[SMK] Social Media Knowledge


Instagram Updates Hashtag Functionality Offering Discovery Boost

Instagram has recently updated its approach to how hashtags influence discovery on the platform, marking a shift from showing a “Top Posts” feed to broadening user access to a more comprehensive search results page.

The change mirrors the user experience in the Explore section, where various elements such as profiles, audio, places, and Reels related to the hashtag are displayed.

Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, March 2024

“We’re simplifying the hashtag and search experiences on Instagram to make it easier to see everything in one place. Now, when you tap on a hashtag, you’ll see the search results for that hashtag. You will still be able to follow/unfollow or report specific hashtags.

Hope this makes it easier to find accounts and posts that are relevant to your search.”

Previously, when a user tapped on a hashtag like “#veganfood,” they were directed to a feed consisting primarily of the most popular posts under that tag. Now, that same action brings up a richer array of content types.

Instagram’s modification aims to enhance user engagement by broadening the scope of content discovery. Instagram’s move reflects a strategic shift towards a more integrated and explorative user experience, encouraging deeper interaction with the platform’s diverse content offerings.

Importance of Hashtags in User Discovery

Hashtags have long been a valuable tool in Instagram’s ecosystem, serving as a way for users to categorise content, which in turn helps others discover new posts and profiles.

They connect social media content to specific topics, trends, or conversations, allowing users to find information and join discussions they are interested in. With the latest updates, Instagram enhances this capability by linking hashtags not just to top posts but to a holistic set of results across various formats.

It is important to note that while hashtags do play a role in content discovery, they are far from the only content consideration which impacts distribution and views, as Mosseri outlined in an Ask Me Anything back in 2022 when a viewer asked whether “hashtags help views”.

Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, March 2022

“Not really. They do help us to understand what a post is about which means it might be more likely to show up in a place like a hashtag page for instance, but in general no, I wouldn’t try and think of hashtags as a way to try and get more distribution.”

Implications for Content Creators and Marketers

For marketers and content creators, the updated hashtag functionality should mean a slight shift in social tactics.

Previously, for businesses wanting to maximise organic reach, the goal was often to appear in the “Top Posts” of a hashtag to gain maximum visibility.

However, with the new setup, it is beneficial to optimise all aspects of your business profile and content to appear across the different categories of search results. This includes placing targeted keywords strategically in profile names, descriptions, and throughout post captions.

For Businesses in 2024, Instagram’s latest update should also serve as a timely reminder about the rise of social search and to begin factoring in added discoverability to content creation in general.

The Rise of Social Search

Instagram is rapidly becoming a preferred search engine for younger generations, particularly Gen Z, who often choose it over traditional platforms like Google, driven by Instagram’s ability to deliver real-time, relevant visual content tailored to current trends and user interests.

In addition, Instagram’s algorithm appears to favour more user-generated content, which resonates strongly with Gen Z’s preference for authentic and engaging material.

Likewise, TikTok UK launched its “It Starts on TikTok” campaign at the end of last year, significantly repositioning the platform as a hub for search and discovery. The campaign highlighted TikTok’s unique role not just as an entertainment platform but as a key destination for users seeking information and exploring new topics. In tandem with this campaign, TikTok introduced the Search Ads Toggle feature late in 2023, aiming to capture a larger portion of search-related advertising revenue.

Social Discovery Grows In Importance

This development signals a broader shift in how platforms are viewed, moving them beyond their traditional social networking functions to become primary sources for real-time information discovery.

However, Instagram’s evolution into a social search platform is not without challenges. Issues such as misinformation, privacy concerns, and the opaque nature of its algorithms can impact the quality and fairness of search results. Despite these hurdles, Instagram will continue to refine and evolve its functionalities to better serve users’ search needs, as per the latest update.

By enhancing their visibility and relevance on Instagram, organisations can leverage the platform not just for social engagement but also as a powerful tool for discovery and search. This strategic focus on Instagram-specific SEO can help brands thrive in this new search landscape, ensuring they meet their audiences right where they search.

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