Instagram posts with at least one hashtag receive 12.6% more engagement than those without, FACT.
Hashtags might sound like a millennial’s fad, but they’re crucial for your business and online presence. Using them on your Instagram posts is proven to increase reach, draw new audiences to your profile, create greater engagement and boost your brand awareness…
…and this gain in exposure can be turned into more customers and revenue further down the line.
In other words, you need to know how to use them!
In this guide we’re going to mix up the must-do’s, the must-have’s, multiple (FREE) hashtag-helping tools, a system for analysing your success and the tactics you need to avoid.
Wet at the mouth?
#Letsgetstarted (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)
If we’re going to get knee-deep, we need to make sure everyone’s on the same page, from the newb’s to the ten-post-a-day-ers…
…so, here’s a really brief description of exactly what an Instagram Hashtag is, and what it does:
An Instagram hashtag is basically a label that categorises photos and videos. The hashtag adds them to a collection of other content (with the same hashtag), for users to find, explore and since a 2018 update, hashtags can now be followed too…
…making content labelled with the correct hashtags much more discoverable.
Instagram allow users to place a maximum of 30 hashtags on each post. You can also position them elsewhere as well (more on this in a few minutes).
When it comes to the number of hashtags you should use, there are hundreds of different opinions. Some people tell you to use the maximum 30 on every post, others say that you should only use 7, I’ve seen articles suggesting the use of 21, 2, 5…
…just about every number under 30 has been suggested as the optimum number…
…and every single one of them is correct.
Why? Each individual post, profile, brand and industry require a different amount of hashtags.
Whatever number you choose to test (always be testing) make sure the hashtags you use are super-relevant. Don’t fill up to 30 just for the sake of it, and don’t chuck in 1 or 2 because you’re too lazy to think-up more.
In order to be successful on Instagram, you must post regular content. This means plenty of opportunities to find your optimum number and experiment with different hashtags.
Using the same hashtags over and over and over again, isn’t the way to go. It’s a lazy strategy and shows that you’d rather just get your Instagram posts published, than actually take time to reach more people.
The same can be said about users who repeatedly use the top 30 hashtags in their niche. Whilst these hashtags have the widest reach, they also have the most competition, meaning that your chances of reaching anyone new is drastically reduced.
Instagram rank hashtagged posts using two metrics:
#1: The level of engagement– how many times it’s been liked and commented on.
#2: The speed at which the engagement was attained– how quickly your post received its likes and comments.
If you’re just starting out, have a small-ish audience (under 5k) or are posting something that doesn’t have viral-quality, DON’T just target the most popular hashtags.
I’d suggest using some, whilst trying to gain traction with lesser-used hashtags. These ‘smaller’ hashtags have lower competition and can have much more engaged communities…
…but, where can you find them?
Start by looking for relevant ‘trending’ hashtags. Trends can be short-lived, but they draw in masses of engagement and interest. If you’re able to gain comments and likes in a short space of time from these ‘trends’, you’ll rise higher in the rankings of the most popular Instagram hashtags.
Another strategy is to go after small, ultra-specific hashtag audiences. These followers are engaged, hold an interest in your industry and there’s very little competition. You might have a smaller potential reach by using hashtags like these, but your actual reach should be much higher.
I’d suggest trying a 3 way split of all the above hashtag post strategies (top, trending and ultra-specific) and then test from there. (Don’t sweat it, I’ll show you how to analyse your success a little later)
But wait, there’s more…
…some of you might be thinking, ‘great advice, but how in the hell am I supposed to find the most popular hashtags in my industry, or even the trending ones?’
The answer to that is a hashtag generator. These digital tools use a keyword to generate a range of different results, depending on your desired outcome. My personal favourite is all-hashtag.com.
This FREE tool allows you to search for a keyword, and generate 30 of the ‘TOP’, ‘RANDOM’ or ‘LIVE’ hashtags.
Here’s an example after I’d searched for the TOP ‘marketing’ hashtags:
And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s always a list of back-ups…
The site also has a hashtag analyser tool, that shows you rank, hits, similar words and popularity of your chosen term.
(BTW: The site is FREE and I’ve got absolutely no affiliation with it, I just think it’s awesome)
Tools like all-hashtag are a great way of finding new hashtags, but don’t completely rely on generators. Make sure you keep a close eye on your competitors and industry leaders. Analyse their hashtagged posts, alongside their reach and the types of content they use.
Instagram have updated their STORY feature to now include hashtags. This means you can write a hashtag over your STORY photo or video and it can be discovered by the hashtag’s following and not just your audience.
The Instagram STORY feature is something you should be adopting already, they always appear at the top of the homepage, get lots of views and provide your existing audience with regular updates (the easiest way to grow is to serve your existing following and add to it!).
The great thing now is that you can use them for a dual purpose: to provide your following with quality, entertaining and interesting daily updates, whilst also reaching new users with a hashtag.
I’d suggest only using one hashtag per post. A single hashtag can dominate the story image, and if you’re plastering entire pages with them it will ruin your content and alienate your existing following.
Instagram hashtags can and should also be used in your bio. The bio is the short text that appears under your profile name. Instagram allow 150 characters, and it’s important that you use them all!
Create a snappy bio that sums up exactly who you are and why you exist. In the remaining space you should have enough space for one or two hashtags. These will appear as blue, clickable links, so if any of you have, or are thinking about having branded hashtags, here’s the place to put them…
…which leads us on very nicely to our next question…
Put simply, a branded hashtag is something that refers to your company or profile. It can be as simple as your name, a product, campaign, or even a slogan.
Using a branded hashtag won’t increase your reach straight away (because you’ll have to create it yourself from scratch), but it can connect you with customers and anybody who has an opinion on your brand.
If it grows and becomes more widely used, you’ll reap huge benefits from organic sharing.
Social listening should be a huge part of your marketing strategy and branded hashtags are a great way of doing this. Try testing one!
Hopefully, most of you already know how to track the reach of your hashtags and have been testing and analysing on a consistent basis for some time now…
…if you haven’t, don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through it step-by-step.
The secret to it all is Instagram Business Manager. Within this handy add-on you can track Discovery stats, which reveals (amongst a ton of other stuff) the number of impressions (views) you’ve gained from Hashtags for each post.
This data is absolutely crucial….
…if you haven’t done it already, check out this guide to Setting Up Your Instagram Business Manager Profile. It walks you through exactly how to do it!
When you’re able to see how many impressions each post is gaining from hashtags, and how many new people you’re reaching, you can analyse and implement the results on future posts.
This is why it’s so crucial to test. Don’t constantly do the same thing over and over again. The chances are, that you’re missing something!
Guess how many Hashtags Instagram have banned?
17,364 (at time of writing).
And what’s worse is, Instagram don’t tell you when you use a hashtag that’s banned. It looks normal and stays on your post, but it actually has no effect!
Some of you will be thinking that you’re fine, that you’ve never used a hashtag that could be construed as rude or offensive, YOU’RE WRONG. In Instagram’s opinion, some of the most mundane hashtags you’ve ever heard should be excluded from their network.
Here are five of my favourite banned hashtags:
Sure, you can post these in your bio, on your STORY and beneath your next post, but they won’t actually reach anyone.
When you’ve accumulated a long list of usable hashtags to test with, check them on bannedhashtags.com. You might be surprised by what you find.
As I mentioned earlier, using JUST the top Instagram hashtags is a flawed strategy. You’re basically throwing your hat in the ring with a heavyweight, when you’ve barely learnt how to use a pair of boxing gloves.
Mix up your hashtag strategy with constant competitor research, hashtag generators and scouring the network for the latest trending subjects…
…and never forget to keep those hashtags super-relevant!
Don’t Use Them Enough
If there’s one thing I positively hate, it’s people who think they’re too good for certain digital strategies. As a marketer, business owner or entrepreneur, you have an obligation to your company to give it the best shot at success.
Assuming that you’re too good for hashtags, or just can’t be bothered to put the hard work in, is dumb. You might think hashtags are stupid, but in reality, you’re the stupid one.
Incorporate as many relevant, trending, community-based and top hashtags as possible, and you’ll see the results. And always keep your target audience in mind.
If it works for 100% of other people, it’ll probably work for you too.
Instagram hashtags are an absolute must for your social media marketing campaigns.
The feature, that grew to prominence on Twitter, has now moved onto an even bigger social network.
Instagram currently boasts over 1 Billion active users per month, and using a strong hashtag strategy is your best hope of reaching more of them.
#areyouready? #anyquestions? #leave a comment!
If you’d like to learn more about Instagram marketing, check out our round-up of the 30 Most Popular Hashtags on Instagram, and see which ones you can use on your next post.
Or, take a look at our article, The Best (and Worst) Times to Post on The World’s Biggest Social Networks, to help improve your Instagram strategy.