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In today’s episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie Robbert and Christopher Penn debate the Trust Insights study on the impact of hashtags. Our original research showed they have neither helpful nor harmful impact on follower growth or engagement, but we debate how much nuance is in the data. Are there exceptions to the rule? If so, what are they? Tune in to listen to the debate – and stay tuned for additional research.

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn
In today’s episode, we are talking hashtags do they matter? Do they not matter? We trust insights recently published a post about how using machine learning and statistics over literally 12 million social posts, we found that in aggregate, they don’t hurt you, but they don’t help you for follower growth or for engagement as opposed to important things like making content people actually want. So Katie, you have some nuance you want to add to the overall study? I do. And so I think the overall studies sort of make some broad strokes of hashtags don’t matter. You have to have engaging content. I don’t disagree. You have to have engaging content for someone to even care. I think that the hashtag itself does matter on Instagram, because the way that Instagram works is you can follow specific hashtags that you

Katie Robbert
as a user care about. And so other people who are using those hashtags will show up in your feed, even if you don’t follow that account. And so my point my point of clarification, in our analysis and research is that, in general, hashtags don’t matter if you don’t have compelling content that someone’s going to like, however, they do matter in terms of reaching a broader audience. And so if your goal is engagement, or if your goal is new followers, then I would argue that hashtags do matter, because that’s how people are going to discover you.

Christopher Penn
Okay, in the data we ran, just to give you a quick summary of it, especially for the folks who haven’t read the study, which you can find on our blog and trust insights.ai slash blog, we looked at a total of not 10 different variables. addressable engagement rate, which is the number of engagements divided by the number of people who follow you. That’s, that’s variable number one. variable number two is just raw number of likes on Instagram. This is Instagram dietitian specified as Instagram data only. Number three is the sum total of engagements, which includes likes and comments together. Number four is post length. How long is the caption on your posts? Number five is video view rate. How many views of your videos did you get? Number six is video engagement rate? How many views engagements on videos, only did you get because Instagram differentiates the two? Number seven is the comments number eight is number of hashtags used in your posts. Number nine is the total number of views of your posts. And number 10 is the total number handles that you tag in when you know those people who like to put kill 30 tags into a post.

Mathematically, the addressable engagement rate has the highest overall importance as a as a percentage is 41% of new follower growth is driven by addressable engagement. 26% is everybody likes 24% is driven by overall engagements. Hashtag count is point six 8%. So 6868, 100%

and handle count is point three 9%. So a little less than four tenths of a percent. So to your point, they’re not zero, right? If they were if they didn’t matter at all, be a flat, big old goose egg. But in terms of what’s causing account growth, it really is that addressable engagement rate is are you getting? Are you getting people who, regardless of mechanism to do something with your content?

Katie Robbert
So I guess I would, again, counter with but how are you finding those people? How are those people finding out about you. And so if I just create an account tomorrow and post something, if I have no followers, if I don’t use any hashtags, my post is just going to sit there. And no one is ever going to see it. Even if it’s the most amazing piece of content ever created. Nobody’s ever going to see it. So I need to proactively do something in order to reach a broader audience to get that engagement. And that would include

including hashtags. Now, I agree with you. I don’t think that tagging a bunch of handles is a great way to go because you’re doing a couple of things. One, you’re probably just pissing off a bunch of people who are like, Why do I keep getting tagged and stuff that I don’t care about, and to, you’re only reaching those people, you’re not reaching their broader audience. So you’re only theoretically going to get engagement from those 10 handles that you’ve tagged. So that sort of seems like a really poor choice in terms of the amount of space that you have to create content, and the amount of attention span that people have to read content. They’re not looking at those. But if you’re looking for a way to reach a broader audience, then I would argue that choosing the right hash tags know just putting any old hashtag like

you know, woke up like this, or blah, blah, blah, whatever, you know, if it doesn’t match the content, and if it doesn’t resonate within the audience that you’re trying to reach, then yeah, it’s a waste of time, and including 20, different hashtags, that sort of defeats the purpose of creating really good content, because then people are just trying to figure out what your hashtag says. So if you have the choice of like, a handful, like less than five, probably two to three really good. Well thought out hashtags, that trend within your audience that reach a lot of people, that to me is a smart use of the hashtag, because on Instagram, then you are reaching that audience.

Christopher Penn
The question is, however, and this is something that I believe it was Donna Stone said to me last week, when you look at how users use Instagram, particularly the relatively newer crowd, it’s not a question of the hashtag itself is is your post top of your relevant people made it more than likely don’t search for hashtag marketing, they just search for marketing without the word itself. So there is some double dipping in terms of the behavior if you because when you search for marketing, you will also get hashtag marketing as well. So the hashtag may not be necessary, as long as the post is topically relevant.

Katie Robbert
I agree. But that’s assuming that people are proactively searching. So if you have people, much like myself, who just, you know, when Instagram, the algorithm shows you here, here’s a handful of hashtags that you might want to follow based on the accounts that you already follow, then you can just, you know, choose to follow a bunch of different hashtags. So I don’t have to proactively search these things out, there just served up to me in my feed, things that I care about. So I think there’s sort of I agree with you, if someone is searching for the term marketing, then they’re going to find content that includes that term, regardless of the hashtag. But if they’re not searching for that term, but they do care about the topic, then if they’re following the hashtag marketing, they’re going to see your content even if they didn’t search for it.

Christopher Penn
Okay, it sounds like we need to do we need to engineer some new software to work or get better data. Because what we’re getting out of Instagrams API is a relatively restricted number of metrics like likes and engagements and size of audience, there isn’t a ton of additional data. So we’re going to have to engineer some things to figure out what is the thing so that might be for example, if we’re looking at say travel and tourism, as a topic may be coming up with like the five or 10 most use hashtags within that and then do account specifically of the on topic has six see on topic hashtags, versus regular ones are going to lead results if that’s if I understand what you’re saying, in terms of the theory that you should be using topically relevant hashtags to drive growth.

Katie Robbert
I think that’s exciting at you should be using topically relevant hashtags to drive growth. Yeah, I could. You know, for trust insights, I could tag every single piece of content with the same hashtags that someone like Beyonce uses, for example, that’s not topically relevant to me. So I’m reaching the wrong audience. So I need to make sure that I’m using hashtags that are topically relevant to the audience that I want to attract to my account. And so that, to me, is the key. So yes, hashtags do matter. When you get them topically relevant. And if you use them strategically, when you put a hashtag on your post in Instagram, it gives you a little pop up that says like, you know, 1 million people use this hashtag. Well, that’s an okay metric. But anybody can use any hashtag. And so it’s being able to do your research to figure out what has hashtags are the audience that you care about you using? And how can they discover you. And so I would say we need to engineer some new research. But I would also like to see us do some qualitative research, where we actually ask people how they’re using Instagram, how they’re discovering new content, new accounts, what are they using Instagram for, especially in something like marketing, where Instagram is a very consumer, a sort of platform, so it’s really good for b2c? retail for consumer goods, those types of things that lend themselves more towards, you know, a very image driven social media, I would be interested to see what that looks like in a b2b setting, how are those companies using it? And how are those audiences looking for more information?

Christopher Penn
It sounds like that would be what a survey? I think so. Okay, so we are commissioned a survey that would say, Oh, do you use Instagram? What would you be looking for? Do you have you used Instagram within the last 30 days kind of thing? Or? Or just do you use Instagram? Yes or No,

Katie Robbert
I would need to think about it a little bit, I would want it because we would want to screen for

the type of audience that we’re talking about. If you’re talking about, you know, anyone in general, who uses Instagram, that’s way too broad, because we could be getting

you know, people who care only about fashion, and that kind of a thing, which is important. But if we’re talking specifically about like marketing and b2b and tech, it would be interesting because I would imagine that the way and people the way in which people use Instagram and those contexts would be different. But I would I would want to know that for sure. I would want the data tell me that versus just me having an assumption

Christopher Penn
right? Okay, I think that sounds like a good paid product to for us to invest a little bit of money and do some some research and come up with an actual answer because

I get where you’re coming from anecdotally because I tend to use Instagram in the same way but I’m also in almost every aspect of my life and and have one and and therefore you know what I think is relevant and important matters very little to most other people and what other people care about I generally don’t so, I view myself as a highly non credible source of broad

Katie Robbert
I you know what I appreciate your self awareness

Unknown
that puts you hadn’t shoulders above 99.9% of the population and and

Christopher Penn
five nines for the average marketer

but the question I would have though is based on this set of accounts and this is 71,000 accounts out of talk walk out of crowd tangle that are specific to that they are talk walk website crowd tangles I keep saying that they are crowd tangles lists of pre built influencers do do you think then we also need to assemble another 50,000 or so just random accounts to see if the random accounts that are not on crowd tangles influencers lists of any kind also have behave differently?

Katie Robbert
I do I because I I would need to look at the data a little bit more closely to see who crowd tangle is considering an Instagram influencer, like, for example, I’m sure you’re going to have the ones that you would fully fully expect, like you have a lot of pop culture icons, you have a lot of musicians, those types of things that to me, is sort of skewing the data a bit in the sense that they all they need to do is wake up and breathe. And someone is, you know, engaging with their content, their content could be total crap, and someone is engaging with it. And so I think that, yes, we need to do a little bit more digging.

Because I would my assumption is that the data is a little bit biased because of who is considered an influencer?

Christopher Penn
Hmm. Which vertical should we tackle? Because I’m thinking if what we do it, what we would do is we would set up a broad monitor in something like talk Walker, a brand 24 for like, I don’t know, foodborne as a one that just leaps to mind immediately. and gather. It’s a thing it is

Katie Robbert
no, I know, it’s just a weird that that’s the first thing that springs to mind.

Christopher Penn
Yeah, because you must be hungry, you must be waiting for breakfast. No, I had breakfast. But I follow a ton of food accounts, because I’d like to see what people are cooking.

But use the broad social media marketing tool to identify a huge audience to begin with. And then look at people for example, you know, if you have zero engagement, and zero followers, probably not the best place to you know, filter some of those out, but then maybe build that list of 70,000 just for food, talk to crowd technical support about asking for the upload, limit,

living

and then put that in and see how that list compares to their food list as well.

Katie Robbert
I think we could do that. I think what we should also consider for the purposes of our own research, is breaking it down by the three types of influencers. And so you have your broadcast influencers, who we typically describe as someone like a Kardashian, who’s just sort of like reaches the whole wide world. Yeah. And engagement is kind of all over the place. It doesn’t matter what they post, that’s sort of what I was describing as they just need to wake up and breathe, and people are all over everything they do. So you have that type of influence. So you have the connector, who sort of brings and brings the people together. And then you have the people. The example that you typically give is like someone like a tom Webster, who they don’t post often, but when they do, everybody sits up and lessons.

Christopher Penn
So I also, I’m going to say and publicly admit thing back on the self awareness thing, that

the original idea of the three archetypes of influences was based on my knowledge of influencer algorithms, the algorithms that are available for analysis, using what are called sensuality measures, measures of central it How, how important is one node, any one individual node to the network. I was doing some research last week, actually on my way to Social Media Marketing World. And it turns out that they’re probably close to 70 different overall algorithms depending on whether it’s a directed or undirected network, depending on the different thing basically, the different your goals. And so

we may have to revise that list of the different types of influences to be much more aware of these are all the different ways to influence because it’s really interesting I was talking to

Oh, it’s talking about at the the dinner we did at Social Media Marketing World, with folks about how they the types of influences that they look at and the tools they use. And everyone uses like a hat like three different influencer identification tools. They’re all terrible, because

two of them just use engagements like hey, this person gets a lot of likes on their host. And one of them uses a sensuality measure that I think is only situationally useful, but they’re extrapolating it to be the the gold standard of all forms of influence, and be like saying only the broadcaster’s and that model matter. And so I think we have to do some refining stuff there. But what I like to hear from you, who’s listening to this podcast, when you set out to get influencers to identify influencers? What matters to you? What are the things that say to you, this is what I classifies influence someone who can refer me to other people, someone who can promote my brand, someone who can drive leads, what are the different outcomes that you’re looking for in your influencer measurement, because like you were saying, saying earlier, Katie, it’s not one size fit all fits all for anything anymore.

Katie Robbert
It’s really not. And social media really is changing the way that we think about how we’re marketing to our consumers, how we’re reaching

people in general, there is, to your point, there’s just 49 different algorithms that you were able to, to discover while on a plane last week, who knows what else is out there? And, you know, I’ve got to discuss that a little bit in our new series, marketing to machines, the business to machine segment that people are generally ignoring. And that’s another post that you can find up on trust insights.ai slash blog.

You know, it’s really interesting, because of the platforms are changing the way that we’re doing our marketing every single day, we have to be on top of it, we have to be as well, we have to be smart, Chris, to your point. And your original point in your original research is 100% valid, just throwing a bunch of hashtags into a post and tagging a bunch of people, and it’s not going to cut it anymore. So now the new question is,

Christopher Penn
what will exactly if you’d like to give us feedback on this podcast episode in the easiest way for you, the way to do that would be to join the analytics from market is free slack group that we run here just in insights and absolutely no cost of any kind. If you go to trust inside stuff, ai slash analytics from marketers, you can join a slack community that over 100 different folks all interested in analytics, discussing how to measure and and what matters in the world of marketing. That’s going to do it for this week’s episode up any insights as always, please subscribe to the YouTube channel and the newsletter and we’ll talk to you soon


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