Remember when hashtags first hit the social scene in 2007?
(Yes, it’s been that long)
Fast forward to present day and billions of #s of later, tags have become a staple of social media itself.
We’ve reached the point where tacking a few hashtags onto our posts has become totally second nature, right?
Whether it’s your fitness-obsessed mate showing off their #paleo meal or your cousin’s awkward #nofilter selfie, hashtags are here to stay.
And if you’re a marketer trying to master the likes of Instagram, it’s crucial to understand just how much having a hashtag strategy matters.
Why Marketers Need a Hashtag Strategy
Here’s the deal: hashtags represent a not-so-secret weapon for modern marketers.
It’s easy to underestimate what hashtags can do for brands, but, take a step back and consider the big-picture benefits of strategic tagging.
Instant engagement: Instagram posts with at least one hashtag receive 12% more likes, shares and comments versus those without them.
Greater reach: hashtags essentially make your posts on Instagram searchable, without them your content is essentially confined to your page.
Brand loyalty: having your own hashtag encourages back-and-forth sharing between your followers, which is perhaps why 7 out of 10 hashtags are branded.
And if nothing else, tacking on a hashtag or two only takes a couple of seconds of your time and provides your content with a bit of creative flair.
Of course, you can’t just start randomly dumping hashtags onto your posts and call that a “strategy.”
Below we’ve outlined everything you need to know to create the perfect Instagram hashtag strategy for your brand.
The good news? Doing so is actually pretty simple once you break down the fine details of hashtags and the best practices of using them.
With that, let’s dive right in!
Breaking Down the Hashtags Marketers Need to Know
For starters, not all hashtags are created equal.
There are four distinct hashtags that marketers need to master, all of which have a place in your Instagram feed depending on what you’re posting.
Branded hashtags represent the tags are specific to, you guessed it, your brand.
You’ll notice that many bigger brands get away with hashtags that are simply their name coupled with a “#.” Check out Seafolly as a straightforward example of this:
Another smart strategy is to come up with a hashtag that’s closer to catchphrase or slogan. For example, Redbubble uses their own #findyourthing hashtag to encourage followers to show some love to their artwork:
Quick and simple, these tags deserve your attention but don’t have to be rocket science to come up with.
(Oh, we’ll explain the best practices for creating your own later in the post)
Perfect for promotions and contests, these hashtags are reserved for specific campaigns and serve as a sort of call-to-action.
For example, check out Vegemite’s recent #VegemiteValentine campaign promoting free spread for a year to the lucky winning couple:
These tags are the bread and butter of brands looking to run any sort of user-generated content campaign. If you want to encourage people to take pictures on behalf of your brand, you’re going to need a campaign-specific tag to make it happen.
Community tags represent industry terms relevant to the types of content your posting.
For example, #fitness would be an example of a massive community hashtag, while something like #choosecopic represents a niche community tag as displayed by Officeworks:
These tags effectively make your content searchable and widely available to the Instagram community at large.
Trending tags are time-sensitive and represent events that your audience might be buzzing about.
Whether it’s Olympics, the Oscars or something as simple as a holiday, brands can capitalize on trendings topics to gain exposure when they otherwise might go unnoticed.
With an understanding of just how diverse hashtags can be, the question remains: which hashtags are right for your brand?
How to Quickly Find Hashtags to Use
If you’re overwhelmed with choices of which hashtags to couple with your content, don’t freak out.
Marketers should consider two primary steps for finding the best hashtags to roll out with their campaigns,.
Step #1 – Look at Influencers, Followers and Competitors
Figuring out which tags to include doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel.
With a bit of good, old-fashioned digging, you can see at a glance what sorts of tags are on already the tongues of your audience.
Start by writing out a list of your top competitors and relevant influencers in your industry, making note of which tags they’re using on a regular basis. Then, take a peek at your own followers’ feeds and do the same.
With a couple dozen tags handy, you have a decent sample size to work with. You’ll likely find common threads between the tags your audience is posting, including lower volume tags and more common community terms.
Step #2 – Use the Tools of the Trade
Your second step for finding more hashtags is to let an algorithm do the legwork for you.
These types of hashtag aggregators can act as a system of checks and balances based on your own research.
How to Come Up with Your Own Hashtag
Whether it’s your own branded hashtag or a campaign-specific one, the task of coming up with your own can certainly be daunting. That said, you don’t need to be a creative genius to make it happen.
In addition to the branded tags sprinkled throughout this post, just stick to the following principles:
When in doubt, keep your hashtags on the shorter side for the sake of making it more memorable (although longer hashtags under 20 characters are still fair game)
If you’re dealing with a multi-word tag, use appropriate capitalization to keep your hashtag from looking like a jumbled mess (think: #TasteTheRainbow versus #tastetherainbow)
Relate the tag to your brand name or message versus choosing something out of the blue
How Many Hashtags Should I Use, Anyway?
The jury’s still out on this one, but rest assured that you shouldn’t push Instagram’s 30 hashtag limit too hard.
As you can probably tell with most of the examples in this post, many brands follow a “less is more” mentality when it comes to hashtags. Granted your tags are relevant and don’t distract from your caption, simply use your best judgment and err on the side of two or three rather than twenty.
What Not to Do with Hashtags
As a side note, brands need to handle hashtags with care.
Used excessively or in poor taste, hashtags can be marketing poison.
You’re not going to “hack” Instagram’s algorithm by spamming hashtags. In fact, there’s currently talk of Instagram shadowbanning accounts for doing exactly that. You’re not going to score points with followers with Instagram’s algorithm or your own followers by flooding your feed with hashtags, either.
Hashtags should be used to complement your posts rather than make fans or followers think that you’re a bot.
Also, don’t turn a hashtag into a potential PR snafu. While there’s nothing wrong with taking a stance on issues via social, brands should tread lightly with politically charged tags. Tacking #resist or #metoo onto your promotional post not only could be seen as being in poor taste, but also upset your audience.
And rightfully so.
As long as you use your best judgment, chances are you don’t have much to worry about.
How to Squeeze the Most Out of Your Hashtags
Last but not least, making the most of your Instagram hashtag strategy means letting the world know about your tags.
And if you want your followers to promote your hashtag, sometimes the best way to do so is to simply ask.
Make sure to plaster your hashtag beyond the realm of Instagram as well. For example, let visitors to your website know how they can show you some love via Instagram.
And don’t forget about marketing in the real world, too.
As part of converting customers into followers, you can take steps such as displaying your hashtag in your storefront, on business cards and as part of your product packaging.
While they might not seem like much on the surface, hashtags are incredibly powerful tools in the hands of savvy marketers. By sticking to this guide, you can fine-tune your own Instagram hashtag strategy that spreads the word.
Article originally appeared on HelloSocial