Hashtag passes, style remains

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In 2007, American technology expert Chris Messina proposed that Twitter users use the hashtag symbol in order to group different topics of discussion (Hiscott, 2013). A few months later, hashtags were developed and later became an integral part of Twitter, before spreading to other social media. Consequently, users, brands and media would apply them not only for topics’ grouping but also during big event launches, news updates or simply for entertainment reasons.

As far as Instagram is concerned, hashtags have proved to be an important popularity vehicle for users’ posts. A post with a single hashtag can result in 12.6% more engagement than a post without one (Simply Measured, 2014), since it promotes the post within a larger group of users who are scrolling posts under the same hashtag. However, especially with regard to Instagram, opinions on hashtag usage have created some controversy over the years (Loren, 2017). Although for a large group of users and/or brands an extensive number of hashtags is necessary for audience growth and continuous popularity, there are certain kinds of high-end brands and/or influential users that appear to deliberately abstaining from them.

To take a particularly salient example, world leading luxury brand and haute couture house Chanel merely uses a few hashtags on Instagram (@chanelofficial) and only those that refer to Chanel’s own campaigns, events or collaborators. The same is the case with house Dior (@diorofficial), Hermes (@hermes) or French luxury jewellery conglomerate Cartier (@cartier) on their respective Instagram accounts. All these luxury brands seem to follow a similar strategy, which involves minimum use of hashtags and only when such use is relevant to the respective brand.

A possible explanation of such strategic reluctance could be that the use of hashtags is widely perceived as a means towards making oneself visible and known within the social media ecosystem. As a result, it could imply that the brands are not ‘always already’ widely known and established, thus undermining their branding strategies. Another type of explanation, not necessarily antagonistic to the first one, could mobilise concepts of taste. Thus, for some, hashtag use could be considered tasteless and perhaps a sign of neediness for attention (Owens, 2015).

Explanations through the invocation of social patterns of taste have been famously been explored by the pioneering work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his work ‘Distinction’ (1984). As Bourdieu puts it “taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications [class structure] is expressed or betrayed” (Bourdieu, 1984: xxix). For Bourdieu, specific choices of taste form a vehicle with which social class is endorsed and expressed. Thus, a further hypothesis along roughly bourdieusian lines could involve the idea that what all the above-mentioned luxury fashion brands – aiming at wealthy, affluent, upmarket and discerning audiences– share is a motivation to be perceived as self-assertive, exclusive and thus distinct from similar ones.

 

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