Fact or Fiction: Hashtags Are Dead

Fact or Fiction: Hashtags Are Dead
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We’ve all seen the headlines claiming Hashtags Are Dead. The Big Smoke investigates the facts behind this theory to find out if hashtags really are a relic of the past. 


Are hashtags dead? It’s a real topic of contention at the moment, with similar headlines plastered everywhere lately. From social media gurus to marketing forums, this topic has been making waves. People have been sharing anecdotes, running their own tests and swearing by the theory that hashtags are history. Whether you’re a business owner or a seasoned marketer, this debate affects how you navigate the ever-changing social media landscape. So, are hashtags really dead? Let’s find out. 

The Case Against Hashtags

There’s lots of theories floating around the internet that hashtags aren’t just dead but will actually kill your account. There speculation is that hashtags are not just ineffective; but can actively harm your social media presence.  

This theory is built on a solid fact about Instagram’s algorithm: when you make a post, Instagram initially shows your content to a small percentage of your followers. While the exact percentage is not confirmed by Instagram, let’s work with 10% for this example. If this initial group engages with your post, Instagram then shows it to a broader audience, including people who don’t follow you. Essentially, Instagram runs a little test on your content to see if it’s worth sharing with the world.

But here’s where the theory gets murky. Some believe that when you use hashtags, the initial 10% of viewers gets split 50:50 into two groups: 5% of your followers and 5% to those following the hashtags you use. This split, they argue, reduces the initial engagement because hashtags are claimed to be followed by bots and scammers who don’t interact meaningfully with your content. This lack of genuine engagement is then said to cause your post to fail Instagram’s initial test, limiting its reach.

Unveiling the Truth

While all this talk about dead hashtags is certainly trending at the moment, it’s important to note that this is by no means a new theory. At some point, every year for the past 10 years, someone posts a reel, a TikTok, or a LinkedIn post claiming that hashtags are dead. This claim is then cut up, reworded and reposted by marketing gurus across all platforms. Despite this ongoing debate, concrete evidence for, or against, the effectiveness of hashtags has been hard to come by – until recently.

A recent development has finally shed light on the secrets of the Instagram algorithm. Instagram CEO,Adam Mosseri, recently spoke about some changes to their algorithm. In this video, he made a definitive statement on how the algorithm worked prior to the May 1st 2024 update, directly contradicting the ‘50/50 split, hashtags are dead’ theory. 

He explained that when you post a video, it is shown to a small percentage of your followers first. If it performs well, they then show it to more of your followers and “may or may not” show it to people who don’t follow you. This fact that the initial test is  conducted on your core audience only, dismantles the theory that hashtags split your initial reach and harm your engagement.

You’ve heard it here, straight from the CEO’s mouth: the theory that has been scaring business owners and social media managers for years is simply not true. There is no initial split caused by hashtags and your reach is not negatively affected by using them.

This revelation should put to rest the long-standing debate over the death of hashtags.

So, Hashtags are the Key to Going Viral? 

While the logic behind the ‘hashtags are dead’ claim has been debunked, there’s a reason why this argument resurfaces every year. Strip away the clickbait and misinformation and you’re left with a different (admittedly more boring) title: “Hashtags are no longer the only way to grow your account”.

There was a time when hashtags were the primary tool for reaching a wider audience. Hashtags were the kings of social media, especially when platforms had no other way to understand what your content was about and who to show it to. In the early days, strategically using hashtags was the key to visibility and engagement. They were the backbone of social media strategy for many users and brands.

The truth is that this is just not the case anymore. Nowadays, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok have more sophisticated ways of cataloging and disseminating your content. This evolution has simply diluted the importance of hashtags in your overall content strategy, not erased their importance entirely. 

What’s a Brand to Do?

#1 Give your video a category: On platforms like YouTube and Instagram, you can select from a list of categories to tell the platform what your video is about. This helps the algorithm understand the context of your content and recommend it to users that may be interested in that topic.

#2 Pay attention to your sound and voiceover: Social media platforms scan the audio of your videos, so the words you say matter. Clear, relevant and engaging voice overs can help the algorithm better understand your content, increasing its chances of being recommended to the right audience.

#3 Your caption: Captions provide context and keywords that the algorithm uses to categorize and suggest your content. Creating compelling and informative captions with relevant keywords ensures you accurately reflect your video’s content and can help boost your video’s visibility. 

#4 Video text: If you have the time, writing any text you want on your video natively using the app’s video editor can be beneficial. This text is registered by the platform and helps in categorizing your content. 

#5 Engagement: Having your social team comment and share your content amongst themselves helps signal to the platform that your content is interesting and engaging. Early engagement, in particular, can boost your content’s visibility. 

#6 Hashtags: While they may not be as dominant as they once were, hashtags can still play a role in reaching a wider audience. Use them strategically and sparingly, focusing on a good mix with highly relevant and niche hashtags as well as a few broad, generic ones.

While this list is not definitive, as Instagram and other platforms have not confirmed the order of priority, these are the things that matter if you want your content to reach more people.

Still Don’t Like Hashtags?

Look, we get it. Hashtags aren’t for everyone. While they can help with visibility and reach, they are no longer a 100% necessity. Only a small percentage of brands have time to do everything on the list above, so pick at least three from the list that work for you and your workflow and start from there. After that?  Test, test and test some more!

Still Need #Help?

At The Big Smoke, we stay up to date on the latest digital marketing news that affects your business. We cut through the misinformation to find the facts—ensuring our clients implement the most effective content strategies and put their efforts in the right places. Get in touch and let’s elevate your brand’s digital presence together.

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