Instagram Success for Businesses: The Art of the Hashtag

Hashtags used to be originally exclusive to Twitter, the trend soon caught on to other social platforms. Now hashtags are most commonly used on Instagram and Twitter. There are over 300 million people worldwide who login to Instagram every month, and around 284 million who use Twitter.

Originally, hashtags were crafted to make conversations and topics ‘discoverable’ by other users. Now they go beyond the simple categorization of information and discussion of events or topics. Today, hashtags also convey emotions and add context to the image or statement they accompany. 

What is a Hashtag?

A hashtag is a keyword phrase, spelled out without spaces, with a pound sign (#) in front of it. For example, #socialmedialovers and #agencylife are both hashtags.

You can put hashtags in your Instagram posts. These hashtags tie public conversations from all different users into a single stream, which you can find by searching for a hashtag or clicking on one.

When used properly, hashtags are a great way for individuals and brands to make their social posts more visible and increase engagement. They can give people useful context and cues for recall, aggregate posts and images together, and update a group of like-minded individuals on certain a topic in real time.

Hashtags are often used to unite conversations around things like:

  • Events or conferences, like #INBOUND17 or #Rio2016
  • Disasters or emergencies, like #Aleppo or #PrayForNice
  • Holidays or celebrations, like #WorldNutellaDay or #NationalCatDay
  • Popular culture topics, like #GameofThrones or #PokemonGO
  • General interest topics, like #WinterWonderland or #ChocolateLovers
  • Popular hashtags, like #tbt or #MotivationMonday

The key is to use hashtags when they add value. Use them too much, and they can be confusing, frustrating, and just plain annoying. Use them too little, and you could be missing out on reaching your customers.

Choosing the Right Hashtags

The hashtags you want to use will depend on what your business is and what industry you are in.

Let’s say you’re a sales representative for a travel agency. There are several Instagram hashtags that are popular with people who love to travel: #welltravelled, #justbackfrom, #whatsinmybag, and #passportexpress—to name a few. Tag your posts with these types of hashtags and you will likely get a few extra likes. It’s also important to include more specific hashtags, like tagging a relevent location or using a branded hashtag if you have one.

Discover Hashtags that are Being Searched 

You can use the following 4 tactics to discover hashtags that are relevent to your business.

  1. Check out what hashtags your competitors are using. Maybe you’ll discover new hashtags to add to your repertoire. 
  2. Use hashtags that influential people in your industry are using. These people are already well-established with your target audience, so why not learn from the best?
  3. Consider related hashtags. Browse through posts containing a hashtag you’re already having success with and look for trends.
  4. Use Instagram’s search function. Type in a keyword that’s relevant to your brand into Instagram’s search bar then select the Tags tab. Instagram will give you a list of all the hashtags with that keyword as well as a number of posts that are tagged with it. Remember: a large number may mean a large number of people following that hashtag, but it also means there’s a ton of content your post could get buried in. Experiment with a combination of popular and niche hashtags.

When it comes to choosing Instagram hashtags, the golden rule is: use only hashtags that are relevant to your brand, industry, and target audience. #Love is one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram, tagged in over 893 million posts. But your company is not going to attract that hashtag audience if you put it on a photo of your boring boardroom. Continually tag your photos with popular but unrelated hashtags, and someone might flag you as a spammer.

How Many Hashtags Should You Use?

According to a TrackMaven study of Instagram accounts with 1,000 followers or fewer, posts containing four or five hashtags received an average of 22 interactions compared to 14 interactions on posts with zero hashtags. Even with posts containing 11 or more hashtags, engagement was still well-above what it was on posts without hashtags.

That doesn’t mean you should tag every post with 30 hashtags (the maximum Instagram allows per post). Tagging your photos and videos with the most popular hashtags will probably gain you new followers, but they’ll likely be the wrong kind of followers—spammers or people only interested in being followed back. And using too many hashtags might dilute your message.

Let the content of the post decide how many and which hashtags to use.

Using Hashtags to Leverage & Grow Your Business

There is a difference between how individuals use hashtags on their personal accounts versus how a business should use them and incorporate them into its marketing strategy. Apart from including too many generic hashtags, you need to ask yourself, “How is this benefiting my business and my overall marketing objective? Is my target audience finding me from these hashtags? Who exactly is searching for #riseandgrind, #motivation, #winelovers? Are those people in my target audience?”

This is a guide to help you get started thinking about using hashtags on Instagram to help grow your business. If you would like further social media help, give us a call at 608-519-3070.