Hashtags 101: What They Are & Are Not

Do hashtags leave you scratching your head? You keep hearing you should employ a hashtag strategy, but what does that mean?

If you are aimlessly adding hashtags to your Instagram posts because you think you “should”, you are wasting your time. Instead, use hashtags thoughtfully and strategically.

Here’s what you need to know about hashtags, and how to use them to help get discovered by the right people.

What Are Hashtags

hashtag—written with a # symbol—is used to index keywords or topics on social media. This function was first created on Twitter, and allows people to easily follow topics they are interested in.

Let’s also talk about what hashtags ARE NOT.

Hashtags are….for DISCOVERABILITY not ENGAGEMENT. We talked about engagement last week, but hashtags do not help with engagement. They help you get discovered by more people, but it’s up to your content to bring home the engagement.

Hashtags are….used like SEO not to DESCRIBE your photo. Hashtags don’t actually help with SEO, but I want you to think about them like SEO. What are your ideal customers searching for? What are their interests? Where are they located? Use that knowledge when choosing hashtags. Don’t use them to describe your image or what your caption is about.

Hashtags are…a SCIENCE not AN AFTERTHOUGHT. We will talk more below about research, but know that there is a formula and science to choosing the best hashtags. Stop just randomly throwing a pound sign in front of words.

Hashtags are…just THE BEGINNING not ENOUGH. Strong hashtags are not enough. Just because someone discovers your post, doesn’t mean they’ll engage with it. Getting someone to like, comment, save or share your post without knowing you takes a lot of work.

How to Use Hashtags

It is important to understand the most strategic ways to use hashtags. Just like with your posts, you shouldn’t post “just to post”, you also shouldn’t use hashtags “just because”.

A few best practices for using hashtags:

  • Use hashtags your customer is using/looking at. You don’t want to use industry jargon or keywords only others in your industry would use. This is just another reason it’s so important to know your ideal customer. Download the ideal customer worksheet here.
  • Be specific (but not too specific). Well, what is it, Amanda?! You want to use hashtags that have a good amount of traffic, but not so much that you get lost and have no chance of discoverability. Choose hashtags with between 10,000 and 500,000 posts attached to them.
  • Use location based hashtags. If you have a local business, use hashtags with your location. Think things like #yourlocationyourindustry (like #montanaphotographer). Even if you don’t just serve one area, you can still incorporate location hashtags based on where you live or do business.
  • Do your research. Being successful with hashtags takes time and research. You want to research the traffic on your hashtags, you want to make sure you aren’t using banned hashtags, and also researching to discover new hashtags. Look to industry leaders or to your ideal customers and see what hashtags they are using. You can start there and then add in some of your own.
  • Create hashtag groups. Depending on your industry, ideal customer and location, you can create different hashtag groups that you can use for different posts. Create a Google spreadsheet and start to add in your hashtags, along with the traffic for each. That way when you are planning and scheduling posts, you can just copy and paste the appropriate hashtag groups into the post. Start with at least 5 groups, and grow from there. I have groups like Small Business, Boss Babe, Montana, Social Media Tips, etc.
  • Use between 11-30 hashtags per post. Instagram lets you use up to 30 hashtags on a post. I encourage you to try to use all 30 (why not?), but research shows that you should use at least 11 for the best results.

Have hashtag questions? Send me an email and let’s talk!

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