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If you want to grow an engaged, targeted following on Instagram, you need a hashtag strategy! And if you’re not quite sure what I mean by that, this video is for you!  You can have the best content on Instagram: beautiful images, captivating descriptions, great ideas… but without eyeballs on your posts, you are sunk.  Enter: hashtags.

A Hashtag Primer

Just in case you aren’t familiar with hashtags, I’ll give you a quick primer. Basically any word or combination of words can be a hashtag. All you need to do is put # in front of it. On Instagram, you can even use emoji in your hashtags! What CAN’T you use in your hashtags? Other symbols like @ or &, and punctuation. Yeah… it’s annoying that an apostrophe will break a hashtag, but you’ll just need to turn a blind eye to grammar while using hashtags.

Think of hashtags as search terms, or descriptive words. If you are a boutique and you post a picture of a red, plaid shirt for a little boy, you might use hashtags like: #redshirt #plaidshirt #boysshirt #instafashion, etc. You would describe that shirt as much as possible with your hashtags.

Hashtags Two Ways

Most people are familiar with putting hashtags within the post or at the end of the post as a means to attract people that are looking for those hashtags, but did you know that you can also use hashtags to proactively find your ideal customer? I will break it down for you:

Hashtags to Attract

People search Instagram for all kinds of stuff. They hit the explore tab and type in a search term, which is a hashtag on Instagram. They might be looking for a #weddingphotographer or #socialmediatips or something #handmade for a #babygift. You get the idea.

When you/they type in the hashtag you want to search, the hashtag pulls up a stream of photos that all have that hashtag attached to it. They are shown in reverse chronological order… so the most recent photo is shown first. As new photos with that hashtag are posted, your photo gets pushed down further in to the feed.

You can use up to 30 hashtags per post, and if you put them in your first comment (right after you post your pic), they still put you at the top of the hashtag search for that particular hashtag.

When selecting hashtags for your posts, think about these questions:

How do you describe your company?What words do customers use to describe your company?What do you do? Sell? Offer?What is actually shown in the picture?

When selecting hashtags, it’s great to use a mix of “broad” and “narrow” terms. Broad terms are things like “social media” or “marketing,” and will have many, many results returned (tens of thousands). Narrow terms are more specific like #socialmediatips or #instagramtips. They will return a few hundred or maybe a few thousand results. Broad terms allow you to show up in the larger conversation… but you are just a drop in the ocean. Narrow terms may have less people looking for them, but you have more of an opportunity to stand out and be noticed. Use both!

It’s great to have a steady stream of new followers that are actively searching for your hashtags, but what about people that fit your description of an “ideal customer,” that aren’t actively searching for you?

Hashtags to Identify

A common thread between successful Instagram accounts is that they like a lot of photos and engage with the Instagram community on a level that is above average. But they don’t just sporadically like random photos… they like photos of people that meet their description of potential customers.

To identify customers with hashtags, you need to spend some time thinking about who that potential customer is. Once you have defined who you are talking to, think about what they might post on Instagram. What hashtags might they use?

For me, I offer social media advice to small businesses, so I thought of hashtags like: #photographer, #boutique, #poolbuilder.

Once you’ve identified potential hashtags to use, start by liking batches of 50 photos at a time.  Give the process a couple of days to see how it grows your followers. If you don’t feel like you see an uptick in new followers per day, switch your hashtags until you find one (or a few) that work well for you.

Use the hashtag strategy worksheet (get it below) to come up with the best hashtags for your business!

Do you have a set of hashtags that you use when you post photos? How many do you usually use? Have you thought to use hashtags to find potential customers to interact with?


Molly Marshall teaches small business owners and online entrepreneurs how to systematically and simply grow a profitable online presence through social media. Get your FREE Instagram Strategy Guide now!

Get your FREE Instagram Strategy Guide

Learn what's working now to build your brand, authority, and credibility on Instagram in 2022.

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