You've seen hashtags all over Instagram. You've probably even used them (hopefully!), but do you really understand them? Hopefully I can help.
Hashtags were first created on Twitter to create a way to categorize content so people could find others who are posting about the same topics. They allow for a reach beyond your current network of friends and followers to link up with others using or searching that hashtag.
And hashtags, unlike categories, don't have to already exist - you can make them up as needed. Simply put the number sign/pound sign/hashtag before any word in most social media tools, and you have a hashtag. Voila!
When you create a new hashtag, it will turn into a link that you can then click and see who else is using that hashtag. Sometimes you find a whole world in a hashtag, like opening the door to Narnia. Other times there may be little or nothing there. But even if you are the only one using that hashtag, it is now a little bread crumb for someone else to find and link up with you in the future.
Now let's discuss hashtags on Instagram.
While hashtags were created on Twitter, Instagram is where they really shine. Instagram + hashtags = marketing machine!
Instagram allows users to post up to 30 hashtags with any specific post. When you are marketing your business, using a good number of hashtags allows you to put yourself into the search stream of anyone looking for what you offer. If you create sculptures, using a variety of hashtags describing your work gives you a much greater chance of being discovered by new customers rather than just hoping that your followers will buy or share with their friends.
On Instagram, users can also follow specific hashtags and see those posts directly in their stream, so by using a variety of hashtags, you increase your exposure. Following hashtags will give you an idea of what other users are posting. And, by looking at hashtags being used by other users, you can get an idea of what other hashtags you might use in the future.
Not all hashtags are created equal.
Selecting your hashtags is an art more than a science because Instagram doesn't give a great view into how many and who are searching which hashtags. They will show which hashtags are being used the most, and, in analytics (which we will cover in depth later), how many people found your post via hashtags. But not which hashtags they found you through nor which other hashtags you could have chosen to get even more traffic to your art. So you have to take some educated guesses.
There is one semi-exception to this hashtag dilemma - and that is in stories. Instagram stories analytics do show what hashtag users came across your story via. This can be used as in A/B hashtag testing (covered in a future post!) to a point, but hashtag activity in stories and posts differ and you are more likely to be seen using the more popular hashtags in stories than in posts simply because the number of current non-permanent stories using the hashtags isn't as diluted as the number of persistent posts that also use those most popular of hashtags, like #art which has almost 500 million posts but, at the time of writing, only 18 stories.
Using those most popular hashtags in your regular posts may get you lost in the shuffle. By the time you post and look at the hashtag, there may be 20 new posts pushing yours down and making it less likely to be seen.
The best practice is to get a variety of somewhat popular hashtags to the more niche hashtags in order to raise your chances of being seen within the hashtag traffic while still having enough people looking at the hashtag to matter. Select a range with a few in the higher use categories (between 2-15 million hashtags used) and a few in the very niche category (under 20 thousand hashtags used) and the bulk of your hashtags should range in between.
Your subject matter might also change throughout your posting schedule, so consider making batches of your selected hashtags and leaving room for spur-of-the-moment hashtags for each post. As an example, use 25 hashtags that you have already pre-selected for each post. Perhaps you have 15 you will almost always use, batch those together so they can be added at one time. Then put together sets of 5 that will go with certain subject matter differences that you can choose among to flesh out the rest of your 25 pre-selected hashtags per post.
Let's go with the example of sculpture again, a bronze sculptor who lives in Phoenix or Scottsdale, AZ and is a member of the Sonoran Arts League. We will use the instagram search function to look at possible matching hashtags and see how popular they are, then group them into our favorites that will almost always be used and the others that will be added according to each post, because sometimes our sculptor uses clay or other materials.
The main group of hashtags:
And below are some grouped according to need for each post:
Note: you will see hashtags with something related to Instagram connected, like #sculptorsofinstagram. My advice would be to stay away from these hashtags except in stories because the parent company of Instagram considers these a trademark infringement and will not accept them in a promoted post. Should you ever decide to use the promoted post option to create an advertisement on Instagram or Facebook, these will get you rejected. Rather than go through the time and trouble of rejections and resubmissions, I find you won't miss much by excluding these types of hashtags in your content altogether.
Typing in all these hashtags each time is going to drive you crazy, guaranteed. So most people put them in a note or file and copy and paste, but better yet is to use you mobile phone's own accessibility functions to make life easier.
Find wherever the keyboard settings are in your phone and use the"text replacement" function to give your lists of hashtags a short code. For example, the first set of always used hashtags could be coded as "sclp". That way when you want that set of hashtags to show up, as soon as you type that code, the list of hashtags will automatically show up. Maybe sure that your codes are not words you would normally type or you will have hashtags invading every message you send! My hashtag codes are usually with a double final letter, such as artt, fluidd, vett, etc.
Here are links to a text replacement tutorials for the iPhone/iPad and the Android phone/tablets.
Auditing your hashtags
Not all of your hashtags will perform well for you. You may find that you are already reaching everyone who is using a specific hashtag and to reach out to a new audience, a change is needed. You may also look back at a hashtag and find that you are the only one actively posting to it, even if it had been busy in the past. If you are the only one posting to it, you may also be the only one looking at its content and it may be time to change. Auditing your hashtags quarterly will keep you up to date and actively finding new customers on Instagram.
To audit your hashtags, simply look at the hashtag for use. Is it active? Are you the only one publishing? If so, your posts will be the only ones at the top of the "recent" feed. Is it too busy? Right after you post, click the hashtag and see if you are at least somewhat near the top. If you are rows and rows down just seconds/minutes after posting, you won't be seen by many people and that hashtag should be changed. Look for new hashtags. Click into posts that you enjoy and are of the same subject matter as yours and take a look at the hashtags used. Maybe those hashtags will fit your work as well, or they might give you an idea for your own hashtags.
I am calling these "vanity" but only because these are branded hashtags. Yes, you can create your own hashtags that it would be unlikely that anyone besides you (and your followers/fans) would use. These hashtags are not only branding for you but also a way to pull your community close and give them a digital home. By this I mean that you create a hashtag out of your name or logo or something unique to you. You use it often - very often. Add it to the top of your normal set of hashtags. This way your fans will notice it and associate it with you. Follow this hashtag and check on it often, because anything tagged to it is a message directly to you and you should treat it that way. Always respond in some way to every use of that hashtag, with a like, comment, or best, share anyone who uses it in your stories. This encourages your fans to use your vanity hashtag and communicate with you. The more people you can get to use this specific hashtag, the more others will see it and notice the connection. And the more likely they will be liking, commenting and sharing your work. The vanity hashtag is an engagement tool.
Don't worry too much if someone else is using that same hashtag, just take it over and own it. But the hashtag must have very rare usage for this to work or your efforts will get lost in traffic. Look for one that is under 1000 total shares on Instagram.