#Hashtag: The Social Experiment

By Summer

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.20.23 PMAnyone who follows me on twitter or instagram knows that I do not hashtag. Unless I’m being ironic, hashtags stay far, far away from anything I write on the internet. That is, until last month when I decided to conduct a social experiment: how many more likes would I get on pictures if I unabashedly hashtagged everything? After a couple days of joking around using tags like #newyearnewme on literally everything, having conversations within tags, or low-key mocking people who hashtag their photos with #lovehim (over 16 million posts, 1 million more than when we started this experiment), #bigbrowneyes (104,898 posts), or #iphoneonly (a startling 63.4 million posts), I bit the bullet and started tagging my instagram posts with tags describing every little detail of my pictures to see if all these people who tag #cute #blonde #girl #cuteblondegirl actually got more likes than people who relied on only their followers.

My first post was a picture of my Forever 21 fleece LA Lakers pjs, pants I bought not because I like the Lakers or have ever even watched a basketball game, but because, well, have you ever worn fleece pajama pants? Anyway, I tagged this post with #basketball and #lakers, among a few others, and got 4 likes from non-followers including user @lakersfansarethebest. My next test was a picture of my family eating sushi and the tag #sushi got me a like from user @sushi_porn. A photo of a Montreal Canadiens Pez dispenser tagged #pez and #stanleycup got likes from users @dailypez, @united_of_pez, and @gametimeblackhawks, as well as a startling realization that there are instagram accounts dedicated to Pez.

I found that I wasn’t really getting a whole lot of likes from simply tagging what I saw in the photo and decided to use tags that I saw a lot of people using. So, when my friend took a picture in a bar of two of my guy friends making kissy faces tagged the popular #manlove, #instagay, and #likeforlike, I got 8 likes from non-followers and the likes came almost instantly, even gaining a comment from a user telling me which photo of hers to “like,” which was deleted right after I felt obligated to like her post. Jumping on the popular tag train, I quickly got 12 non-follower likes for a silhouette of me wearing Spice Girl buns, and likes from a shiba inu account and corgi account on a picture of my dog tagged #dogsofinstagram (a tag my mom uses frequently on the account she runs for my Brussels griffon-pug cross).

To be honest with you, I had no idea what kind of result I would get from hashtagging my pictures more on instagram. I saw tons of my friends tagging #sundayfunday #bestdayever #greatnight and getting less likes than I did from never tagging anything. I also heard stories of people putting dozens of tags on their photos to gain likes and then deleting the tag comment so the evidence disappeared. Talking to one of my friends about my experiment (more like hopelessly making excuses and apologizing for using so many tags), she sad, “I might tag at least one thing. I personally pass people up who have a million tags, I’m like, you’re only doing this for likes so I won’t like you.” Whether you believe in the Hashtag or are an avid non-user, the results of my experiment show that a modest instagram account with average photos will likely not gain many more likes with hashtags than without. I can, thankfully, stop hashtagging my posts now, however 27 likes on a #selfie are a lot more satisfying than 9.

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