People are appending anything up to 50 hashtags to their Instagram posts, carefully researching the most popular hashtags, or formulating individual strategies (here’s a travel blogger explaining hers).
Hashtags are a search tool, providing a way to make your content discoverable by people who don’t already know or follow you. In this way, they’re a means of getting attention – and therefore status – in the endless popularity contest that’s metric-driven social media. Excessive hashtag use may be a bid for Instacelebrity, and the ensuing Instacash – with reports of top style bloggers earning $1m per year, and an estimated $1 billion sponsored Instagram post economy - or a sheer addiction to the dopamine hit of the ‘like’ count ticking upward.
But as a matter of taste, it all looks… a little grasping.
Anyone well versed in social media understands hacks like these to gain distribution for their content. This piece, whose opening is cited above, is much more interesting for its analysis of hashtag use in conveying and reinforcing status.
Let’s start from the principle that hashtag usage is often a bid for attention – you want your content to be discoverable, for more people to see it (and hopefully like it). But visibly betraying a desire for attention is a sign of neediness – and neediness is low status (you are dependent on other people’s behaviour to define your self worth). Therefore:
Hypothesis: High status brands don’t use hashtags extensively
Evidence: We find @ChanelOfficial using hashtags, but with two constraints:
· A maximum of three per post, often only one
· Almost entirely ‘owned’ hashtags based on their campaign names
Whole thing isn't that long, all worth a read.
I recall being a kid in school, struggling to learn, often painfully, about how my words and clothing and haircut and actions affected how people perceived me, what circles I could enter and which were closed off. A terrifying crucible.
What must it be like to grow up today, not only having to learn the real world signaling prices but also the values of strategies and cultural assets and selfie poses in the social media market? I've heard from many people that if they post something to social media and if it doesn't garner a certain volume of likes within some period of time, they pull it down immediately. Oh the horror of changing your Facebook profile photo and not getting enough likes within the first hour. Every one of these kids a William Masters or Virginia Johnson of social media, exploring the boundaries of what is or isn't acceptable to local and global tribes.
From my limited sample set of observation (yep, it's still a sample set of one), a lot of social media usage cuts along a generational line demarcated by whether you grew up in the age of scarcity or in the internet-driven age of abundance. I don't have data to back this up, but if someone out there does, please let me know.
Older people, who largely grew up in an age of scarcity, publish content to social media and interact or affirm such content carefully. A like from such a person is difficult to earn because they treat it as something that must be earned. The act of giving out such a like also conveys something about the giver, so it is a considered action.
Younger people seem to be more generous and prolific with content, likes, etc. They've grown up in an age where everything digitizable is available on demand, from TV shows and movies to music to photos to articles. Their likes are freely given, and plentiful, often used more as a read receipt than a standing ovation.
It makes sense if viewed from an abundance economic framework. Likes are an infinitely replenishable virtual good, and if it adds some happiness to the recipient, what's the harm? Perhaps everyone would be happier if we all liked and favorited more frequently, more generously. Social media need not be a zero sum game.
The other view, that of scarcity, is that we'd just be reinforcing coddled millennials who, in receiving affirmation for everything, receive it for nothing. Damn these sensitive unemployed self-promoting kids with their need for trigger warnings and their impulse to take offense at even the most harmless of jokes!
The piece quoted up top comes full circle by the end.
High status social media usage often demands that the labour of working at one’s social media persona be concealed. As with beauty, status is something one is supposed to attain effortlessly – and should the frantic paddling below the surface be revealed, that is vulgar, a faux pas.
This is why Kim Kardashian is so interesting – because she, almost uniquely, does not pretend she #wokeuplikethis, but instead makes the artifice of her social media persona not only evident but into a published art photography book, the brilliantly entitled ‘Selfish‘. In this way, Kardashian (and also Amalia Ulman,) make the ‘Oh me? I’m not self-promoting’ hashtaglessness of Chiara Ferragni et al. look like the studied pose it really is.
Hyperproliferating hashtag useage is thus interesting as one potential tactic to invert social media ‘good taste’.
What more suitable patron saint of the age of abundance than Kim Kardashian, who finds every opportunity to shove her ample, or shall we say abundant, derriere in the public's face through all possible social media channels.
The most scarce play she's made is releasing an actual physical coffee table book that costs $9.97, at last count, on Amazon, and includes photos not released on Instagram before. I suspect these first several customer reviews are from the scarcity school of thought.