Instagram Hashtag Games: Are They Really Worth it?
The Design Twins share expert advice on how to grow on Instagram, focusing on hashtag games, and how to BEST use your time to create a powerful brand on Instagram.
Gone are the “good ‘ole days” of Instagram! Well, it’s true. The Instagram of today is not the same one we joined a few years ago or even last year. The only constant is change. But I for one am not upset about this. And you shouldn’t be either.
Luckily you have Julie and me here to help you navigate through the changes and help you thrive on the “NEW” Instagram. Today we are going to specifically address an important topic: Hashtag Games. Are hashtag games really worth all the time and effort spent? Whether you are creating and hosting, invited to guest host, or playing them regularly, we will give you our best advice based on where you are in your journey and your ultimate Instagram goals.
We’ve talked about the Instagram Algorithm, we talked about your Instagram Trust score. We have covered how important Instagram Stories are to your growth on Instagram and a host of other topics. These are all useful to read if you are really serious about taking charge of your Instagram growth.
What Are Hashtag Games?
Right now, we want to talk to you about hashtag games. These are hashtag “decor challenges” that are specific to the IG Decor Community. If you brand new to the IG Decor Community these are simply groups of people who have organized a decor topic or idea, invite people to play and follow them, and reward their favorite by featuring them. These are the general perimeters. Decor challenges have been the bread and butter of growth strategies for this IG niche ever since Julie and I first joined IG back in 2014. But alas times have changed, a lot.
Hashtag Games Were Once Powerful
I still remember the very first decor challenge. It was called #tenforTuesday (or something like that). It was such a novel concept, so foreign, that it really was groundbreaking. With this first one and the early challenges it was a BIG deal. Rules were specific and people played carefully. We planned our decor around the early hashtag challenges. And if you were talented enough to be chosen as a winner you could gain unprecedented exposure throughout the community.
Now there are way too many to count, and way too many to keep track of. Everyone is creating them left and right, so they have become almost meaningless. Perhaps this sounds a little harsh, but this is just reality.
Are Hashtag Games Worthwhile Today?
The questions we want to answer for you is this: Are hashtag games and challenges still a viable way to grow your Instagram feed and are they worth your valuable time? While the answer may depend on where you are in your growth journey, it is important to understand the pros and cons.
Let’s take it apart. Let’s assume you gather together a very nice group of like-minded decor accounts and you decide to create a hashtag together. You put a lot of time and effort into creating a hashtag game.
Creating a hashtag game involves:
- picking the right group of people
- then choosing a creative & unique idea
- next, creating the perfect, catchy name
- selecting the ideal day or days
- developing the rules or guidelines
- then creating the write up
- next, deciding what picture you will use to promote and announce your hashtag
- creating the graphic with words so people know your hashtag has started
There is a lot of time and effort just getting this idea off the ground. And the hashtag hasn’t even started yet.
Hashtag Games in Action
So much time, so many decisions, and all of it taking away from how you could and should be spending time creating stand-out, unique, spectacular pictures for your own feed and building your own brand.
You have to:
- manage the hashtag
- comment and thank everyone to encourage and reward participation
- vote on your favorites
- negotiate your choice
- determine when and how to announce the winner
And on, and on, and on. If done well hosting one hashtag can take over your life. Sadly, many are not done well, making them even less meaningful. To read all our best advice on Instagram Etiquette and more head to our dedicated blog post.
After All That Work, Are Hashtag Games Good For Your Feed?
You’ve put in all this work, and now you are ready for the payoff: Growth. But with all the hashtag games out there it is awfully hard to create one that gets noticed and catches on. Even if people do play how many people actually follow?
We need to talk about the elephant in the room: What does posting an announcement for a hashtag game do to your engagement?
If you don’t know this already, I am going to tell you now. Words on pictures kill them. Even the most gorgeous photo will be scrolled over, passed by, shunned, as soon as words are put across it. Imagine, it’s like reading an advertisement. People don’t want to read advertisements. You can take the same photo and post it without words and then post it with words and the photo will get significantly fewer likes and fewer comments guaranteed.
Sacrifice for the Sake of Growth?
So, let’s say for the sake of the hashtag announcement you are willing to accept that your picture is not going to get a lot of attention. Fine. And you’re going to post another picture that you really like an hour later, and you are hoping that the IG God’s won’t punish you for the poorly performing picture. Except guess what? They are, in a way, going to punish you for the poorly performing post.
Think of it this way. One bad post is like adding one bad test score to a whole semester’s worth of good grades. It’s going to bring down your average. What am I talking about? Your picture with the words on it that didn’t do very well is going to bring down your overall engagement score and IG will respond accordingly.
This is the news flash: it all matters. Every picture matters.
So, in your effort to gain followers by starting the hashtag game instead you are sacrificing the most important determining factor in whether IG shows your pictures to people. They are measuring your level of engagement (likes and comments) on every single post.
Once you launch your game, depending on your rules and schedule, maybe each week you have to come up with a winner. You go through the process of choosing a winner, creating a feature post (more time and more effort) and you get ready to post another photo with words on it. This beautiful picture that might have brought a lot of love to your feed (in the form of likes and comments) now has words across it and it looks again, more like an advertisement than an inspirational decor picture.
The other thing that unfortunately will decrease the amount of attention/engagement on the feature picture is that it is going to be posted by ALL your hashtag hosts all on the same day, thus diluting the power of the picture. The idea is that each time a picture is seen its power is reduced. Sad but true. People like original content. Instagram rewards original content.
Pros & Cons So You Can Decide on Hashtag Games
- you join forces with other like-minded people
- you grow in relationship with people in your niche
- more people might follow you to play the hashtag game
- it is a statement that you are active in your community
- if you are small it is a way to begin connecting
- takes a TON of time and commitment
- takes away from time spent creating your own content
- people are playing the games less & less
- many who play don’t follow
- you are giving up control over what appears on your feed
- pictures that have words on them perform significantly worse
- even if you later delete the poorly performing posts the damage to your IG engagement has been done
- hashtag games have lost their power because there are too many
- if you are involved in too many, they can take over your feed
- time spent on creating and working on the hashtag game is time taken away from more important activities like working on your own content and liking and commenting authentically across IG
Be Careful How You Spend Your Most Valuable Commodity: Time
Time is a rare commodity Actually, we talk to many of you, and it is probably the resource that is in least supply. So, you need to be very strategic and intentional in your choices with how you spend it. Let’s go back to the amount of time spent on the many activities involved in hosting hashtag games. Remember the list we made above to illustrate a general picture of the time it takes? It takes a lot of time.
This valuable time would be better spent:
- working on new decor projects
- creating new content for your feed
- responding to comments
- perfecting your photography skills
- editing your photos
- honing your voice, saying something on your posts
- commenting on posts that you love
- discovering new accounts & making new friends
- spreading your reach
What is the Best Use of My Time on IG?
Number one is creating original content. This involves many things (see the list above).
Next is something people either don’t think is important or don’t realize the timing of it is so important: Answering your own comments in a timely manner, preferably right after you post. This is the most critical time. This is the time when IG is deciding, based on the percentage of your followers that like and comment, whether or not and how many people to show your post to. If you are there to comment back this will encourage interaction with others. The idea that you might be there and see their comment is encouraging.
The fact that this is in your control is huge. Consider part of your posting process to be staying on your feed to greet and encourage comments. Create and encourage dialog. Answering seven hours later is not nearly as powerful. We understand that it’s not always possible but try your best.
Also Important for IG Growth
Comment on others’ posts, not just your besties. Comment on all the people that you follow and maybe some that you don’t.
Here’s the deal. Have you ever noticed that the people who you follow who take the time to comment on your posts are the posts that IG shows you? Yup. And the same is happening for you. If you go and comment on people’s feeds IG is going to think you are “friends” and they are going to show your picture to them. The whole premise is that IG wants to connect you to the people that you like and who like you. If you stay on IG commenting and connecting with just your favorite circle of 20-50 people you are not going to grow your account as much as if you show IG you have more like hundreds and hundreds of friends. Instead of focusing inward you want to focus outward.
No, you don’t have to give up DM’s or give up your friends. Apparently, DM’s count as engagement too. But just limit the percentage of time that you spend with your besties and get out there.
For more info on the true function of social media hashtags, read, “The Value of Social Media Hashtags.”
How About Playing the Hashtag Games?
Playing hashtag games doesn’t take nearly as much time as hosting. Also, you remain in control of your feed. Playing hashtag games doesn’t require posting other people’s photos or words on your photos, so it really is very different.
We advise not spending too much time on this task, however. Here are our recommendations for playing:
- don’t waste a lot of time
- quickly look up on #dailydecortags to get a view of current or seasonal decor hashtags
- choose a couple or as many as 10-15 that seem relevant
- use the remaining number of hashtags (30 total) to play larger, relevant hashtags (that aren’t games)
- always carefully count so you don’t use over 30 (IG will delete your text)
- add them at the end of your post (if you add them as a comment IG sees this as spam-like behavior)
- give a little distance between your quality message (which you want people to focus on and read) and your list of hashtags
Should I Say Yes to Guest-Hosting?
So, you’ve played the hashtag games to increase visibility of your post, participate in the IG home decor community, and increase exposure by hopefully “winning” and being featured by a group of IG accounts.
It is always an honor to be chosen. And sometimes we have a hard time saying no, to anyone, ever! We don’t want to seem rude or ungrateful, and yet there are sometimes reasons why saying yes to becoming a co-host may not be the best idea.
- the more your pictures are posted in IG the more Instagram recognizes it as unoriginal. They reward original content.
- if the accounts are small the exposure will be minimal.
- it adds more work and commitment to your week that will take away from time spent elsewhere.
- if words are added to your photo this will have a negative effect on post performance.
Agreeing to guest-host is an easier way to stay involved and active in the IG Home Decor Community. It is a fraction of the time commitment and can be a nice way to “meet” new friends by temporarily being involved in their tag. Guest-hosting definitely has pros and should be considered.
So, About Those Hashtag Games
We aren’t saying hosting hashtag games is inherently bad. But, we don’t recommend using it as your main strategy for growth. And we don’t recommend hosting more than one at a time. In the beginning, when you are just getting started, it’s a good way to connect with the community. Hosting one at a time can be a good way to connect, possibly grow, and show your commitment.
Playing hashtag games can also help connect you to other accounts and bring more eyes (more engagement) to your posts. Showing love and support is always a good idea. But you can show love and support without hosting a hashtag. You can feature people you love in authentic ways, both on your feed and in your stories. Always keep in mind what you are sacrificing as you make your decisions. When you understand all the factors that go into creating and hosting hashtag games you can make more intentional choices and best manage your Instagram journey.
We hope this post has been helpful. We invite you to read the rest of our Instagram help posts. They are all written for you so we can be there with you as you create your own Instagram story.
With love and gratitude,