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What’s in a Hashtag?

And: Why You Should Curate Your Instagram Page

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose 

By any other name would smell as sweet…

The predominant interpretation of this iconic quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is that the name of something does not affect what it really is. Similarly, I remember being taught as a child, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” meaning that you can’t make a decision based on your initial reaction to something.

Then came social media, with all its fickleness and forgetfulness. If a post doesn’t grab someone’s attention right away, it’s a waste of time and space on his/her news feed. In-app photo editing capabilities such as Instagram’s, have made it so that even the layperson can tweak an image to make it eye-catching. This is immensely valuable, but it does come with aesthetic responsibility—especially for photographers.

For commercial photographers, it’s not good enough just to post a fabulous picture. This is a business of image, so every picture you post must not only be fabulous, but must also look good together with your other pictures as thumbnails. Photographers should curate their Instagram pages similar to the way they would a portfolio. A photographer’s Instagram feed should present a cohesive, purposeful set of photos that look as good from a bird’s-eye view as each individual photo does. Here’s a perfect example from @mollymgrubbs:


From a marketing perspective, the challenge is to reach a wider audience. Hashtags act as external metadata, making the content of your post searchable and visible to anyone with similar interests. Smart and relevant hashtags can connect you with followers just as easily as excessive or lengthy hashtags can turn followers off. Be wary of using trending hashtags if they aren’t relevant; at best your post will be lost at sea, but at worst it could knock major points off your credibility. Also, use too many hashtags and you run the risk of losing followers by taking up too much space on their feed.

The value of a good, relevant hashtag is that even if someone isn’t following you, there’s a chance he or she will see your post. If that person clicks through to your Instagram page and finds a visually appealing, curated gallery, he or she might follow you—and that’s the goal. Not only does having more followers increase visibility, it may also have a powerful business implication: A commercial photographer told me recently he lost the opportunity to do an Instagram takeover because he didn’t have enough followers; the Art Producer said he should have 10,000 followers at least.

Another important use of a hashtag is that it creates an online gallery that’s not a website. For photographers, it’s as simple as hashtagging your own name; that way even people who don’t follow you can see your work. Though not curated, it is another way for potential followers—as well as potential clients—to see your work. As a rule of thumb, I also recommend hashtagging the style of photography, such as #foodphotography or #landscapephotography.

In this digital age, the age-old question, “What’s in a name?” can make or break an artist’s career. Ideologically speaking, it’s still true that you can’t judge a book by its cover. But the art of hashtagging to represent your vision, your brand and your style holds the power to elevate or completely downplay your work.

So, what’s in a hashtag? Potentially everything.

Ali Feldon

Ali graduated from Wellesley College in 2001 with a BA in English and Anthropology, and earned an Associate’s degree in the Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute in 2008. In addition to her role as Marketing Associate at Pinkstaff Photographers, her culinary expertise is used to entice creatives to their portfolio reviews.

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