Love them or hate them, hashtags can be hugely beneficial to both Instagram audience growth and brand strategy. Using them wisely can give you the edge, but using them poorly can turn your followers off. Forever.
In this post, you'll learn why using Instagram hashtags is important, popular hashtag best practices, and whether or not they're right for your strategy.
[Hash]tag, you're it!
Better start using dem hashtags.
Instagram hashtags are, um, controversial. Some people are fans, others use them reluctantly, and then there's the camp that categorically abstains itself from any pound key deployments 🚫 (otherwise known as hashtag minimalists). There's no right or wrong hashtag ideology, but from a social media marketing perspective, it's kind of a missed growth opportunity to not use them. Because whether you want to believe it or not, they actually work. When used wisely.
First let's get into why certain peeps are averse to this practice. It all boils down to abuse. You see, when folks start to hashtag #instacool and #awesome, it's just not a good look. Ever. And that's how people get turned off, never mind the fact that there is no strategy whatsoever behind hashtagging such random appellations. Let's pretend for a minute that we're not familiar with what hashtags are and begin by communicating what they are not.
Hashtags are not:
- a way to communicate
- a thing to overload on in your captions
- a great opportunity to add random words at the end of your Insta blurbs
- a thing to pepper within sentences
On the flip side, hashtags:
- are a great discovery tool
- present fantastic branding opportunities
- enable UGC creation and sourcing
- allow you to get hyper-targeted and play within specific aesthetic circles
How to Use, Not Abuse
For some people, using hashtags is like second nature - they just get it. But for most people, it's just not that obvious, so we're going to break it down to help you understand and maximize their employment. First and foremost, the use of hashtags has to stem from a strategy to make sense. Instagram tags should most certainly not be deployed haphazardly.
There are 2 ways to get really smart with a hashtag strategy: creating a custom hashtag that pertains uniquely to your brand, or identifying hyper-targeted popular hashtags to utilize for account growth.
Let's examine some best practices for both methods.
1. Creating a Branded Hashtag
Most businesses on Instagram have a branded hashtag, but it's time to face the music: some do it better than others. Why do these exist? Because they can become both a great brand vehicle and a way to source user-generated content.
For example, J Brand has created the #InMyJbrand hashtag for their customers to use in their J Brand-clad posts. The results make for a pool of high-quality content from them to choose from to repurpose, all while simultaneously getting their customers to spread their brand name far and wide to their own audiences.
A piece of high-quality repurposed post sourced thanks to the use of #InMyJbrand by this Instagrammer, who in turn exposed her audience to the brand.
The trick to creating a successful branded hashtag that drives impressions is to make sure it's not already being used randomly in other non-related content. It should also be easy to spell and remember, and it should concern your business. To maximize its potential, add it to your Instagram bio and promote it in your posts. Your fans will inevitably get on board.
You can also create a unique hashtag for a specific Instagram campaign to help drive engagement around it, whether it's an influencer activation, a contest, promotion for a seasonal item, or a product launch. For example, Free People created the #FPEscapes hashtag for both a contest and for users to tag their content portraying a literal of figurative escape:
2. Using Hashtags for Account Growth
Hashtags were invented as a discover tool, so it's only natural that it's what people would use them for. Instagram caps off hashtag use per post at 30 - that's 30 opportunities to help your engagement spike by 3 times that of un-hashtagged posts. And while that may seem like an astronomical number of tags, it's perfectly acceptable to utilize this many to assist in your cause.
But don't get tag-trigger-happy, there are some things you should know before getting started.
Research is key. You need to research the gull out of which tags to use, from finding the popular hashtags, to narrowing in on the ones that are relevant to your company and your content. (More on that later.)
Beware of popularity. Some of these popular Instagram hashtags will seem attractive due to relevance and high usage number. Ironically, the latter is exactly what you should be weary of. Stick to using trending hashtags that have less than 1 million posts associated to them. Anything above that means that they're being used too frequently, which translates to any content being attached to them getting buried in the shuffle. Faster than you can say best Instagram hashtags. 😏
Stay focused. It's going to be easy to give into the lure of some particularly attractive hashtags. They're going to seem perfect at first, with their great wording and perfect population, but if it doesn't remotely have anything to do with your niche, fuggedaboutit. Resist the temptation and stick with popular Instagram hashtags that are relevant to both your post and your company. That's how you'll get that person who found you through them to hit follow on your profile.
Hashtagging general words does not count as being strategic. Finding pertinent, high-quality hashtags around which targeted aesthetic communities congregate is what will help your engagement. Once you've found 30 or so applicable hashtags, it's time to put them into action to help increase your post engagement, as well as grow your following. Those specific niche hashtags are rarely spam-ridden and attract users who take content creation very seriously. Those coveted high-quality followers should most definitely be your target.
The thing is, you can't just go ahead and type out 30 hashtags in your caption. That sh*t is gauche, yo. There are a few reasons for that:
- It straight up looks unsavory. Like, it's just not aesthetically pleasing.
- Your actual caption gets lost in the shuffle because the add-ons make it look too long. You want to be to-the-point and value-adding with your wording, not have it drown in a series of hashtags.
- It will give people the impression that you're trying too hard. Be cool, man. 🆗
The proper way to go about using your 30 hashtags is to paste them into your post's first comment, right under your caption. And because Instagram now absorbs the first comment, no one will see them and you don't even need to add a few line breaks of dots beforehand. This practice is known as a hashtag cloud.
There's nothing wrong with having a hashtag or two in your actual caption, so long as they are the most directly related to your post. Cap it off at three and then revert to the cloud! ☁️
Ready, Set, Research
I know what you're thinking at this point. Ok I get it, but how do I go about finding the right hashtags for my brand? Well, lend a ear here, sport. Finding the most pertinent, high-quality hashtags worthy of your usage is also a strategy in and of itself.
Scrutinize your rivals. You know who your direct competitors are (if not, you really, really should). Now head to their account and check out their posts to see what hashtags they're using. You'll either scoff in horror, or take notes. It's worth a gander.
Use Instagram's discovery page. The folks over at Facebook HQ have made organic discovery on Insta really easy, user-friendly and intuitive. Head over the discover section on the app (the magnifying glass at the bottom) and start typing in the search bar. Select the Tags tab and let the excavation begin. Tap on the one you're interested in to see the associated content. Once you're on the hashtag page, Instagram will suggest other related popular hashtags. Mining made easy.
Check out what the influencers are doing. Most big accounts aren't discounting hashtags, which is telling of their power and significance. If you focus on the hashtags used by influential instagrammers within your niche, it's kind of a win since their audiences are already primed for your type of content.
Woof, that was a lot to take in.
Follow all of the above mentioned advice to transform your Instagram hashtag efforts into successful growth and/or branding endeavors.
Got any more hashtag questions? Get in touch or leave a comment below.
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