"Social tools are not just about giving people a voice, but giving them a way to collaborate, contribute, and connect."- John Stepper
You might have a love-hate relationship with social media, but if you’re using social media for marketing, you want the most engagement and organic reach you can get.
Am I right?
Hashtags have come up with a few of my clients, so I thought a hashtag deep dive was in order.
If you’ve been curious about hashtags and how to use them with a little more strategy, then this blog is for you.
Let’s start with a little hashtag 101.
Before we dive in, let’s keep in mind that social media stuff changes #allthetime. So what’s relevant today might change tomorrow. It’s up to the will and whimsy of the Instagram gods.
Rather watch and listen? Join me for a Live video below!
If you’re feeling a little vague about what a hashtag is, there’s no shame.
Before I started using social media for marketing, I didn’t really get them. I’d use hashtags jokingly in text messages…I’d make a long run on sentence without any spaces and throw a hashtag in front of it.
So, let’s get on the same page.
Hashtags are words or phrases that come after the hashtag ‘#’ symbol.
They’re used on social media as a way to organize and search for posts.
When you use a hashtag followed by a word or phrase, this tells the computer fairies to add your post to the list of posts under that heading. That post with the heading, or hashtag, is now searchable.
Example: If you used #cats as a hashtag for your image, it will add your post to the list under the heading “cats”. When someone goes to search for “cats” on Instagram, your post will show up under that hashtag.
Think of hashtags like SEO (search engine optimization) for social media.
While Pinterest just started rolling out the use of hashtags (it didn’t utilize them previously), and Twitter and FB use them as well, today’s post is specific to Instagram. Though, this info does carry over.
Recap: hashtags help people find your posts. They are words or phrases you post with the hashtag symbol in front of them. #likethis
Why Use #Hashtags?
According to later.com, a social media scheduling app, posts with hashtags get 12.6% more engagement. This makes sense because when you’re using hashtags the right way, you’re increasing the visibility of your post by making it possible for people to stumble across it when searching hashtags.
With ever-changing algorithms that seem to make organic reach smaller and smaller, this is a good thing.
I will share that while I do find hashtags helpful and useful for engagement, they aren’t the main source of growth for me on Instagram.
Some people swear by them, others find they don’t move their social media needle much. I look at them as free advertising and a way to boost visibility. Once you have them set up, they’re an easy addition to every post.
I think of it like a cake. The content and what you’re sharing is the cake. Hashtags are the icing that spruce up and make the cake more noticeable and appealing, and in some cases even taste better.
People also use hashtags to create brand awareness or to create community.
What do I mean here?
Some brands use clever hashtags as a way to identify their brand. They use hashtags to communicate something specific. As a brand becomes more well known, this also organizes all of their posts under that specific hashtag. When someone new looks the brand up by their branded hashtag, they’ll find all of the relevant posts.
Example: Coca-Cola uses #shareacoke and Purina used #petsatwork for a recent campaign.
Hashtags can also link a group of people or help a community find one another. #metoo is a great example of a hashtag that allowed people to connect as a community. You could search the hashtag and instantly find other people who shared the same message.
You’ll see this when people run challenges online. They’ll create a hashtag specific to the event to build community. As the event or challenge leader, they can then search participants’ posts through the hashtag. Pretty useful. Other participants or members can also find one another this way.
Hashtags can also be used in Instagram stories now, which I’m just starting to test out. And, fun fact, you can use emojis in hashtags!
The way I like to use hashtags the most? As a way to seek out other like-minded people and connect with them on Instagram.
When used thoughtfully, hashtags can get a lot more #bangforyourbuck with your Instagram posts.
Let’s Talk Timing
As of right now, on Instagram, posts are listed under hashtags in the order they’re posted. This may very well change.
That means as soon as you put a hashtag under your photo, it’s added to the list associated with that hashtag based on the time you posted your photo, not when you added the hashtag.
Since there are 18 gazillion people posting on Instagram (official stat), this means it’s in your best interest to add your hashtags as soon as possible.
As of right now, Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags. I say, use them all! These are free and they only take a moment to add once you have them organized. You might as well maximize their benefit.
I’ve heard after 30 hashtags, your hashtags becomes rendered useless…don’t quote me on this, but best to stick to 30 hashtags.
But this means coming up with 30 hashtags!
You can find relevant hashtags by searching a specific word in Instagram’s search bar under “tags”. It will pull up a list of hashtags along with how many posts are using that specific hashtag.
A note here, if you see a hashtag that’s really popular with millions of posts, it might not be the most beneficial hashtag to use.
This means when you use the hashtag your post will be one of that number of posts people will see. Since our posts are filed chronologically to when we upload them, and this means they can drop into the abyss quickly.
On the flip side, a hashtag with a low number might keep your post near the top, but there’s also a good chance not very many people are using or searching this hashtag.
This is where a number in the middle can serve you well. When I’m on my hashtag game, I aim for hashtags that are around 200,000-300,000 (min. 100,000 and a max of 600,000). I avoid anything that’s in the hundreds or thousands, and I use hashtags that are hanging out in the millions once in a while knowing my post is going to get lost quickly.
We want to use specific and unique hashtags that aren’t so original no one will ever search for them, but that still speak to our people.
With me so far?
Let’s Get a Little More Clear on What Hashtags to Use
Like most things in business and life, your hashtags aren’t about you.
While some people use hashtags specific to the image or post they’re sharing, I like to use hashtags that are specific to my people, my ideal clients, my “tribe”.
I think about what might someone who would click with my work search for on Instagram?
This is one of those places where knowing your ideal client and market can be helpful. Think about your clients, customers, and viewers. What are they likely to search for?
I then add in hashtags that are specific to what I’m sharing with my ideal client in mind.
For example, let’s say I share an image of a picture of a cup of coffee, and my post text is about starting the new week off and setting new goals.
I’d first have some hashtags that speak to my ideal client, #creativentrepreneur, #solopreneur, as well as what I do that people might be searching for #businesscoaching #successcoach.
Then, I would add some hashtags that speak to the post as it relates to my ideal client. I might use #personaldevelopment, #goalsetting, #makeithappen.
While I could use hashtags like #coffee, #morningbrew, #organic, or #coffeeshop, those aren’t going to be as specific to my work, what my ideal client is looking for, and what I’m actually sharing in the post. These hashtags might get me some initial likes or comments, but most likely from people who aren’t my ideal clients.
Getting specific about your message and your people comes into play with hashtags.
Finding New Tags
So, how do you come up with 30 of these?
Once you’ve found a few tags you like, you can use them to search more relevant tags.
Click on it once and it pops up in the search bar. This will open up a new page with all of the posts that are tagged under this hashtag. Directly underneath the hashtag, you’ll see ‘related’ which will list related hashtags!
Be a Classy Tagger
Where should these hashtags go? They can, of course, go anywhere. It’s your feed and up to you.
I personally don’t like to crowd out my message and post with hashtags. I think it’s distracting, looks a little spammy, and I tend to write longer posts, so they also take up valuable real estate.
Instead, I like to “bury” mine in the first comment on my post.
If you aren’t doing this, you’ve probably seen this done before. Someone will have a comment with a series of asterisks or dots with a series of hashtags underneath. This is my favorite way to get my hashtags in. It’s clean and simple.
If there’s a fun hashtag I’m using to be ironic or to make a point, I will include that in my message where people can see it.
Organizing and Avoiding Overwhelm
Hashtags are awesome, but if you had to do this with #everysinglepost, you’d never get anything else done. It’s a lot.
I recommend setting aside half an hour to collect your hashtags and come up with a few sets of 30.
I like to take those and store them in the notes section in my phone with the asterisks in place, exactly how I’ll add them under my image.
Simply go into the search bar inside Instagram under ‘Tags’ and type in a hashtag of your choice.
Then, every time I post, it’s super easy to go into my notes, copy and paste my hashtags, and be done with it.
It’s also easy to adjust a few as needed for the post this way.
I organize my hashtags in lists with headings for the different types of content I share the most to make it easy to find what I need.
Not all hashtags are created equal. Some work better than others. What works for one person might not work for another. We don’t all have the same businesses, work, and Instagram feeds
Like so many things, part of this is about testing and making adjustments. See what works for you and keep those and then switch up the rest!
I’d like to close with a reminder that hashtags are a tool, not a magic, silver bullet. They work for some people and not as much for others, and that’s ok.
@hilaryrushford, who has a very popular and engaged Instagram feed, claims that hashtags haven’t helped her much in growing her following or engagement. So, there’s some proof that there’s always more than one way to do anything and #hashtags aren’t everything.
So, do be thoughtful about using hashtags and optimize them, but don’t obsess and stress over them. #sonotworthit
But, don’t leave just yet!! I’ve got some specially curated hashtags just for you. I know it can take forever to search and organize hashtags, so I got you started. Make sure you sign up to get them!
Wishing you your version of success and happy hashtagging!