Following a person on social media is simple — but now Instagram is allowing users to follow specific topics no matter who posted the photo. On Tuesday, December 12, Instagram officially launched the ability to follow a hashtag, after the feature was spotted in testing last month. The new Instagram hashtag follow option allows users to get photos into their feed not because of who shared them, but because of that hashtag.
Users can follow a hashtag by searching for the tag and then accessing the page full of all the tagged posts. At the top of that collection of all those posts, there’s now a follow button, much like the follow button at the top of profiles.
Following a hashtag won’t deliver every single post with the tag — a good thing for the popular tags with millions of photos — but will use Instagram algorithms to show you the top posts on that topic. That means the more interactions a post gets with that hashtag, the more likely the image will be to show up in the feeds of users following the tag.
The move, on the surface, allows users to find photos on topics they are interested in. But adding another way to follow outside of users will theoretically get more posts into more feeds. When a post appears in a feed because of a hashtag, following the user who shared the photo is a relatively easy process of just clicking on the username. With the right hashtags, users with a public account could see their photos getting a larger reach beyond just their followers.
While Instagram’s hashtag search already allowed users to easily find collections of photos on #wanderlust or #food, the ability to follow a hashtag takes out the search process and automatically adds those posts to the regular feed. The search option remains divided into both a “top posts” section and a “most recent,” so users still have a way to find the most recent posts rather than the top posts delivered to their feed.
The change could also make a big impact on photographers and businesses that use the platform to promote their work or products. The new hashtag follow could get relevant posts inside the feeds of users who don’t already follow that business, but with this big change will likely come new strategies for professional social media accounts in addition to existing ideas, such as posting at the right time.
Instagram says that the new hashtag follow tool has similar privacy settings to following another account. Users will only see the hashtags you follow if your account is public; in private accounts, those hashtags are only visible to followers. Users can also unfollow a hashtag the same way you can unfollow a user, with the “following” list inside the profile now split into two separate sections for people and hashtags.
Following hashtags is just the beginning, Instagram says, suggesting the platform has a few more ideas up its sleeve to expand the possibilities for discovering new ideas and users on the network.