Instagram is a visual-first platform. When you log on, you’ll see image after image of jaw-dropping scenery, drool-worthy dessert, and high-quality pictures of everything you could ever want to buy. The images and videos being shared are the focus, but that doesn’t mean that you can ignore the text altogether.
Hashtags are an important part of that text on both feed posts and in Stories, and can help you to more effectively expand your content’s reach, connect with new audiences, build brand awareness, and even drive actual results. In order to see any of these results, however, you need to be using the correct hashtags.
In this post, we’re going to show you how you can find the right hashtags for every post you create and maximise your Instagram marketing potential.
Instagram hashtags: Why they matter
Instagram hashtags are essentially clickable, searchable keywords that people use to find content they’re interested in. Not only can users search for them or click on them, but they can also even now follow hashtags they’re interested in, allowing content from profiles they don’t even follow to show up in their feeds.
By using the right hashtags, you could put your content in front of your target audience. If you know that your audience looks for new products like yours under #techgear, add that to your post and potential customers could discover your brand and its newest gadget for the first time.
When used strategically, you can use hashtags to not only connect with a new audience but also can boost brand awareness, help you to share and encourage the creation of user-generated content (UGC), and increase event attendance or participation.
The keyword here is “strategically,” so let’s take a look at how to create a hashtag strategy for your business.
Types of Instagram hashtags to use
If you look through different accounts on Instagram, you’ll notice that many are using different types of hashtags. Some will make you laugh, while others will seem to act like disclaimers. Each type of hashtag has their own distinct purpose, and using a combination of them will benefit you most.
Here are the most important types of Instagram hashtags that businesses should be using:
Mass appeal hashtags
These will have high competition, but will have broad appeal. Examples: #sundayfunday, #summersun, #instagood
You’ll create these hashtags specifically to build brand awareness for your business or specific events you’re hosting, including social media contests or campaigns. Examples: #tieks, #beardbrand, #lushlife
Niche interest hashtags
These hashtags will be relevant to your specific audience, helping you stand out to the people you want to connect with most. Examples: #technews, #travellover, #somethingblue
Timely content performs well, and it has big peaks in interest. Seasonal, holiday, and even current event hashtags can be added to your posts for a spike in reach. Examples: #fall, #stockingstuffers, #NationalIceCreamDay
Sometimes hashtags are purely used for engagement or entertainment purposes; these should be featured at the top of your hashtag list. Examples: #youknowyouneedthis, #didisaythat
These hashtags are important for local businesses or those attending events to help you connect with local audiences. Examples: #wintergardenfarmersmarket, #dallasfood, #phillysports
Sometimes, people need to add some sort of disclaimers or information to their posts and opt to do it through the hashtags. Examples: #sponsoredpost #notlegaladvice #paidpost
Do I need to use new hashtags each time?
A lot of brands wonder if they need to use a new set or combination of hashtags on each post. The answer here is a resounding yes.
It’s fine to always use your branded hashtags, but you want to switch it up otherwise. Sticking to the exact same hashtags over and over won’t do you any favours in terms of connecting to new audiences. Using a diverse range of relevant hashtags, however, could easily put you in front of audience members and maximise your reach as much as possible.
Developing your hashtag strategy
Now that we’ve gone over all the information you need to know about hashtags, you can develop your actual strategy. If you aren’t sure where to start, follow these 4 easy steps to create and implement your hashtag strategy.
- Define your goals: Your hashtags won’t do much for you if you don’t have specific goals in mind that you want to accomplish. Common goals for hashtag usage include brand awareness, event awareness, engagement, establishing brand voice, reach, and improved client relationships.Choose the goals that you want to accomplish. It can be all of the above, or none of the above, but you’ll need to choose hashtags for each individual goal, so make sure you consider what you want your hashtags to do for you.
- Hashtag research: You know what you want to accomplish, so now you’ll need to do some research to decide exactly which hashtags will help you do this.I like to start with competitor research. Take a look at what brands similar to yours are doing on Instagram, how they’re using hashtags, and which hashtags they’re using. Are there any general appeal or niche hashtags that you can swipe for yourself? If so, make a note of them.
Next, general hashtag research is a good start. Tools like Hashtagify will not only help you brainstorm new hashtags to use but also show you the popularity and potential reach and impact of specific terms and phrases. As you’re conducting hashtag research, compile lists of the different hashtags. Sort them into different categories, like “location hashtags” and “niche interest” hashtags. This will make it easier to create winning combinations later on at the drop of a hat instead of manually needing to seek through them.
- Create your branded hashtag: Your branded hashtag will help you build brand awareness, but most importantly, it can be used to encourage and curate user-generated content. Since UGC is a valuable tool that will help you increase your reach and build trust with new and existing followers, this is something you don’t want to wait for.Branded hashtags can include the name of your business or product, but they don’t necessarily need to. Banana Republic, for example, regularly runs hashtag campaigns that may or may not include the brand name and seek to encourage engagement and UGC creation.
When you have a hashtag in mind, double check it. Search for it on Instagram and Twitter, and read it out loud. Make sure that there’s no potential double meanings that you’d want to avoid, or that it’s not already a hashtag commonly used to discuss other subjects or brands.
Once you’ve set your branded hashtag, go ahead and place it in your profile’s bio. Make sure to include the actual hashtag symbol, as this will create a clickable link in your bio that users can click to see a feed of content from you and your followers talking about you.
- Create a content calendar: The last step of the hashtag strategy will actually be to implement it, and creating a social media content calendar in advance will help you do this successfully.Tools like Buffer, Hootsuite or SEMrush Poster will help you create and schedule Instagram posts ahead of time. This will allow you to set up your hashtag lists on those posts long in advance. When you do this all at once, it will be easier to see which combination of hashtags you’re using at specific times.
This will make it easier to diversify your content to maximise potential reach and time the campaigns with any special events you need to take into consideration.
A big picture view is ultimately essential in evaluating your hashtag campaigns and strategies, so taking the time to create your calendar in advance will make it much more likely you’re getting the results you’re looking for.
How many hashtags should I be using on Instagram?
A lot of brands completely underutilise hashtags, even if they’re using a few hashtags on a regular basis. As it turns out, research suggests that using around 11 hashtags is the magic number for engagement. If you use less, you’re potentially missing out on reach and engagement, but more seems to signal a decline in engagement.
Some brands, however, swear by the 10-10-10 rule. You can use up to 30 hashtags on a post, and some marketers will use a combination like 10 location hashtags, 10 engagement-oriented hashtags, and 10 general appeal hashtags. This can be a good strategy to choose when aggressively trying to increase your following.
You can test out both strategies to see what works well for your particular audience.
Stories only allow up to 10 hashtags per Story, so keep that in mind when creating hashtag lists.
Like them or not, Instagram hashtags are an important part of the platform. If you’re not using them – or if you’re not using them correctly – you could be leaving a lot of money on your table and causing your campaigns to come up short. The only content that shouldn’t feature hashtags will be Instagram Ads, so be proactive about developing and implementing your strategy as soon as possible.
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John is the head of marketing at the 'Australian Marketing Agency'. John's expertise lies in creating outstanding and innovative solutions to help businesses reach their full potential by developing brand stories and user experiences which viscerally connects with the target audience and delivers mind-blowing results.