Instagram Hashtags Strategy: 9 Ways to Grow Engagement in 2019

Instagram Hashtags Strategy: 9 Ways to Grow Engagement in 2019

Twitter may have invented social media hashtags, but Instagram put them on the map. Giving marketers something else to lose sleep over: how to create an Instagram Hashtags Strategy to get results.

These days, Instagram hashtags not only categorize your content and makes it discoverable by users, but they are an effective way to get more followers, increase engagement and expand reach and brand awareness.

If you’d like to tap into the platform’s potential to reach a huge audience, upping your hashtag game is the way to go.

According to research by Agorapulse, Instagram posts with at least one hashtag got 70% more likes and 392% more comments than those without hashtags.

As organic reach declines and paid impressions rise with the algorithm changes put in place to push brands to pay for exposure, hashtags still represent the single best way to organically drive your social marketing campaigns, by leveraging your Instagram posts to boost reach on the platform.

Since you probably have the basics of Instagram hashtags covered, use this insider’s guide to learn intermediate and advanced-level Instagram hashtag strategies – including pro tips – to connect with your target audience.

Instagram’s brand-to-customer engagement rate is the highest in social media, and strategically incorporating these hashtag hacks into your social strategy will help boost your visibility and engagement.

Alright…let’s dig in!

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #1: Laser Focus Your Research

Researching hashtags before using them is important, since the more relevant and targeted the hashtags you use are, the more you increase your chances of reaching a target audience that will engage with your posted content.

Depending on your individual goals, there are many types of research for finding the best possible Instagram hashtags.

Here are the most effective techniques:

Research Relevant Topics

A good place to start is by researching trends that are related to your line of business (keywords that you currently use are a great place to kick off your hashtag research).

Inside the Instagram app, just tap the magnifying glass icon, then select “tags” from the dropdown menu and enter your hashtags into Instagram’s search bar one at a time.

The results of each search will reveal all the top hashtags that are closely related to the hashtag you searched, which will give you ideas for even more hashtags you can use to reach and engage with your audience.

Pro tip:

Regularly scan search results, then browse posts that contain your target Instagram hashtags to keep an eye out for and make note of hashtag trends that could be used in future posts.

Research Your Target Audience

Rather than placing random general hashtags at the end of your Instagram posts, take a more targeted approach to growing your following by seeking out which hashtags your audience is currently using and inserting them into your posts (being sure to only use hashtags that are relevant and contain keywords that users interested in your type of business are actually searching for).

Remember to look beyond the number of results for hashtags and avoid overused ones.

Think in terms of specifics, since generally speaking, the narrower the scope of any given hashtag, the more likely users are to be engaged with topics posted with that hashtag.

Pro tip:

For more targeted engagement, drill down to the long-tail hashtags your audience is searching for.

For example, let’s say you’re going to post a photo of a site in Vancouver, Canada. Instead of only hashtagging #Vancouver (nearly 18 million posts), you could also tag #VancouverBC (just over 900,000 posts) and, better yet, #VancouverBCCanada (less than 7,000 posts) to reach a broader audience with less hashtag search competition.

Research Leaders in Your Industry

One of the most effective ways to find the hashtags you should be using is to follow Instagram influencers and businesses that share your target audience to see which hashtags they use. You will likely discover a few new hashtags to add to your arsenal.

Pro tip:

Find the top brands in your space, and piggyback on their success by directly competing with them by using the same industry-specific Instagram hashtags they use.

More Tips for Researching Potential Instagram Hashtags

  • Conduct a Google search on your hashtag without the “#” symbol – with and without spaces between the words.
  • Use a research tool like Hashtagify or Ahrefs Keywords Explorer to identify high-performance hashtags.
  • Search Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms to see if your hashtag has been used before.
  • Make sure that your hashtag doesn’t have a second meaning that could confuse your prospective audience.
  • Check and double-check any acronyms you use in hashtags for any potential double meanings.
  • Run your hashtags by another set of eyes by doing a pre-publication spell check for accuracy.

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #2: The Art of Using Instagram Hashtags

There’s a ton of research out there on how many hashtags to use in each post to boost engagement.

Depending on which study you rely on, the best number of hashtags to use ranges anywhere from 5 to the maximum number allowed: 30.

Some seasoned marketers swear by maxing out hashtag use with 30 in each post, but a TrackMaven analysis found that using 11 hashtags in each post is optimal for boosting engagement on Instagram.

The reality is, the key to Instagram hashtag success is to use them strategically, whether you decide on three deeply researched hashtags or 30 carefully chosen ones.

Think about it like this. If your brand sells women’s shoes, using a general hashtag like #WomensShoes won’t help you to stand out in the search results, which contains nearly 193,000 other posts related to your specialty. But if you opt for another hashtag, say #WomensFootwear, you’ll find your post is one of only 20,000, which means you’re in a feed featuring far less competition, increasing the odds that users will find your post.

Pro tip:

Being as specific as possible with hashtags also narrows the pool of targeted consumers, which makes it easier to build a highly engaged audience.

Use Special Daily Hashtags

Daily hashtags offer a way to interact with your audience each day, keeping them consistently engaged with your content and connecting with them over the long haul.

Here’s a list of possible daily Instagram hashtags organized by day of the week:

  • MON: #MondayBlues, #MondayVibes, #MondayMorning, #MotivationalMonday, #MondayMotivation, #MusicMonday
  • TUE: #TuesdayVibes, #TuesdayTip, #TipTuesday, #TuesdayTreat, #TravelTuesday, #TuesdayTunes
  • WED: #HumpDay, #WednesdayWisdom, #WednesdayMotivation, #WednesdayNight, #WednesdayWorkout
  • THU: #ThrowbackThursday, #TBT, #ThursdayThoughts, #ThursdayMorning, #ThursdayNight, #ThursdayMood
  • FRI: #FridayNight, #FridayFeeling, FridayNightLights, #FlashBackFriday, #FridayFact, #FridayFun
  • SAT: #SaturdayMorning, #SaturdayNight, #SelfieSaturday, #SaturdayLove, #SaturdayLunch
  • SUN: #SundayFunday, #SundayMorning, #SundayBrunch, #SundaySpecial, #SundayMood

For a detailed look at this topic, check out this past blog post on using daily hashtags.

General hashtag rules to keep things focused and simple

  • Use a balanced combination of relevant general, niche and location-based hashtags.
  • Include one branded hashtag in every Instagram post.
  • Use one campaign hashtag when running a marketing campaign or giveaway.
  • Think about using holiday, event and local hashtags to boost post visibility.

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #3: How to Hide Hashtags

To keep readers focused on your well-written caption, it’s a good idea to downplay the appearance of your Instagram hashtags, since tags that stand out in posts often look cluttered, spammy or out of place.

You can hide hashtags using one of two methods:

In captions

  1. After ending your caption with a period, hit Return (be sure not to include a space after the last period).
  2. Enter one piece of punctuation (a period, dash or bullet), then hit Return again and repeat four times.
  3. Enter your hashtags after the last line.

This works because Instagram hides captions after three lines, so your hashtags won’t be visible unless your followers tap the “more” option or read comments on your post.

In Comments

  1. Post your content as usual, being sure to leave hashtags out of your caption.
  2. Once your post is published, click the speech bubble icon underneath to leave a comment.
  3. Enter your hashtags in the “Add a comment…” box, then tap “Post.”
  4. After your post receives more comments, your hashtags won’t be viewable unless users tap the “View all comments” button.

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #4: Place Hashtags in Instagram Stories

Adding hashtags to Instagram Stories – in the text, a sticker or a location tag – provides your content with another way to be found by a new audience.

But placing hashtags in your Instagram Story images or videos doesn’t guarantee that it will happen. Why? Because hashtag aggregation depends on the quality of the content posted and its level of engagement.

Even so, with the potential to reach thousands of additional Instagrammers who could be interested in your brand, hashtagging Stories is definitely worth the effort.

In addition to using the same hashtags that you use in standard posts, here are a couple of other ways to do it:

#4a: Use Geographical Tags

Research has shown that posts with tagged locations get 79% higher engagement than those without a geographical tag.

When it comes to Instagram Stories, location tags work almost the same way as conventional hashtags. There are only a couple of differences:

  • Locations can only be posted using stickers (no text is allowed), and
  • Each photo or video can only have one location tag.

When tagging locations like certain neighborhoods in a city, tagged Stories could reach local, state, regional, and national audiences.

Pro tip:

The location tag is an excellent way to promote local brick-and-mortar businesses or increase exposure in a specific area, especially if Instagram pulls it into location-based Stories in the explore feed.

#4b Use Tags to Expand Your Reach

Creatively placed, Instagram hashtags can be used as effective tools for growing your audience by engaging followers and tapping their friends.

For example, a hair salon sees that the hashtag #NYweddingplanners is trending with their followers. When searching for related Stories, the business discovers that much of the aggregated imagery fits well with their brand positioning. Then the salon starts posting stories with the #NYweddingplanners hashtag. When their images and videos are picked up by the #NYweddingplanners Story, the stylist starts getting more click-throughs to their website through their Instagram profile link.

Pro tip:

Stalk people who have already liked or followed your brand and take a look at the hashtags they use in their posts and Stories, then use those same tags.

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #5: Use Niche and Custom Hashtags

Instagram hashtags come in many varieties, and each has its own use and target audience.

Here’s what you need to know about the major types of custom tags to shape an effective strategy.

Niche Hashtags

Niche hashtags are used to connect your brand to a specific target audience – the one most likely to engage and do business with you. These specialty tags are especially useful for small- and medium-sized brands hoping to be seen in a sea of larger competition.

Pro tip:

To find your sweet spot and reach a highly targeted audience, zero in with very specific niche hashtags. If you’re eyeing vintage watch lovers, for instance, the hashtag #VintageWatches will place your post in a broad feed with some 800,000 others. Using #VintageRolexWatch will narrow the search results to only 1,400 posts, giving you a greater chance of exposure and conversions.

Branded Hashtags

These tags are unique to your brand on Instagram (or across social platforms) and are a great way to drive awareness of your business and give your followers a way to interact with you and each other.

Branded hashtags can be something as simple as your company name, tagline or brand identity or could even be tied to specific products, services or marketing campaigns.

In the example above, the home decor retailer Crate and Barrel uses the hashtag #CrateStyle to increase brand awareness and to provide a way for their customers to share relevant content.

Pro tip:

Search to make sure your chosen brand is not already being used by someone else.

Event Hashtags

Event-specific hashtags (like #BallDrop and #ArtBasel) are used to help promote and drive attendees, visitors and customers to real-world events, retail locations and local attractions while boosting engagement.

Pro tip:

Make event hashtags relevant, descriptive, short and easy to understand. Then be sure to use them before, during and after the event. Finally, don’t forget to use event hashtags in offline promotions to drive traffic to your social channels.

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #6: Use Topic Channel Hashtags

Topic Channels -located at the top of the Explore section- are a relatively new way users can browse different categories of posted content.

These recommended channels vary based on users’ on-platform behavior, and they show Instagram hashtags relevant to the channel being viewed.

Since Instagram finds these hashtags important enough to display, it’s a safe bet that its members are both using and searching for them.

Pro tip:

Topic Channel Hashtags are especially useful for connecting with yet-to-be-tapped members of your target audience. So use the hashtags displayed in Topic Channels in your posts to raise their profile and extend their reach.

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #6: Use Hashtags to Build Communities

Find ways to use ultra-niche hashtags to target and interact with a focused, active community or micro-community to boost your brand’s visibility and engagement while keeping a conversation going around your business.

Outdoor clothing seller REI built a community and started a movement with #optoutside, which encouraged people to reconnect by exploring the great outdoors.

More than 11 million Instagram users have shared their adventures using the hashtag.

Pro tip:

To find community-oriented hashtags, do your research and see which Instagram hashtags your target audience uses when they talk about things related to your brand, then adopt them. To build community, give users and consumers a reason to use your hashtag. (Whether it’s a prize or sharing user-generated content, audiences respond better when they get something out of the relationship.)

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #7: Add Hashtags to Your Instagram Profile Bio

Since Instagram bios only allow one standard hyperlink, adding hashtags to yours will encourages people to start conversations and share experiences around your brand.

Instagram hashtags can now be placed in profiles, a feature that gives bios much-needed additional punch by providing links to hashtag feeds.

Just don’t expect that to make your bio discoverable in hashtag search results (it won’t).

Pro tip:

Just place “#” before any word in your profile, and it will automatically become a clickable link that can be used for everything from shining a spotlight on your branded content to promoting the Instagram community you’re building.

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #8: Avoid Banned Hashtags

In an effort to keep the platform’s content in line with its terms of use, Instagram bans — temporarily and permanently — certain hashtags, preventing them from appearing in search results.

While there is no comprehensive list of banned Instagram hashtags, Instagram bans violent, offensive, pornographic, illicit drug-related, firearms transaction-focused, and hate group, organized crime, and terrorism-related hashtags.

But it also bans a laundry list of seemingly harmless ones!

For example, in the past, Instagram has banned some commonly used hashtags like #curvygirl, #happythanksgiving and even #newyearsday because of overuse and misuse.

How find out if hashtags you use (or plan to use) are banned:

  • Click on the magnifying glass icon to be taken to the Explore page.
  • Type the target hashtag in the search bar.
  • If the hashtag doesn’t appear in search results, it is banned (either temporarily or permanently).

Note: Banned hashtags may still appear in search results.

To confirm a ban, tap the hashtag (if banned, it will link to a broken page).

Pro tip:

If your posts are receiving less engagement (likes and comments) or don’t appear in searches, you may be under a shadowban. Being shadowbanned will prevent your Instagram posts from appearing to all users who don’t follow you, which can hamper your growth. To avoid a shadowban, steer clear of illegal, risque and overly controversial hashtags, and avoid overusing tags and relying on hashtag tricks (using automated third-party apps to game the system).

Instagram Hashtags Strategy #9: Monitor Hashtag Performance

If you have an Instagram business profile (if you don’t, here’s why you should), you can see just how effective your hashtags are and use data to tweak your strategy to get more views and engagement.

Keeping track of the hashtag performance of each of your posts will help you to better focus your strategy.

To access this valuable feature, open any post, then tap the “View Insights” text beneath it.

Afterward, swipe up to see complete details on the post, including follows, reach and impressions and how users discovered it.

Although Instagram Insights limits how far back you can see metrics to 7 days for regular posts and 14 days for Stories, there are some third-party apps that can provide deeper data.

Pro tip:

It’s important to continually track, analyze, experiment and test which hashtags are effectively attracting new followers and increasing engagement.

What Not to Do with Hashtags

  • Don’t use any hashtags without doing research and running them by your team for another perspective.
  • Avoid using Instagram hashtags #ThatAreTooLongorComplicated, since it will be hard for people to remember them.
  • Never add hashtags after publishing posts because any tags added afterwards do not appear in searches.
  • Stay away from all lowercase hashtag phrases. Instead, capitalize the first letter of every word for readability.
  • Don’t expect people to use your branded Instagram hashtags without a reason or incentive.
  • Never neglect to inform or educate your audience on what your hashtag means and how to use it.
  • Don’t think hashtags are all it takes! Quickly respond to all comments and regularly engage your audience.

The AdEspresso Instagram Hashtags Cheatsheet

  • Make sure every hashtag you use is well-researched and relevant to your content.
  • Avoid using generic hashtags, which will only get your post lost in a generalized feed.
  • Count hashtags because if you use more than 30, Instagram will block your post in searches.
  • Stalk your ideal audience and spy on the competition to find new and trending hashtags.
  • Follow your own branded hashtag to stay in the loop on what people are saying about your brand.
  • Track industry hashtags to keep a finger on the pulse of relevant news and trends.
  • Keep all of your hashtags organized in a spreadsheet where you can add metrics data.
  • Stash your most-used hashtags in your smartphone notes for quick and easy access.
  • Create an Instagram hashtag strategy incorporating different hashtags across all types of content.
  • Have a plan for quickly removing or editing problem hashtags if issues arise or errors are discovered.

Conclusion

Instagram hashtags are powerful tools for growing an audience, boosting engagement and reaching potential customers on the platform.

Whether you plan to capitalize on the effectiveness of Instagram video ads or use the visual platform as part of your social media selling strategy, hashtags are the ultimate way for you to give your brand a boost and increase your chances for success on the social network.

Successful Instagram hashtags have the ability to pique users’ curiosity and draw them in, spurring them to join the conversation.

So find some hashtag inspiration to inform your strategy and take a look at some past Instagram advertising successes to get a feel for what it takes to achieve your goals on the photo- and video-sharing network.

With some solid research, a well-thought-out plan and good execution, you’ll be well on your way to making the most of Instagram hashtags for your brand.

Which Instagram hashtags strategies do you use to boost your social media marketing campaigns? How do you research high-performing hashtags for your business? Have any thoughts, questions or a story to share on using hashtags? Please let us know in the comments below!

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