Instagram has more than one billion monthly active users, with more than 500 million of them using the platform every day. In terms of social networks, only Facebook and YouTube have more logging in. What’s more important for businesses, however, is the fact that 60% of those users turn to Instagram to find new products. That’s plenty of reason for your brand to consider adding Instagram to your social media strategy. If your brand is already using the platform, but looking to get more engagement, it may be time to review your hashtag usage and strategy.
What are Instagram Hashtags?
Instagram hashtags are used as a way to categorize content. Users can follow hashtags as well as individual profiles, so using hashtags is a great way to grow your audience as people can use them to discover your content. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post, but you do not need to use that many for every post. You can include them as part of your caption, or include them in a comment after you post to your account. If you choose to post the hashtags in a comment, you’ll want to do so immediately after posting. This is because Instagram displays the content in the hashtag feed based on the time the photo or video was posted, not based on the time the hashtag was added.
Step One: Do Your Research
It’s tempting to use the most popular hashtags, but that won’t do much in terms of engagement. Because the hashtags are so widely used, your post will only be visible in the top posts for a few minutes before other content pushes it down the feed.
Plus, Instagram has a list of banned hashtags due to spam activity. Many of these hashtags are seemingly harmless, and people who don’t realize they’ve been banned still use them. Some banned hashtags include: #dogsofinstagram, #books, #adulting, #women, #killingit. Using banned hashtags doesn’t do any good for your account, and can harm you in the long run. Instagram may think you’re a bot, and could shadowban your account. If you’ve been shadowbanned, that means your account is banned, but Instagram won’t tell you.
Doing hashtag research beforehand can help you see what the current hashtag landscape is like, so you can make sure you’ll get engagement and avoid associating your brand with things on a hashtag that may have a negative connotation.
There are many hashtag research tools out there, such as Hashtagify, Display Purposes, and RiteTag. Using these tools, you can explore possible hashtag options and make a list of the ones you may want to use on your profile. You can also research the competition and industry leaders to see what tags they are using.
Step Two: Use a Mix of Generic, Niche-Specific, and Branded Hashtags
To maximize your reach and engagement potential, aim to use a healthy mix of generic hashtags related to your brand or the content you’re posting, those that are specific to your niche, and some branded hashtags you’ve created yourself. Need inspiration for creating branded hashtags? Check out these five campaigns, from brands like Airbnb and KitKat that did well.
When creating a branded hashtag, check to make sure it’s not already being used. Keep it short and easy to remember – often your brand name is enough, and you can create variants as needed for various marketing campaigns. Encourage your followers to use your branded hashtag when posting content that features your products or services. And when you see someone who has used your branded hashtag in their content, give them a shout out to show appreciation.
When choosing hashtags, you want active ones, with thousands of posts that are fairly recent. It’s when you get hashtags with millions of posts that you’re running into the highly popular ones that won’t give you much bang for your buck. Avoid hashtags that are used hundreds of times a minute.
Step Three: Test Hashtags
When you’re first starting out, try a variety of hashtags. Test the number of hashtags you use on each post. While many marketers say five or six is good enough, others say 11 is the magic number to use for maximum engagement. Really, it all depends on your audience. Some audiences don’t mind a lot of hashtags – and you can hide them to keep them from cluttering your captions. However, other audiences may feel that consistently using 30 hashtags on every post is spammy. That’s why testing what works for your audience is important. Generalized advice like this can help you get started on the right foot, but because no two Instagram audiences are the same, you must do the work on your own, too.
Pay attention to your Instagram Analytics to see which posts get the most engagement. This way, you can determine which hashtags are influencing your success. Keeping the hashtags relevant to your content and varying them across your posts is the best way to get engagement. When you have enough data to notice trends, that’s when you’ll know which hashtags are the most effective.
In addition to testing hashtags, you’ll also want to test varying your post times, as certain days of the week and times of the day are prone to more engagement. Following that part of your analytics will help you learn when the majority of your audience is online so you can schedule your posts accordingly.
Step Four: Rinse and Repeat
Your Instagram analytics data will help you guide your strategy in the future. Paying close attention to the data will help you see where you’ve made missteps and where you’ve succeeded. When you find something that worked well, rinse and repeat it. When you find an area where you’ve made a mistake or could improve, adjust your tactics and test again to see how the outcome changes.
Hashtags are a crucial part of the Instagram experience, but choosing them randomly could be a waste of time and effort. By investing time in researching them ahead of time, keeping a list of the ones that work well for you, and experimenting with how many you use can help you boost engagement, increase your following, and improve brand awareness.