Hashtag Insincerity: Robo-Marketing in Hiphop Social Media

I won’t deny the appeal of having a lot of Followers on Instagram. And the way I handle my account is suitable for attracting a lot of strangers: I primarily post video snippets of my turntable spinning records from my vinyl collection, along with the odd cassette. And I run the Hashtag game appropriately, referencing artists and genres and years and anything someone might search for within the app. To draw attention; to earn heart-shaped Likes, and maybe Followers.

It’s an arguably sad form of self-validation. Putting myself out there by putting my music collection out there, hopping up and down on social media with my hands waving, “Like me! I’m cool!” There’s a market for everything. Audiences, communities who gather in celebration of whatever that thing is they commonly enjoy. And vinyl records do that pretty well on Instagram.

Sub-genres of music bring in sub-communities too. Punk hashtags, punk communities. Metal hashtags, metal communities. And that’s independent of the audio format you might present in your Instagram account. Case in point, I don’t own a lot of hiphop music on vinyl. About a dozen or so LP’s and singles compared to, say, my 250+ jazz albums. So there’s not a lot of hiphop content on my Instagram. That was until I picked up about 100 rap cassettes from a garage sale a couple months ago, a collection I organized by year (mostly late 80’s) and only recently started listening to.

And so it’s when you post the general hashtags of “hiphop”, “rap”, and especially “mixtape” that you do of course garner interest from folks in the Instagram hiphop community. But it gets strange: you don’t actually attract fans of the genre, or even classic hiphop heads. Some, but not many. What you do attract is rap artists. MC’s, DJ’s, producers. And they’re on the self-promotion tip. I’m not questioning their love of hiphop in general. But I do question whether they are truly “liking” my video posts.

The thing is, within Instagram there is what’s known as Hashtag Bots. That is, apps within the Instagram app that are set to automatically respond to given hashtags with Likes, or even Follows. And it’s generally a self-promotion tool. It makes sense, you’re letting it known within a social media community that you’re a creator with something to offer (or at least that’s the polite and rational way to put it – the brute honest way is to call it advantageous capitalization).

And that’s what I’ve been getting a lot of with my hiphop clips. Within a roughly 30 minute window I’ll receive 15-20 Likes, and a couple Follows. My Instagram account doesn’t have a huge following to begin with (a hundred or so compared to the thousands some people have, even fellow record collectors/posters), and my posts don’t usually earn a lot of Likes (I rarely crack 30, versus the hundreds others receive). So when I do receive a Like or a more-rare Follower I tend to check out their account too. But after a week of posting 12 rap tapes, I’ve earned an average of 20 likes per post and 2 new followers each time. At first I scoped out each of those followers. Almost all of them were rap artists,  or even record labels, or promoters. All of them no doubt “liking” my posts not as humans, but as self-promoting hashtag bots. And it seems to happen with hiphop culture far more than with any other genre.

It’s a shame, really. I’m sure some of the artists that these accounts represent are legitimately talented and hardworking, just trying to get their names out there. It’s just sad that they feel they have to resort to stuff like this. I’d much rather connect with fellow hiphop heads, with fellow music fans.

Even if it is just advertising, I feel like I’m being duped by these robo-apps. Even if the artists mean well, it feels heartless. Like a waste of their time. Like a waste of mine.

© 2016 Andrew Hall Writes


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