Hashtag motives on Instagram

Its ten years since hashtags became a thing of everyday life. They have become a seminal feature of all social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest. Brands utilise the hashtag strategy to tap into popular hashtags or create their own branded hashtag – as it organises and categories photo and video content. Studies show that with just one Instagram hashtag, the post gained an average of 12.6% more engagement than one without. So knowing the usage for brands and companies – what motivates non brands/celebrity/influencer and their usage of these hashtags? One research looked into it.

Firstly, users actively choose different media to satisfy their individual needs, Instagram being one of the most popular photo and video sharing networking site with over one billion monthly active users worldwide. The hashtag is based on their personality characterises which are categorised in five dimensions:

  1. Information: the nature of social media is the social community aspect of sourcing information by other users.
  2. Entertainment: emotional outlet for those in pursuit of creativity of fashion, and pop culture.
  3. Social Interaction: interacting in a social community to build relationships and socialise with people users know both off and online.
  4. Personal Identity: creating a persona online through an angle of self expression, experience/skill, or desire for popularity through status signaling.
  5. Convenience: users who use platforms for convenience for communication and transactions.

Through Uses and Gratification approach along with both qualitative and quantitative methods, 748 participants part took in this research.

The motives were broken into six factors:

  1. Self-Presentation: primarily self-branding and self-promotion #me
  2. Inventiveness: the entertaining aspect of adding hashtags #blogging
  3. Chronicling: documenting and/or contextualising experiences through clicking hashtags #diary
  4. Information seeking: finding information and inspiration through clicking hashtags #downtherabbithole
  5. Venting: the expression of negative emotions #customerfeedback
  6. Etiquette: because everyone else is doing it. #partofsomething

Of these 6 factors, only Information Seeking pertains to the consumption of media, whilst the rest express the media-producing role that consumers take on in social media. The research found that “Instagram use motives to largely predict hashtag use motives, which in turn drive actual hashtag usage, as expressed in general adding and clicking frequencies and the number of hashtags used in a post”. Furthermore, there are two groups of Instagram users: the Potential influencers, and the followers. The Potential influencers are heavy hashtag-users who have a higher followers/followings ratio, and are driven by motives of Self-Presentation through these hashtags and Status-seeking on Instagram, who also exhibit high scores in the personality traits of narcissism, extraversion and self-monitoring. This we kinda knew.

Overall the theories developed are:

Though social media was in essence a community where people can feel connected with like minded individuals, it has shifted slightly, with underlying reasons for connecting on Instagram having shifted. Facebook was created to provide a way to keep in touch with people you knew, where as Instagram has become a place for influencers and micro celebrities who use it to connect only to broadcast themselves.

Initially the etiquette was part of many Instagram users motives, in an endeavour to achieve reach, but this has decreased over usage. Users who seek status, are driven to add hashtags and use many hashtags in a post, driven by self presentation motives.  Users whose motives differ from self presentation, refrain from multiple hashtags as they are highly self conscious about their hashtag use – thus hashtags contain semantic meaning, and the number of hashtags is an insight in itself. Those driven by self presentation utilise hashtags to help them reach or maintain their influencer status, enabling them to catch up on trends and use the right hashtags to become or stay part of the conversation.


Source: Hashtags: Motivational drivers, their use, and the differences between influencers and followers. Antonia Erz, Ben Marder, Elena Osadchaya (2018).




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