♩With a hashtag here,
And a hashtag there,
Here a hashtag, there a hashtag,
Everywhere a hashtag,
All the posts have a hashtag (E-I-E-I-O)! ♩
If you’re using social media (and you really should be), and you’re not using hashtags on your posts then you really, really should be! Hashtags help your posts get seen by more people outside of your account’s following. Using the right hashtags to boost engagement boil down to a few simple steps:
Spending the time (and creating a spreadsheet) to dive into these steps will yield great results and allow you to create a proper hashtag marketing plan. Let’s dive further into these steps and get you on the road to #GrowSmarter!
Some of you will find this step fun, and some of you will find this step a time-consuming bore. To be successful in your efforts, however, it must be done and be done with care!
You can go about conducting your research in a few different ways. There are free (and a bit more time-consuming ways) and paid options available. We will break down the free way of doing your research.
Start yourself a spreadsheet in your favorite builder. List off the top 30 keywords or phrases that relate to your business, brand, services and/or products. Don’t worry if you can’t think of 30, just get a list started so that you can begin to conduct your research. If you are struggling with thinking of any, go to your competitors’ Instagram accounts and see what hashtags they use on their posts and Instagram will actually suggest some for you related to whichever tag you search.
You will want to gather the total number of posts under that hashtag and look at the top 5 posts in that tag category to determine the average engagement criteria to rank at the top. You want to look at the top 5 mainly because they are ‘above the fold’ meaning they are the top posts shown without having to scroll. Count up the number of likes on those top 5 then divide by 5 to find the average. Do this also for the number of comments.
You might notice that on your phone, some hashtags will show you a top 9 ‘above the fold’, in that case, do what you would do with the top 5 but include the next 4 as those are also ‘above the fold’.
Pro-Tip: I use both my phone and computer to find this information. The Instagram app on your phone will show you where the ‘above the fold’ posts end and the Instagram website on your computer will show you the exact number of posts in that hashtag category.
Next, you will want to look into your account’s insights and determine how many likes and comments you average on each post. Your numbers might not remotely compare to the numbers you just ran in your spreadsheet and that is okay. Whatever you do: DO NOT PANIC! You want to do this research so that you can reach those numbers and see what works for YOU. Also, look at your most engaged posts and make a note of those likes and comments numbers.
Now that you know your current average of likes and comments, rank your top 30 by ‘Very Hard’, ‘Hard’, ‘Achievable’, and ‘Easy’. ‘Very Hard’ are hashtags that greatly exceed your average engagement. You might see that most of the hashtags you researched fall into this category - that’s fine, your goal should be to eventually rank for these! ‘Hard’ hashtags fall just above your most engaged post. These ‘Hard’ ones should be just out of reach of your current engagement status and where you want to aim at ranking. ‘Achievable’ hashtags are where your most engaged posts fall. You have achieved these numbers before and you know you can do it again - I believe in you! ‘Easy’ hashtags are ones you know you can achieve with little to no effort, you already see these numbers on average on all your posts. You want to keep these hashtags in your back pocket as they will help you more easily hit those ‘Achievable’ and ‘Hard’ engagement numbers.
Now that you know how you compare, you can begin to track your engagement. Start a new spreadsheet page and record your monthly progress. You should start to see more and more engagement across the months. If you don’t, then it may be time to revisit your spreadsheet and make adjustments.
Did you know that Instagram users can actually follow specific hashtags that they find interesting or want to see more of in their feed? It’s a really cool feature and allows others to find your content without leaving their feed. People following hashtags will see all content with that tag regardless of it being the top 5-9 posts.
If you find your niche and consistently add that hashtag to your posts then you have a better chance of people engaging with your content and converting to followers. And that, my friends, is the dream!
While you are doing your research and reporting your monthly reach results, you might find that you are consistently reaching high engagement through one or more specific hashtags. Note the high performing hashtags in your monthly research spreadsheet and look for similar and more specific hashtags.
If you are a baker, you might see that #bake or #baker is not yielding you great results in the number of engagements that you might have thought. But you might see that #BakingIsFun and #CookieCreations are bringing in better engagement because they are less popular and therefore less flooded with content. Start looking at those specific hashtags that see what other creators are adding to their posts.
Authenticity is important on social media, not just for those following or seeing your posts but also for the AI built into Instagram’s platform. AI or Artificial Intelligence has been added to many different platforms mainly as an ADA compliance tool but to also assist with algorithms on which content is promoted or boosted.
AI can literally read your picture and determine what is shown within the photograph. If you see that #EiffelTower is getting a ton of engagement and are hoping to ride that hashtag into notoriety but your photo doesn’t contain the Eiffel Tower, AI will disregard your photo and not promote it on the Explore page.
Be specific to what is shown in your post. A hashtag that matches your post might not be listed in your initial research and that’s fine. This is a one-off hashtag to try to appease the AI algorithm gods. You won’t need to add it to your master list of hashtags but should include it in your post.
Reap your rewards, throw a party, celebrate good times! If you are implementing the correct hashtags to your posts, you should start to see more engagement across all of your posts.
Instagram will allow you to attach 30 hashtags to your posts. Research has shown that having at least 11 hashtags increases your overall engagement. Aim to have 11-30 hashtags per post. You can A/B test where is the best place for you to place these hashtags by adding them all at the bottom of your post or you can add them in the comments section (which will give you one more engagement consistently per post because it is your own comment).
In those 11-30 hashtags, aim to use a good amount of ‘Easy’ and ‘Achievable’ hashtags while also including a few ‘Hard’ and ‘Very Hard’ hashtags. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. If everything goes better than planned with the ‘Easy’ and ‘Achievable’ hashtags, you might end up with additional engagement from the ‘Hard’ and ‘Very Hard’ hashtags as your engagement is already higher than normal.
Success will only last as long as you monitor your engagement. And that is why the next and last step is vitally important for long-term success.
By continually monitoring the success and engagement of your posts, you will have to adjust which hashtags are ‘Achievable’, ‘Hard’, and ‘Very Hard’ for your new engagement level. Don’t rest on your laurels once your ‘Very Hard’ hashtags become ‘Achievable’. Start searching for new ‘Very Hard’ hashtags to add to your spreadsheet and make new goals for engagement.
Once you start seeing great engagement, it might be time to consider making your own company-specific hashtag. Creating your own hashtag allows your followers to add to the content you are sharing and makes it easier for you to engage with others following your methodology, services, or products. It’s a great way to see who follows you closely and be able to highlight their content on your own Instagram account.
Hashtags are vitally important for the success of your Instagram account following and engagement. Being intentional in your use of hashtags and how you will work towards hitting the ‘Hard’ and ‘Very Hard’ targets is how you build a proper Hashtag Marketing Strategy.