The Verge reported today that Instagram is apparently testing a feature where users can hide hashtags from their posts.

How Instagram’s new “hide hashtag” feature might work

Twitter user Jane Manchun Wong found it first, Tweeting this screenshot:

The idea is that hashtags added through that new option will not appear on the post itself, to keep things a bit more neat (or in the comments – we allow customers to add their hashtags to the first comment of a post rather than the caption for the same reason!).

This is in some ways a good thing – Instagram is all about building a great aesthetic, and it starts to look a bit ugly when every post ends with a string of (up to) 30 hashtags. It also looks … almost a little mercenary or desperate at times? Particularly when you have something like “#likes4likes #instafamous #instababe #sexy #beach …” repeated 30 times on every single post (we find the sweet spot is more 15-20, but it varies by brand!).

Why hashtags are useful and important for an account’s success

At the same time, hashtags are obviously an important part of how a brand or account gets reach outside just people who follow you. Beyond advertising and things like posters in store, links to your Instagram in transactional emails, influencer marketing campaigns or cross-promotions and so on – hashtags are a big part of how people discover new accounts to follow.

Instagram doesn’t really publicly talk about how many people browse hashtag feeds compared to viewing their home feed or watching stories, but the ‘explore’ tab in the app has always been there for a reason, and presumably that’s because people go through it (interested whether you do though – let us know in the comments)!

Brands for quite some time have been using hashtags as a way to curate their feed, source influential people within particular topic areas, and of course collect user-generated content that they can then Regram and share to their own followers. Your hashtag strategy can be a vital part of growing your account, and provide channels to engage with followers, customers and advocates.

The problem with hidden hashtags

While aesthetically having a way to totally hide the hashtags is a great thing (and possibly even better than putting them in the first comment), the problem is – how do people find hashtags to look through?

Currently, a lot of users will see a hashtag on a post when they’re browsing through their feed (say #dresseswithpockets), and then click on that interesting-looking hashtag (maybe it’s an area of interest for them, they just love dresses that have pockets, or it’s a branded hashtag). After clicking on the tag, they scroll through some of the hashtag feed, and maybe click into some images and follow new accounts.

That’s how hashtags help with reach, and help you grow your Instagram account – it’s through accessing people who are browsing those feeds to discover new content or accounts that they love.

But what happens if hashtags are hidden? How will users find new or interesting hashtags? Will they ever browse through a hashtag feed at all?

My concern with this feature is that it will lead to fewer users browsing those hashtag feeds, and that will mean that brands will see much more limited reach for their posts, lower engagement, and a lower number of new followers who discover their account(s) through hashtag feeds.

While it will certainly clean up the feed, it might also reduce the transparency: for example, if an account is frequently using low quality hashtags (#likes4likes is a good example, given that it’s practically full of bots and zero real world engagement), you can see that in their feed – perhaps that will help guide if that influencer sees real or fake engagement.

Obviously only time will tell what the impact of this feature might be – while it looks like Instagram is certainly experimenting with the idea, who knows if they will end up launching it (or in its current form).

Every time we see these new features launched, we always ask but what does it mean for brands? Sometimes, features like product tagging are game changing for eCommerce companies, and our customers have seen vastly improved conversion rates as a result. In others like hidden hashtags, it can seem like a great idea at the start but potentially have negative impacts down the track.