How to Change Audience Habits to Optimize Your Brand’s Instagram

[Originally published on the Dash Hudson blog.]

Not all reach is created equal.

You may remember when the term “vanity metrics” rose to fame, and marketers began to wake up to the fact that all the reach in the world didn’t automatically bring engagements and conversions. A thirst developed for more meaningful connections. Leadership teams started asking “but what does that actually get us?” and savvy brands moved to focus on engagement and ROI rather than skimming off the big but often hollow numbers to stick in a report.

Not all reach is created equal. Which begs the question: from an engagement point of view, what’s the difference between hashtags, @mentions, and photo tags? Understanding the impact of each will help you make better decisions about how to optimize your efforts on Instagram.

Hashtags are good for…


Hashtags can be useful in event tracking — for example, if you’re a global brand with multiple handles and you’re running competitions and want to view them all in one place.

Users to follow

From the user’s perspective, it can be cool to follow hashtags to spice up their feed with interior design shots or cool videos of whales…whatever strikes their fancy.

Vanity reach

If you get on the explore page you’ll see your reach skyrocket, but is the audience that’s generating this reach right for you? You’ll never know.

Finding content

Hashtags are useful for users to track down cool new content that they might send to a friend in a DM or share, but for brands it can be tricky to cut through the noise.

Hashtags aren’t so great for…

Tracking UGC

How do you separate genuine, quality UGC from randoms using a certain hashtag simply because it’s popular? You can’t know.

Getting new audiences to your profile page

When you tap a hashtag all you get is more content from that hashtag. When you click an @mention or photo tag you go straight to the profile — ka-ching!

Introducing your brand to new audiences in the right way

The feeling associated with visiting a brand’s profile from a hashtag simply doesn’t match up with the affinity that’s present when a user has tapped through to a profile from the caption of someone they follow, hopefully like, and probably look up to.

Why @mentions and Photo Tags Win

When a fan @mentions your brand, you gain access to a loyal follower’s audience, many of whom will be interested in your brand. From there, one tap and they’re on your profile. If they like what they see, they’ll follow. It’s a more meaningful (and fruitful) engagement than being pushed down a content rabbit hole!

So yes, an @mention or photo tag is worth more than a hashtag. A hashtag could easily get lost among others and can be seen as an easy or minimal way for a user to acknowledge a brand. With an @mention you’re right there in the crafted caption.

Okay, you know there’s big value in earning an @mention and photo tag. But… how do you get people to do it?

Behavioural Change


Use a call-to-action (CTA) wherever you can. Call on your audience to @mention you in their content and add a photo tag to be featured. This way you’ll never miss a piece of UGC again.

Feature UGC on your feed and add the “@mention us in your post to get a feature” to the caption and see how that does. Add it to your bio. Make sure it’s visible from any touchpoint on your Instagram and users will quickly take note, especially since it brings the opportunity of being featured.

One more thing: if you’re @mentioned in a piece of UGC from a user with a giant account and you want to turbocharge that engagement, comment on the post and chances are your comment will be pushed to the top and featured — just another place for new audiences to tap and discover.

Long story short: people won’t know unless you tell them.

Finally, it pains us to think of you scrolling through your @mentions on your phone, scrolling through miles and miles of hashtags, and waking up at unsociable hours of the night to keep on top of your notifications. Yes, you now know why you need to keep on top of these things. But there’s a better way. We invite you to learn more about UGC Discovery with Dash Hudson. We’ll set you up.

Header image: @milk

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