Want to grow your following on Instagram?
Wondering how to use Instagram hashtags the right way to reach a new audience and generate more engagement?
Well, you’re in the right place!
This article will cover all the best practices for using hashtags on Instagram to grow your account, from hashtag research and selection, to evaluating hashtag performance.
How to Grow Your Instagram Account Using Hashtags
#1 Research industry-specific hashtags
A good place to begin with selecting the hashtags that are going to help you reach your Instagram goals is to discover industry-specific hashtags. These are Instagram hashtags that are widely used by similar brands to yours, and by direct competitors. You can utilize these hashtags to help position your content and your account, and benefit from a pre-existing community.
To get some inspiration for Instagram hashtags you could be using, visit your competitors’ Instagram accounts and check their recent posts. What industry-specific hashtags do they use that also apply to your brand? Take note of as many of these hashtags as possible in a spreadsheet so you can evaluate them later and use the best-fitting ones in your future posts. Keep in mind that popular and relevant hashtags change over time, so it’s important to refresh your list as often as possible.
To do this, head to the Analytics tab under ‘Competitors’ and add the Instagram handle of the accounts you want to track. Depending on your plan, you can add up to 10 competitor accounts (note that they must also be Business Accounts).
When you select the competitor from the list, you’ll be able to scroll down to ‘Tag Usage’ where you’ll see the the hashtags they’ve used over the past 30 days.
You can also click into each hashtag to see the associated content, and get an overview of the Instagram hashtag usage across all of the competitor accounts you’re tracking. This will give you a consistent view of the way your competitors are using hashtags over time, so you have a rolling source of hashtag inspiration.
Another way to find suitable hashtags is to research key terms relating to your brand and product on the Instagram app in ‘Tags’. Need some simple hashtag keywords to kick off your search? Check out Hashtagify or RiteTag. These tools let you search search for general hashtags used across social media, and suggest hashtags based on keywords or images. RiteTag has a chrome extension that lets you view suggested hashtags for an image or piece of text just by right-clicking and selecting ‘Get Hashtag Suggestions’.
However, be wary of relying too much on these general suggestions. It’s always best to check hashtags manually on Instagram, and use your judgement when deciding which hashtags are the best fit for your brand.
The option to follow hashtags, which was introduced in December 2017, provides another way to discover new hashtags for your posts. Instagram automatically suggests related hashtags to any hashtags you follow, as well as the accounts and content topics you engage with most. So, the more you engage with content in your industry that relates to your brand, the more relevant the hashtag suggestions will be (and the more visibility your Instagram Profile will get, which is the aim of the game after all!).
To find your hashtag suggestions, click on ‘following’ at the top of your profile, and then select ‘hashtags’.
2. Use specific, long-tail hashtags as much as possible
To make sure your post doesn’t get lost in a sea of other similar posts, you’re going to want to choose hashtags that aren’t already saturated with associated content. If a hashtag has millions of posts associated with it (take #love as an example), I’m sorry to say, no one is going to find your post through this hashtag.
On the opposite end of the scale, if the hashtags you use only have a very small number of posts associated with them – say, less than a few thousand – it’s likely that nobody is actually searching for that hashtag because it’s too ‘niche’. When deciding which hashtags will get you the most visibility, and more importantly, attract the right audience to your profile, you should be focusing on long-tail hashtags.
For example, if you’re a small retail business selling vintage clothing, you’d probably think to use #vintage or #vintageclothing to promote your posts. However, because these hashtags are so general, they’ve already been used literally millions of times –68,399,555 and 2,181,164 times respectively to be exact (and it’s going up by the minute). Thankfully, when you search for these hashtags on Instagram, you’re given a list of similar, related hashtags that have fewer associated posts. Keep clicking through until you find your winning long-tail hashtags, ideally with fewer than 100,000 associated posts.
Here you can see the difference between the more general #vintageclothing hashtag versus the more targeted, long-tail hashtag #truevintageootd. Using the latter gives you more opportunity to get your content seen, so it makes sense to go for this one.
3. Vary your hashtags across your posts
Once you’ve researched your Instagram hashtags, it’s tempting to use the same ones across every post. Copying and pasting them over and over definitely saves time, but DON’T DO IT!
Well, it will limit you in three ways:
Firstly, by not varying your hashtags, you’re limiting your audience. Without testing your hashtags, how do you know which ones are getting you the most followers and the best engagement, both in terms of quantity and quality?
To see how many people found your post via hashtags on Instagram, you need a Business Profile which will give you access to Insights. However, while you can see how many times your hashtags actually worked for you, you can’t see which one it was that brought a user to your post.
Secondly, if you always use the same Instagram hashtags without researching them regularly, there’s a chance that one of them might be banned. Instagram is continuing to crack down on offensive and explicit content by limiting hashtags that have a large number of associated posts that go against their T&Cs. Instagram will ban these hashtags – which could be as innocent as ‘#dogsofinstagram’ – in order to ‘clean up’ the platform.
If you unknowingly use a banned hashtag, your content won’t show up in any hashtag searches and your reach will be limited. This is often referred to as a ‘shadowban’. A drop in reach means a drop in engagement, which means a drop in growth. If you’re always using the same hashtags, it’s harder to figure out which one is the culprit, and if it’s on every post, well, you’ll have to go through each and every post to delete that hashtag manually.
By varying your hashtags and paying them proper attention, you’re reducing the possibility that this will happen to your account.
4. Keep up to date with banned or blacklisted Instagram hashtags
The question is, how do you know if a hashtag has been banned by Instagram? If you notice a big drop in reach and engagement and think it could be because of the hashtags you’ve used, you can check the status of the hashtags directly on Instagram.
First, search for the hashtag you think could be a problem, or if you’re not sure, just start with the first hashtag in your most recent post.
If you’re only seeing a limited number of posts followed by a message explaining that recent posts from that particular hashtag have been hidden, remove that tag from your post. The ban could just be temporary, or it could be in place for a number of months. Funnily enough, the hashtag #snapchat is currently banned, and you can see the message explaining why below (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence it’s Instagram’s biggest competitor 😉).
You can refer to this list of banned Instagram hashtags from Preview, but keep in mind banned or restricted hashtags are regularly changing, so if you think you’re using a banned hashtag that isn’t on the list, test it for yourself by searching for it on Instagram.
5. Create a brand hashtag
Creating a brand hashtag is a good way to collect all of the content relating to your brand, including UGC and influencer content. If you encourage your community to use your branded hashtag in their posts when showcasing your product or participating in a UGC competition, their followers are more likely to find your own posts and visit your Profile. The more your branded hashtag is used, the more visibility your account, and your brand, receives.
Your branded hashtag doesn’t have to be the name of your brand. Take Nike and the hashtag #justdoit. Nike made their slogan (which is just as recognizable as their name or logo) their brand hashtag, and it’s been used over 13 million times on the platform.
Another benefit of using a branded hashtag is having the ability to monitor your visibility and the sentiment around your brand on Instagram. When your search for your brand hashtag on the platform, you’ll be able to see the type of posts tagged with your hashtag, what users are saying about your brand in the post captions, and the profiles of the users engaging with your hashtag.
6. Establish micro-communities
Using a single, consistent brand hashtag is just one way of establishing a community and collating content on Instagram. You can use hashtags to build a number of different micro-communities relating to your brand or product for particular events, seasons, or promotions.
Makeup brand Too Faced created the time-relevant hashtag #tflifesafestival to encourage their community to share their festival makeup style on Instagram. Posting under a popular hashtag is beneficial for users too, as it gives them the chance to get discovered, gain new followers and increase engagement on their own accounts.
Even if you don’t share much or any UGC on your Instagram account, using hashtags to build micro-communities can still be a good strategy for you to boost your visibility and engagement.
7. Monitor the performance of the hashtags you’re using
To get greater insights into the performance of the Instagram hashtags you use, including your brand and campaign hashtags, you can use a tool that provides hashtag analytics. Iconosquare allows you track up to 10 specific hashtags depending on the plan you choose for your account.
To set up hashtag tracking, go into the Analytics tab, select ‘Hashtags’ and then add the hashtag you want to track.
It takes around 24 hours to generate the hashtag data. Once this is done, your hashtags will be displayed in a table displaying an overview of the key stats.
You can click into your hashtag to view in-depth insights including how many times the hashtag has been used, the engagement on the hashtag, all the media tagged with that particular hashtag, and the locations where the hashtag is used most frequently.
You can also export the data as a CSV, PNG, SVG or PDF by selecting the download arrow in the top right corner of the available sections.
8. Use hashtags on Stories
Adding hashtags to your Stories improves their discoverability, just as it does with posts in the feed. To add a hashtag sticker to your Story, just upload your photo or video, select the sticker icon in the top left corner of the screen, and choose ‘#Hashtag’.
Type in your hashtag and check out the suggestions for other hashtags at the bottom of the screen. Often these are more specific, long-tail hashtags with fewer associated posts, giving your Story more chance of being discovered.
Currently, you can only add one hashtag sticker per story, but if you want to add additional hashtags to your post, you can do so using the normal text function. Your Story will still be found through these extra hashtags – but don’t overdo it. Too many tags in a Story will make it look spammy!
Hashtags can really boost your visibility and engagement on Instagram, but a strategic approach is essential. Researching and refreshing your hashtags regularly will ensure the hashtags you use are effective in helping you grow your account, so keep at it!