just go back to browsing other photos on my feed because here's what your private Instagram account means for people who are not your friends.
  1. If you add a #hashtag to your photo and visit other photos on the #, your own photo will be visible only to your followers and no one else on Instagram. Hashtags DO NOT overrule your privacy settings.
  2. When you like someone else's photo on a hashtag and they visit your profile to like one or two of your pictures, they won't be able to do so because they won't be able to see them. So don't be wondering why you haven't received any likes even though you liked 50 photos on the Cupcake hashtag.
  3. When people visit your profile to return your like, they scroll through your feed. If they like what they see, more often than not, they'll follow you. But if your account is private, they can't see any of your photos and it's just too much of a commitment to send a follow request to someone when you don't know what kind of content they share, which, because of the 'private' flag, looks like it'll be filled with Selfies and ‘private’ photos that no one else would be able to relate to. We already can’t get out of having to look at our friends' and family members' photos; I don't want to indulge a stranger on the internet. 
So if you plan to keep your account private, don't bother with hashtags at all. And think about whether it makes sense for you to even be on Instagram, especially if you’re posting the exact same thing on Facebook.

For heaven's sake stop treating Instagram like Facebook...

...because it's not. You know how Instagram does NOT have a 'Create Album' option? That's because there's no reason for you to add fifteen photos together. Not even one after the other. Why?

  1. It clogs my feed. I want to see photos from other people too. Unlike Facebook, where multiple photos are clubbed and shown as ONE post, Instagram shows each photo individually which means I can’t see any other photos posted before yours unless I scroll through ALL FIFTEEN of them.
  2. And while I scroll, I’m pretty sure that by the fourth photo I’ll just be waiting for it to get over and double-tapping on your images is going to take a lot of effort; something I’d rather just not do.
  3. I don't want to see six versions of the same photo. If you have clicked the same subject multiple times, pick the best shot, add a gazillion filters if you like, but posting multiple photos of the same thing does not make sense. The same goes for group photos. If you can’t find one perfect picture where everyone’s smiling, sharing three versions of the same photo will not make me more interested in them. In fact, it might lead to people unfollowing you. And by people I mean people like me. Or at the very least, me. I will definitely not be looking at your photos anymore.
  4. If you must post multiple photos (and I pray to God that it's because you have 20 different photos of 20 different things or people) then spread it out. Not by a few minutes. By at least 3-4 hours. And if you can spread it out over the week, even better.
  5. When you post your Instagram updates to Facebook from the Instagram app, keep in mind that even though Instagram will accept hashtags without space in between, hashtags on Facebook don't work that way (look at the image above - only the first hashtag has been activated.)  But just for the sake of English and everyone else’s vision, add a space between two hashtags.

Difference between Tagging (or mentioning) and Hashtagging

For a lot of people out there, this is a big confusion. Let me break this down for you as well.
  1. The symbols. A tag (or a mention) uses @ where as a hashtag uses #.
  2. Yes, they’re both applied BEFORE the name/word and yes, spelling and special characters do matter.
  3. No, they do not serve the same purpose.
  4. @ Tags or mentions a person, profile or account AND sends them a notification that someone wants them to see a comment. The #, as I’ve said many times here already, groups photos (even videos, and if you’re on Facebook, even statuses) into categories. They’re not the same. If you want me to notice a post, or reply to my comment somewhere on the Internet (other than my own posts) #nikee_taa will do nothing. It will create a useless hashtag. Use @nikee_taa. That’ll send me a notification. Now whether I choose to respond to that or not, is a different matter altogether.
  5. And while we’re talking about notifications, whether we’re on Instagram or Facebook, if you comment on any of my posts, I will get ALL notifications whether you tag me or not. And when I reply to your comment, you will get a notification too – whether I tag you or not.
  6. However, on Instagram, if I reply to your comment on my post, I will have to tag/mention you. Otherwise, you won’t be notified. 
I hope that cleared things up for you. If you’re one of those people who does some or all of these things, I’m going to assume it’s because you didn’t know and not because you’re an... well, we don’t need to go there because clearly, now you do. And in spite of all this, if your content isn't interesting, no matter how much you X-Pro II it, Instagram is going to be a sad and lonely place for you.

That’s all from me for now. I’ll be back with more on what you shouldn’t do over the internet. I know you’re not holding your breath :P

-          Nikita.

P.S. In other news, notice the URL of our blog. Yup, that’s right. No more ‘.blogspot.com’. We are at blog.theazadsisters.com :)

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