How to grow your audience with Instagram hashtags

 In Sprout Social

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#instagood #tbt #love #summer #nofilter

Chances are you’ve seen your fair share of Instagram hashtags.

That said, is your brand making the most of them?

Hashtags might not seem like much of a priority on the surface, but they remain one of the most important aspects of promoting your Instagram.

Oh, and do you know which hashtags are leading followers to your page? What are the most popular tags in your industry? How many hashtags on Instagram do you tack on a typical post?

Without a keen understanding of Instagram hashtags and how they work, they can become #overkill pretty quickly.

Instead of just tossing dozens of tags on a post and hoping for the best, you need a strategy for how you handle your hashtags. Some brands have it easier on Instagram, while others have to get a little more creative.

And hey, we’re here to help. This guide breaks down everything you need to know about hashtags for Instagram and how you can use them to grow your audience.

Why do Instagram hashtags matter, anyway?

Good question!

If you’re totally new to Instagram, you might not “get” hashtags or see what the hype is all about.

There’s a reason why the majority of businesses include tags on their posts or create their own, though. Below are some key reasons why hashtags deserve your undivided attention.

Hashtags make your content easier to find

In short, hashtags are what make your Instagram content discoverable.

Think about the time and energy that goes into any given Instagram post.

From snagging the perfect snapshot to crafting a clever caption, you don’t want all of that legwork to go to waste.

That’s where hashtags come in. Users can discover content by searching hashtags on their own or tapping through related posts for a particular tag. Here’s an example of how hashtags can send you down a rabbit hole of relevant content.

Instagram recommends related hashtags, leading users down a rabbit hole of posts to check out

 

You can almost think of hashtags like you might think of keywords for a search engine, all confined to Instagram.

Neglecting Instagram hashtags means making your posts more difficult for potential followers to spot. On the flip side, taking a few seconds to tack on some tags instantly makes your posts discoverable.

Hashtags encourage audience interactions

Food for thought: according to recent Instagram statistics, posts including at least one hashtag score more engagement than those that feature none.

Followers engage with hashtags, plain and simple. That’s why so many brands promote their own branded hashtags to encourage interactions with their customers.

For example, check out how Punky promotes its #punkycolour tag in its Instagram bio. Followers who do so have a chance to be featured on the Punky feed via user-generated content.

Your Instagram bio is perhaps the most important place to promote your hashtag

Clicking through tags, it’s crystal clear that Punky’s followers are more than happy to hype up their latest purchases.

Instagram hashtags make it possible to encourage your followers to share user-generated content

In turn, Punky publishes follower photos to its own feed. They also manage to include a variety of beauty-specific hashtags within posts to further expand their reach.

Brands oftentimes put Instagram hashtags in the body of their captions in addition to the first comment

As a result, followers and influencers are empowered to continuously engage with branded hashtags so they can eventually be featured themselves.

See how that works? Without branded hashtags for Instagram, these organic opportunities to create brand advocates would be impossible.

Hashtags can clue you in on industry trends

If you’re on the hunt for what’s hot in your industry, look no further than trending hashtags.

Whether it’s your target audience or fellow brands, hashtags can clue you in on what people are buzzing about.

Instagram hashtags can help you understand industry trends and emerging brands

Consistently following tags can help you keep a close eye on competitors as well as what people are saying about your own brand.

And hey, that’s where tools like Sprout Social can come in handy.

Sprout’s suite of Instagram analytics tools makes it easy to monitor hashtags related to you and your competitors. Additionally, features such as social listening help ensure that tags related to your brand are based on positive mentions and interactions versus negative ones.

Sprout's trend report can clue you in on which hashtags on Instagram are gaining the most traction

Which Instagram hashtags should I be using?

Now that we’ve highlighted why hashtags matter, it’s time to talk about coming up with a publishing strategy.

In other words, which hashtags make sense for your business’ posts?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer here, but here are some ideas to help serve as a starting point.

Community and industry-specific hashtags

The best hashtags are the ones that speak your customers’ language.

Simply put, these are tags that are popular enough that they’ll actually get used but aren’t so popular that your posts will get lost in the shuffle.

For example, there are tons of beauty-related hashtags such as #unicornhair or #mermaidhair that speak to a more specific audience than just #beauty.

Similarly, a fitness brand with a predominantly female demographic might find more success with tags related to #femalefitness versus #fitness by itself.

You might be surprised at what types of niche hashtags are out there. Beyond Instagram’s own recommendation engine, there are a few Instagram analytics tools that can help you discover new tags. Here’s a screenshot from Keyhole, for example.

Brands should experiment and consistently look for new terms to inspire their Instagram hashtag strategy

And here’s another from All-Hashtag.

Examples of fitness hashtags on Instagram

Branded hashtags

As noted, creating your own hashtag should be a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Perfect for promoting your Instagram and encouraging user-generated content, branded hashtags are certainly important. They don’t necessarily have to be rocket science, though. Here are some ideas for common branded hashtag types and variations you can brainstorm yourself.

  • Brand name hashtags (#Topshop)
  • Brand-specific slogans (#neverstopexploring)
  • Brand name variations (#MyAnthropologie or #MySwatch)

General hashtags on Instagram

As noted, any sort of tag will instantly increase your likelihood of engagement.

That’s why general hashtags such as #love (noted to be the most popular tag as of 2019) are fair game, too. You can comb through this list of the most-liked hashtags for some additional ideas.

Oh, and don’t forget about holiday hashtags including niche holidays like #nationaldonutday. These types of tags are trendy and time-sensitive, perfect for showing off your personality and introducing yourself to new followers.

Best practices of using Instagram hashtags

With a better idea of which hashtags you should use, let’s talk about how to put your hashtag strategy into action.

Here are some best practices of hashtags for Instagram to keep in the back of your mind.

Figuring out how many hashtags on Instagram to use

Instagram allows you to include 30 hashtags on any given post.

That doesn’t mean you should, though. In fact, doing so typically looks spammy and akin to keyword stuffing.

As noted in our guide on how to use hashtags on every social network, brands can score engagement whether they’re using one tag or 15+.

There's a lot of debate over how many Instagram hashtags is considered optimal for engagement

But what’s considered optimal? Based on research, top-performing posts appear to follow the rule of “less is more.”

Many brands take a "less is more" approach to Instagram hashtags

Looking at the examples sprinkled throughout this guide, it’s hard to hone in on an “optimal” number of Instagram hashtags to use on a post. Typically we see brands include between two to five, give or take. This provides brands some wiggle room based on their captions and what terms they’re trying to target.

For example, Dyson manages to include five tags on this post without feeling like overkill.

Here’s a three-tag post from PopSockets for reference as well.

The takeaway here? Rather than obsess over the “right” number of hashtags, think “less is more” and be willing to experiment. With the help of tools like Sprout, you can find your brand’s sweet spot as well as your top-performing tags.

Include hashtags in your first comment

For the sake of targeting more tags without crowding your captions, it’s common for brands to include their hashtags in the first comment of their posts.

Check out how Fender does it below.

The first comment of any given post is valuable real estate for Instagram hashtags

And bonus, the ability to automatically publish tags to your first comment is baked into Sprout’s Instagram scheduling suite. Nice!

Sprout makes it a cinch to publish new hashtags to your first Instagram comment

Encourage others to use your hashtags

If you want people to use your branded hashtag, you’re going to have to ask.

In addition to your Instagram bio, make sure to promote your hashtag throughout your marketing campaigns. This includes on-site and via email, just like Barkshop does in this Instagram-specific newsletter.

Brands need to find ways to promote their Instagram hashtags, including via email and on-site

Match your hashtags to the right photo

When you’re targeting frequently used hashtags, you need the photo that goes with your Instagram caption to stand out.

As we mentioned earlier, the hashtags you use should be relevant to the photo you’re posting. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating.

Remember: even though adding hashtags in your captions can make your posts easier to discover, the image is what will pull in users.

Do a search for your hashtag and pay attention to the photos that show up. Specifically, you want to look for similarities between the images. If you find a lot of the same, this could be an opportunity to branch out. This is why you have to invest in high-quality photos or videos for your page.

Don’t just rely on someone who thinks they take good grams–instead, find a photographer that not only knows how to work a camera but specializes in Instagram shoots, too.

Jump on trending topics

Using hashtags that are already trending is a smart strategy to grow your audience. There are two ways to approach this tactic:

  1. Wait until a hashtag related to your industry is trending.
  2. Use trending hashtags that aren’t directly related to your industry.

The first approach will give you more targeted results. However, depending on your industry, it might be rare that a topic related to it becomes trending.

With the second approach, you’re jumping on topics that are already trending but may not have a direct connection with your brand. If you go this route, you’ll want to stick with current events like holidays or special events because they’re easier to tie back to your company.

Again, take a look at our hashtag holidays calendar to get an idea of upcoming national holidays that you can create content around.

Vary hashtags across your content

Once you find popular hashtags that people engage with, it might be tempting to continue using those same hashtags in every post. However, eventually, you’ll need to add some more variation.

If you’ve been using the same hashtags for months, there’s a chance people already saw your content and ignored it. By adding in a little variation, you increase the chances to reach new people.

That’s why it’s so important to analyze and evaluate what hashtags work the best. With Sprout, you can track your Instagram performance over time to find your top tags.

Learn the competition behind your hashtag

You might be tempted to just use the most popular hashtag related to your industry.

However, take the time to experiment with tags that are used less frequently. The benefit of this approach is hashtags that are used less frequently are less competitive.

When you target hashtags that have been used millions of times, you’re competing against millions of other photos and videos to get your content seen. On the flip side, when you use hashtags that have been used in 20K posts or so, you’re competing with a smaller group of people.

That’s why we recommend measuring the performance of your competitors’ campaigns or brand hashtags to stay in the know. When you learn how to analyze competitor data, you improve your strategy by identifying the content and campaigns that work best for them.

Sprout can clue you in on the Instagram hashtags your competitors are using

How to bring together your Instagram hashtag strategy

Knowing which hashtags to use and how to implement them is a good start.

But unless you’re tracking your efforts, you’ll have no idea what’s working and what’s not.

You need to know which hashtags are your top performers so you can build around them. It takes time to pull everything together. So let’s go ahead and refresh.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Using hashtags for Instagram makes your content more discoverable.
  • You don’t need to use 30 hashtags in every post!
  • Study your competitors and top influencers to find the best hashtags.
  • Make sure your hashtags are relevant to your brand and whatever you’re posting.
  • Use trending hashtags and tie them back to your company.
  • Familiarize yourself with Instagram lingo and general, “evergreen” hashtags.
  • Measure the performance of your posts and most engaged hashtags.

Using the tips and strategies you’ve learned here, you’ll be well on your way to growing your audience on Instagram. With Sprout Social, you can simplify your engagement efforts with our Instagram management tools to monitor hashtags, manage comments and see your efforts through social reporting features.

Sprout can clue you in on your top posts based on hashtag

We want to hear from you, though. Any tips on using hashtags for Instagram that we missed? How many tags do you typically include on your posts? Leave a comment and let us know!

This post How to grow your audience with Instagram hashtags originally appeared on Sprout Social.

This post was originally published on Sprout Social

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