Using hashtags on Instagram may seem pretty straight forward but if you find you aren't reaching the right people or you're only getting spam accounts, there's a chance you may be doing it wrong. Since I won't buy followers or use bots (either for me or for my clients), Instagram can be slow going when it comes to building an authentic following, but it's worth the patience and the time.
To help you out, I've come up with 6 tips for using hashtags on Instagram to help you grow your followers.
- Don’t use popular hashtags
A critical mistake many people make when using hashtags, is being too literal. You see it all the time; posting a photo of the sky and hashtagging it #blue - I mean, you aren't wrong, it is blue. But that's not going to help you reach your audience. For starters, at time of writing #blue has around 113 million photos in it. While you may get a flurry of likes when the photo is first posted, that will not be long-lasting. There's almost no way your photo is going to be able to compete in amongst all that shouting. Secondly, there’s not really going to be that many people following or searching for that hashtag (though that is of course, just my opinion). More likely, they’re going to be looking for at the very least #bluesky. Think about what you would type in if you were using Instagram like a search engine. If you wanted to look at pictures of labrador puppies would you just search #dog or would you search #labradorpuppies?
- Use popular hashtags
But I'm not saying you shouldn't ever use the obvious and popular hashtags! As I said, they will give you the little flurry of likes at the beginning before your post gets lost. You just need to be more creative with your other hashtags, and try to strike a balance between high-range popular, mid-range popular and low-range popular in order to optimise your reach. Going back to our #blue example - if you type this into the Instagram search bar (which you can also do in your desktop browser by the way if that’s easier for you), Instagram provides multiple alternative options you could use as well. For example #blueskyblue has about 16,000 posts which, while it’s still an awful lot, it still gives you much higher chances of being “seen” than #blue. Play around with different combinations and see what you can find.
- Follow hashtags
A cool new feature Instagram has introduced is the ability to “follow” a hashtag. This means you will occasionally see posts in your feed from people you don’t follow, simply because they’ve used the hashtag. You can also quickly access the entire feed of that hashtag by viewing your “following” from your profile. This is great for brands running a competition under a hashtag, or for maintaining engagement within community based hashtags in your niche. You might even find some new people to follow!
- Research your hashtags for every photo
As above, you do need to be creative with your hashtags and try to strike a balance between super popular and not popular at all. I also recommend regularly changing up your hashtags so you aren’t just using the same ones over and over. It’s pretty clear now that the shadowban doesn’t exist (which is usually why people recommend you change hashtags), but it’s important to mix them up for another reason - you won’t be reaching new people if you just keep using the same hashtags. Another upside to doing your research is that it’s ultimately going to be a waste of your time if you just guess at what hashtags people are looking at. Type different combinations into the search bar, but also go to the profile of someone else in your niche or someone you admire and check what hashtags they’re using. For example, a yoga instructor might use #yogi but if I check out people who are using that hashtag, they’re also using #myyogajourney, #yogaeverydamnday and #igyogacommunity. Diversify!
You can easily keep track of all these hashtags by keeping a note on your phone with all the different combos relevant to your niche. I then find it easier to group the relevant hashtags I want to use into 25 - 30 tags before I post the photo, copy it and immediately paste it into the comments.
- Don’t use irrelevant hashtags
OK. This one is important! You want your tags to be relevant to the content of your photo. I don’t care how popular a hashtag is, you’re not going to be reaching the right audience if you highjack a random one. Sure, you’ll probably get a bunch of likes, but it’s unlikely it would result in receiving any kind of meaningful interaction. By that I mean actual followers (not a follower who is just going to unfollow you later) and real authentic comments (not just a series of emoji’s or the classic “nice capture!”). It would be a big no-no to use #teamkaptainkenny (a travel photography hashtag) on a picture of your new haircut, for example. I don’t suggest coming up with 25-30 new hashtags every time - I usually try to change around 5-10 hashtags for every new photo.
- Engage with other photos under the hashtags you use
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The most authentic and long-lasting way to build an audience on Instagram is to create a community. You do this by being social (yep, the trick to social media is all in the name)! Like and genuinely comment on other photos in your niche, and follow the ones you really like. Be authentic, show that you've read the caption or actually looked at the photo as people can always tell when you've copied and pasted or just used a comment bot (we've all had the old "this is wonderful" on a photo announcing something sad or "delicious!" on a photo that isn't food).
And I say follow the ones you really like simply because I also don't endorse playing the follow/unfollow game.
There are dozens of strategies for growing your audience on Instagram, and I'll keep going over them in future blog posts. Hashtagging is just one of the ways to grow your following, but it is still an essential part of it. Try incorporating these 6 steps into your Instagram strategy and see how it helps!
Cheers, Laura x
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