Sundays are my do-chores-and-write day. I don’t have to be anywhere until the evening, so I make sure I’ve got clean laundry for the week, figure out meals, and write. Last Sunday, I thought, I’d do a quick writeup on using Instagram to follow hashtags.
Ha ha ha.
I have only recently gotten back into Instagram ( https://www.instagram.com/researchbuzz/ if you’re interested) so while I knew that Instagram was letting users follow hashtags now, but I didn’t know how it worked. Let me edit that: I didn’t know how crappy and not-useful the new feature is.
Following Hashtags on Instagram
Instagram has quick instructions for following hashtags. What I discovered when I tried to follow the instructions was that they didn’t apply to the desktop, but to the phone app. Even to find out what hashtags I was following required the phone app, as far as I could tell.
After I set the hashtags up, I scrolled through my Instagram feed on my desktop looking for some evidence of them. I scrolled for at least five minutes and could find nothing. (I did eventually start seeing them a day or so later.)
After this little exercise I was not encouraged about Instagram’s new hashtag following feature. If you prefer using your phone to browse Instagram (I don’t) or you’re okay with only seeing hashtags occasionally (I’m not) or if you don’t mind actually managing the follows with your phone (I do), Instagram’s hashtags will be fine for you. Go forth and enjoy.
For everybody else: Instagram has kind of set up hashtag following but in the couple of hours I spent with it, I found it underwhelming and frustrating. Happily I found another tool I like much better for following hashtags. But why, you might ask, do I even want to follow Instagram hashtags in the first place?
Why Instagram Hashtags?
When it comes to monitoring the Internet for news about new search engines and information collections, Instagram doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But I do want to learn to monitor it better; there are a number of museums and archives that make use of it, and I want to explore that. Furthermore, I’ve read of any number of non-professional archivists who use Instagram as a collection medium. I’m not sure I’ll find resources for ResearchBuzz every day, but it is a significant part of the social media universe that I’m just not monitoring.
This article is just about following hashtags in a less-slapdash way than Instagram offers; picking good hashtags will have to wait until I’ve had some time to process results.
The Solution I Settled On: Stribr
I went looking for a Web-based Instagram viewing solution and it took a while. I found recommended places that were defunct, or tools that were more about applying filters instead of following hashtags, or in one case something that, at $40/month, was rather outside my price range. Finally I came across Stribr (http://stribr.com/) and decided it would do what I needed. DISCLAIMER: Stribr does not know me, they did not approach me, I found them on my own, they do not know I am doing this. Disclaimer over.
Stribr has a ton of features that are more oriented to marketers than to me – information on engagement and tools for reviewing followers and stuff like that. This article will be focused just on using the hashtag search feature and a couple of other nifty Instagram follow features.
Setting Up Your Hashtags
Once you’ve set up your Stribr account (which is mostly getting a password and confirming your e-mail address) you’ve got a dashboard. Click on Streams. That’ll take you to where you set up your hashtags.
Now start by just entering a hashtag in the search box towards the top of the page. There is an advanced search link that lets you search by words in addition to hashtags and add things like minimum numbers of likes and comments, but I recommend against using it to start. It’s fun to play with but I’m sticking with regular hashtag search because a) the advanced search did not seem to search a large span of Instagram posts (when I tried advanced searches with no results, I got the message “We searched the last 200 posts and your search criteria didn’t match any post.”) and b) I couldn’t find a way to save those advanced searches.
I started my hashtag collection with #strawberryshortcake, since that’s one of my original test queries when looking at search engines.
The search results are a nice array of Instagram pictures. You can comment on them or “like” them right from the results page, or click on a picture to get a larger version and the option to scroll through more pictures.
If you check the left side of the dashboard you’ll a section called “Most used words in the feed,” which shows you popular words and hastags within your search result. That gives you a little bit of a breakdown on the kind of content you’ll find, whether it’s actual strawberry shortcake (#dessert) or it’s a children’s toy from the 1980s (“vintagetoys”).
Like what you’re seeing? Click Save hashtag. That’ll add the hashtag to the search area. I searched several things and built up a nice little dashboard. Okay, it’s weird. I’ll own that.
Now when I want to review hashtags on Instagram, I’ve got a place to look. The items are not in chronological order, but I’m not sure that’s possible anymore since Instagram changed its algorithm. (If it is possible, school me!)
You’ll notice that there are also ways to search Geotag, Local, and Users. Unfortunately my attempts to use Geotag and Local both failed multiple times. Stribr kept telling me that I wasn’t formatting my input correctly. Eventually I gave up.
The Users search, though, does work. If you’re worried about Instagram’s algorithm not showing you all of a user’s posts, you can add them here. You’ll get a set of user names underneath the search box. I filled my user search with Skelly, genealogist Amy Johnson Crow, and the marvelous DJ DF Tram. Now I’ve got a place where I can keep up with the users (or the archivists, or the institutions) I really want to see, without FOAMO (Fear of Algorithmic Missing Out) because Instagram didn’t want to put it in my feed.
Because Instagram’s timeline is no longer chronological, I’m not completely comfortable that Stribr will be able to surface useful content for me. But I feel far better about it than I did just trying to use the Instagram app.
Now, this is usually the part where I wrap it up by telling you how much Stribr costs and so forth. It does have a free option but it has paid plans too. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can give you good information. When I went to the pricing page, I got a popup which read as follows: “Unfortunately, we are unable to continue supporting paying customers. We are working towards making the platform free for everyone. Your subscriptions will be cancelled by the end of July. Annual subscribers will be refunded by August 15.”
So I don’t know if Stribr still has paid plans or not. (I really hope this doesn’t mean it’s in trouble.)
I started last weekend with the idea of providing an overview of Instagram’s hashtag offerings. After pecking at it all week I have a better solution for keeping track of hashtags, and though it’s not perfect I think that’s more about Instagram’s lack of chronological timelines than anything else. I’ll update this article if I hear back from Stribr about its pricing.