Ah, Instagram hashtags.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, hashtags should be given the same amount of thought and consideration as the rest of your Instagram marketing strategy.
Yes, you can use up to 30 hashtags per Instagram post, but should you take the buckshot approach? (Spoiler alert: No, you should not.)
The hashtag (or pound) symbol has been used in various ways before Twitter made it a platform feature in 2009. A hashtag is a combination of letters, numbers and/or emoji that start with the #symbol. In general, they are used across several social media platforms to categorize content and conversations, making them more discoverable and organized.
On Instagram, hashtags are clickable. When clicked, you’ll see a page that filters all posts using that hashtag. For businesses, there are nine types of hashtags as identified by Instagram itself that can be used.
Considering the discoverability factor, hashtags can definitely play a role in getting your content seen and generating more engagement.
In fact, Instagram posts with hashtags generate a 12.6 percent increase in engagement compared with those without hashtags. But the effectiveness doesn’t end with traditional Instagram posts. Hashtags can also help others discover your Instagram Stories as well.
The following are six tips that you should know to master Instagram hashtags for your brand.
Do your hashtag research
There is a bit more science to hashtagging than you might assume. (In other words, if you’re just putting the # symbol in front of whatever words you think of, pay attention to this tip.)
Research is critical to selecting the most relevant and effective hashtags for your posts.
The good news is that there are a number of ways to figure out what you should use:
- Searching: You can start typing hashtag ideas into Instagram Search and see what autofills and/or what types of posts (and how many) pop up for that idea. This organic method can be inconsistent at times (since you’re mostly limited to what you can think up), but you’ll get a good sense of whether a hashtag is worth using. Or, better yet, if you definitely shouldn’t use it.
- Use Instagram’s related hashtag feature: This is similar to searching, but a tiny bit different. You can now follow hashtags themselves on Instagram, not just accounts. On any hashtag page in the Instagram app, you’ll see a list of related hashtags near the top of the screen.
- Online tools: There are a ton of tools available to help with hashtag research, including All Hashtag and Ingramer, among many others. These tools will help generate relevant hashtags and even help you gauge which hashtags are the most popular. You also can check out this list of the top 100 Instagram hashtags.
- Competitor analysis: This honestly can go far beyond just hashtags into understanding what they’re posting content-wise and what they’re not posting (and that hole that you can hopefully fill). However, as far as hashtags, seeing what you’re competitors are using can go a long way as far as both inspiration and research. Be sure to check each one for relevance still, though. Just because your competitor is using a particular hashtag doesn’t mean that it’s right for your brand.
The key is that you use hashtags that are relevant to your target audience and their interests. You’ll want popular hashtags (but not too popular) so that your posts won’t get lost in the clutter. Plus, you should confirm that the hashtags you’re using mean what you think they mean, and that all comes down to research.
Avoid too many hashtags
As we mentioned before, it is possible to use up to 30 hashtags per Instagram post.
But that’s not how many we actually want to use.
The overkill approach beyond using a select number of researched/selected hashtags just isn’t worth it for any business (and has a bit of a scattered, desperate appearance to it).
Create your own hashtag
Successful hashtags don’t have to already exist. A contest, challenge, giveaway or really any type of campaign can be tied together with a unique hashtag.
Don’t expect every campaign to go viral to that level, but do keep in mind that you want to give Instagrammers a compelling reason to participate (and use your hashtag).
Of course, this can extend to a standing brand hashtag that can be used long term. It can be the name of your brand or maybe a clever twist on your brand name. Either way, it just needs to make sense for your audience to potentially pick up on it and use it as well. (Just be sure to follow your own brand hashtag to keep an eye on what happens with it.)
Avoid using banned, irrelevant or spammy hashtags
This sounds obvious, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Instagram can potentially ban a hashtag when enough content using it has been reported by users.
Of course, the trick is knowing what’s been banned.
You’ll discover this naturally during your research and testing. When you click on a banned hashtag, only the top posts will be shown. Instagram will hide all recent posts, and you will see a banner at the top of the screen from Instagram explaining this.
In addition, there are spammy hashtags (such as #followme, #like4like, #follow4follow and more) that will only attract bots and spam-like accounts that won’t bring the type of engagement you’re looking for. Plus, they can make your own post look like spam.
Plus, while we keep recommending using relevant hashtags, it’s important to know that persistent use of using irrelevant hashtags on posts in hopes of driving impressions to your content when your content doesn’t have anything to do with that hashtag will get flagged by the Instagram algorithm since it violates the platform’s community guidelines.
Consistency is a good thing
Once you’ve done your research and made decisions on the best set of hashtags to use, know that you can reuse them across multiple posts.
Consistency is good.
Just know that different content can justify a few additional (potentially new) hashtags on any particular post. Don’t get stuck in a rut.
Measure your hashtag impact
Did you know that you can see if your hashtags working? It’s true!
You can find Instagram Insights within the Instagram app on all business profiles. Not only is it free to use (like the rest of the app, minus any advertising), but under post impressions, you can see how many impressions came from hashtags (compared to other sources).
Get a better sense of what’s possible in Instagram Insights with our guide.
Despite all these tips, remember that the biggest part of Instagram success is quality content that both appeals to your audience and is true to your brand.
Looking to dig deeper into what’s possible on Instagram? Check out our snapshot on the challenges and opportunities of Instagram for small businesses.