It doesn’t matter what you’re using Instagram for: you should be (and most likely are) using hashtags. Hashtags have been around for a while, they are still very much relevant and a big part of a core experience on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.
But how do you use them correctly?
Hashtags help your account stand out, and stand out to the right people. They’ll also bring your posts more likes. Hashtags are far and away the best method to get your content discovered, and no matter what your strategy for Instagram growth is, hashtags will play a major role.
What are hashtags?
When you post an image on Instagram you can add a caption and hashtags to the post. Hashtags are the short links preceded by the pound sign (#) that you’ve no doubt seen on social media before. Especially if you’ve had an Instagram account or a Twitter account. You’ve also most likely heard of them from news sources or other media, as they have entered the public lexicon. Hashtags make your post searchable and discoverable by Instagram users. For example, if you’re a runner who likes posting about fitness, you could caption a picture of you running with some short text, and some hashtags like #fitness, #running, #cardio. Of course, this was just an example - very likely you might want to avoid such broad hashtags but more about it later on. The main idea is to include other related hashtags you think fit your post.
After doing this, your post will be added to the feed of Instagram posts that share the same hashtag!
If a user checks the #fitness feed for inspiration or information, they will see your post in the feed. However, depending on the popularity of the hashtag, your post will only be in the feed for a limited time.
Hashtags behave kind of like a category system for Instagram. Without them, it would be hard for Instagram to organize posts on their website in a way that users could easily find the content they want to see. With millions of images posted to Instagram every day, hashtags play a vital role in sorting and organizing everyone’s Instagram posts. They are a core part of the Instagram experience and are here to stay.
Why should you use hashtags?
Currently, given the way we post on Instagram, hashtags were, are, and will continue to be the best method for getting your posts discovered on the platform. Because they are easy to use and implement for the social media platforms, and they are very straightforward for users, this is unlikely to change in the near future. This means that even if you don’t think your post needs them. Even if you think your content speaks for itself and doesn’t need to be categorized in order to add value, you should still use hashtags.
The reason to use them is clear. If you want people searching for subjects to see your posts. Use the hashtag. Posts with at least one hashtag receive on average 12.6% more engagement. The advantage of using hashtags is clear. It also means that everyone else on Instagram is also using them. Evidence shows that 88% of brand posts include at least one hashtag.
If you don’t use hashtags, you will be missing out. And you will be missing out big. Hashtags dominate search and discoverability on Instagram and by ignoring them, you won’t stand a chance when it comes to the organic discoverability on the platform. Sure, you could drive users from your website to your page. You could send users from your other social channels to your page as well. That would be missing out on a huge opportunity. Followers who are actively engaged and seeking out content within a certain category. Ignoring this kind of engagement and organic reach would be missing the whole point of creating content and being active on Instagram. You are there for the audience.
You might be thinking that you should just use as many hashtags as possible for each post. That seems like the right approach at first, but evidence shows us that 91% of posts by top brands have seven or fewer hashtags.
What hashtags should I use?
You’re probably wondering what hashtags would fit your posts best. You’ve likely seen that the obvious ones are dense with content and competition. This means that it will be hard for you to create posts that will rank in the top posts, or appear in the feed very long. Limiting your ability to gain exposure, followers, and likes on your posts. This is where your hashtag strategy will come in. You should take some time to think about what you want to accomplish on Instagram. Think about what your audience likes and what your brand needs to do to resonate with that audience. You will need to focus heavily on 3 different components of your Instagram posts in order to maximize the potential that your strategy has for success.
First, you’ll need to think about the type of content you are posting. Are you posting a static image, video, story, or using Instagram Live? These formats will likely differ in content that you are posting. Stories may be more candid than a regular image post, and video may include a current or trending event. Keep this in mind when planning out what you want to post, and the hashtags you consider including in the caption.
Second, you’ll need to think about where you are going to find the hashtags that you want to use. Are you going to use a third party service like Keyhole or Display Purposes to find your hashtags? Are you going to use the build in Instagram tools like Hashtag Suggestions, or Saved Captions to find your hashtags and catalog them? Or are you going to manually take a look at what is out there on the platform for yourself and make an informed judgment by just seeing what looks like the best fit for your content? Whatever you decide to do, you will need to develop methods for finding hashtags that you think will do well for your content. If you only use the same few hashtags each time you might limit your reach and miss out on valuable followers.
Last but certainly not least. You will want to have an idea of the popularity of each hashtag. You want to have an idea of the popularity of each hashtag before you post to it. If you are captioning with only hashtags that are very popular, your time in the feed will be extremely limited. This might make it hard for your posts to gain the exposure they deserve. If you’re only posting in very niche subjects, you might artificially limit yourself by keeping your content out of reach for an audience that might appreciate it. Finding a balance between these two will be a key part of your strategy and will take some trial and error to get correct. Hashtags with fewer posts allow your content to more easily float to the top, or stay in the feed longer. But they are inherently less popular, and thus less populated with users.
If you are consistent in your planning of hashtag usage, you will be able to leverage these simple links to start growing and building an audience, using just the power of your content. In addition to the relevance and popularity of hashtags are the types of hashtags available for you to use.
You might think about using branded hashtags, which are tailored uniquely to your brand. Take #nike for example. Using hashtags like these and encouraging your followers and audience to use them is a great way to use themes to connect you and your audience. Having followers use your branded hashtag will help you become more discoverable on Instagram. If your audience loves your content, it also allows them to spread the word to their followers, and link back to you! Community hashtags are another kind of hashtag that connect users to a certain subject. Unlike branded hashtags, they are broader in focus and not related to any one company or person. Something like the popular hashtag for travelers, #wanderlust, would be an example of this kind of hashtag. Using these will allow you to leverage the audience and community of people who gravitate to these subjects.
Campaign hashtags are also a great tool for any brand looking to take advantage of the power that hashtags have to offer. These, unlike the previous two examples, are more short-term in scope. Think of these hashtags as being tied to a new product launch or a partnership. It’s a great way to drive awareness and categorize your content in a very specific way.
How do I get to the top of the feed?
After you’ve thought about what hashtags you should use, you’re probably wondering how you dominate the feed, get your posts to the top, or even appear in trending. This is harder than you might think, but it’s still possible.
The most determining factors for this are how much engagement your post gets, and how quick your post gets that engagement. Generally, the period for getting in the top posts is about 24 hours. This is a short period of time, and if the hashtag is very popular, your post runs the risk of falling off the feed before it can gain any traction.
In order to get this kind of engagement, you’ll need to pick the right hashtags (not too popular, not too niche), and get a lot of engagement on the post (schedule your post for when your audience is most active).
If you are serious about maximizing your engagement for a given hashtag, the best strategy is going to be getting into the top and trending posts for that hashtag. These are the posts that are most commonly seen by users who are sent to the page by searching for that hashtag or clicking on it when seeing it on another post. If you appear as one of these posts your content immediately gains some legitimacy, and has the immediate chance of being more engaged with just by being on the list of top posts.
Engagement is key for dominating the feed of a hashtag, so you’ll want to do all you can to encourage your followers to like and comment your posts. You can do this by making sure to respond to comments, or do something like run a contest. Keeping engagement high will help you get more engagement and more followers.
Hashtags are by far the greatest tool on Instagram to help users find your content, and you. Whether you are looking for more followers, likes, or comments. Hashtags are the key. Knowing what they are, how they work, where to find them, and how to use them are the most important skill you can possibly have as a brand on Instagram.
By understanding how to create and develop a winning strategy around hashtags you’ll be able to create more engagement for your brand, and you’ll be able to accomplish more of your goals on the platform. There is no quick fix for using hashtags on Instagram.
Instead, you need to think about and to understand why Instagram has chosen them to organize content, and develop skills and strategy of getting your content in front of the right audience using hashtags.
Hashtags are the key to search and discoverability on Instagram, and you should understand exactly how to use them, and use them wisely.