For years now, hashtags have been the defacto standard call-to-action for marketing campaigns on Instagram.
While best practice has always been to select a unique hashtag—perhaps something that included your brand or campaign name—your hashtag was never really yours.
Hashtags, by their very nature, are available for anyone to use and to claim. They can be misused, abused and hijacked by any user, for any purpose.
Instagram and Intent
Recently Instagram has been taking a closer look at the way brands and individual users interact on their platform. Well publicized concerns around users’ privacy and quality of experience have been the main drivers behind this.
The result has been some changes in the ways brands are allowed to interact with users on Instagram. This has had flow on effects for third-party platforms, like Stackla, that help brands manage and amplify these interactions.
The core of Instagram’s recent changes have been concerned with identifying user intent. Instagram now looks for clear indicators of a user’s interaction intent when deciding whether to make content available to brands.
Instagram wants to understand if an individual user is expecting or anticipating an interaction with a brand, before granting permission for that brand—often through third-party applications— to aggregate that content and interact with the user.
The Problem with Hashtags, Solved by Mentions
While the use of a unique hashtag may serve as an indicator of a user’s intent to interact with a brand, it’s not a guarantee. There is nothing inherent about a hashtag that ensures this intent is present. As we know, hashtags can be used in error, hijacked maliciously or unintentionally used by multiple brands.
That’s where mentions come in.
Your @handle is unique to your brand and Instagram can safely assume that (except in the case of typos) when a user mentions your handle in a post caption or comment, they intend for you to be made aware of the post and likely welcome an interaction.
This is why for example, Instagram has restricted the ability for brands using third-party applications to comment on user’s posts unless the user has directly mentioned the brand.
The Hashtag is Still Here…for Now
There has been a lot of information and misinformation about the changes to Instagram’s hashtag APIs that are due for December. In short, hashtags are here to stay.
We’ve been working with the the folks at Facebook / Instagram to ensure that our users can still aggregate hashtag content the way they always could. There are a few additional setup steps due to some additional requirements Facebook have put in place, which our customers can find detailed here.
If you’ve run Instagram hashtag campaigns before, you’ve probably thought of the one advantage hashtags have over mentions: the ability for a single brand to have multiple hashtags (but only one @handle). This can be especially useful when running multiple campaigns.
So what do you do if you have multiple campaigns to run?
Combine Mentions + Hashtags for Robust Calls-to-Action
The key to successful Instagram calls-to-action is to combine a mention with a hashtag.
Including a mention in your call-to-action satisfies Instagram’s concern for intent, which unlocks a range of functionality including the ability to comment on posts and request content rights.
Adding a hashtag allows you to manage content related to specific campaigns.
Platforms like Stackla allow brands to use a combination of mentions and hashtags when aggregating content. Our automation rules make it easy for content aggregated using a mention of your Instagram handle to be tagged and managed based on the presence of a hashtag in the post.
As the likes of Instagram become more concerned with user intent and how brands are interacting with individual users on their platforms, it will serve brands well to start shifting to mentions as the new standard call-to-action, with hashtags being used to demarcate specific campaigns.