If you’re marketing your brand on Instagram, you know how frustrating it can be when you only have a handful of followers (and one is your mom). You post stunning photos and engaging videos, yet most of your content goes unseen. While you might be tempted toto give your account an artificial boost, the only way to get a return on your social media investment is to attract users who are genuinely interested in buying or promoting what you sell. Potential customers and business partners will only discover your brand if you make your content as discoverable as possible.
That’s where hashtags come into play. If Instagram is a giant filing cabinet with files for every possible topic, hashtags are the labels on the file folders. Recently the platform added a feature allowing users to follow specific hashtags across accounts. By adding different tags to your photo and video captions, you give Instagram users multiple ways to access your content.
Here are three tips for using hashtags strategically and effectively.
1. Make your own.
Any photo that includes at least one hashtag is likely to get higher engagement, but to convert engagement into sales, you need tags that cultivate a recognizable brand identity. By creating hashtags that lead back to your company directly, you can keep your followers updated on news, upcoming sales, and product launches. You can also tag photos that go behind the scenes at your business or show how you put your values into practice.
Branded hashtags might include your company name, slogan, names of particular products, or keywords that reflect your brand philosophy. Many brands create temporary hashtags for each event they promote. The best tags strike a balance between being short, simple, and easy to spell and being catchy, witty, and memorable.
For example, when Always wanted to appeal to its female demographic, the brand created #LikeAGirl. In a society where “throwing like a girl” means throwing badly, Always reclaimed the phrase to send an empowering message about girls’ true capabilities. Tagged photos and videos depict women and girls conquering their fears and realizing their dreams.
One of the most effective forms of social media marketing is user-generated content. Customers feel appreciated when you share their photos, and you benefit from their free advertising. Red Bull won a Shorty Award for the success of their hashtag #PutACanOnIt. What began as an impromptu photo of a company vehicle with a giant can on the roof led to a steady stream of followers posting photos of their own creatively-arranged Red Bull beverages.
Contests are a great way to encourage creative user-generated content. Followers enter the contest by using the brand hashtag you provide for a chance to win a free gift or a discount on merchandise.
2. Connect with your community.
In addition to introducing new hashtags, you want to use tags already in wide circulation. To leverage the popularity of trending hashtags, keep an eye out for brand-relevant topics. For example, Lush is a brand of environmentally-friendly cosmetics, so ocean conservation issues are always on their radar. They use tags like #WorldOceanDay and #Shark Week to attract followers who aren’t particularly interested in bath bombs but do want to support ethical companies.
The most popular hashtags, broad categories like #love, #travel, #dogs, or #Instagood, aren’t always the best options for growth because potential followers are unlikely to see your content if they have to scroll through millions of other posts. Instead, focus on niche community hashtags with 50,000 to a million posts.
While online communities are important, don’t neglect the real-world equivalent. Location hashtags are a helpful tool for attracting followers in your area who want to support local businesses or are looking for neighborhood hot spots. For example, if you run a coffee shop in Atlanta that sells local baked goods, you might use tags such as #iloveatlanta, #atlantacoffee, #atlantadessert, or #atlantalocal.
3. Vary your tags.
When you notice certain hashtags boosting your growth, you might be tempted to keep using them. Copying and pasting the same hashtags into every post, however, can backfire. Cookie cutter tagging give the appearance of spam, so Instagram could flag your account for bot activity or deactivate it altogether. Some users report that their posts fail to appear in their followers’ feeds if they overuse certain tags, a controversial practice known as shadowbanning.
A lack of hashtag variety also limits your audience. Let’s say you run a jewelry business and always use the hashtags #gemstone and #Instajewelry. Some users follow those tags, but others might only follow related tags like #gems, #gemstones, #stones, #crystals, or #jewelrygram. Even if all you do is add or remove an “s,” varying tags will expand your reach.
If you’re having difficulty coming up with fresh hashtags, use the Instagram search function. Enter a keyword and look for relevant tags with reasonable but not extremely high usage. Learn from others, including your competitors, by adopting the non-brand-specific hashtags they favor.
How do you use hashtags to build your brand following? Share your tips in the comments.