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Inside Instagram Part 4: Make Hashtags (and other tags) Work for You
Instagrammers around the world have been griping about the impending algorithm changes. I am trying to stay positive and focused on my engagement. The number one way I’ve found to extend my outreach and engage with the broader Instagram community is through hashtags. There are probably millions of hashtags. Millennial use hashtags in everyday conversations. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake had an entire conversation using hashtags. Many people despise hashtags, or don’t understand them. They might be annoying. But you need to use them! They are a social media user’s best friend. They help you connect with others who are interested in the same things. Hashtags are the modern day version of folders. Now you don’t even have to drag and drop. Just throw a hashtag on something and you can easily find it back later and have it in multiple folders all at the same time. Each instagram photo should have a caption, and each caption should have at least 3-5 hashtags. If you’re posting great content, people are going to want to know more about the photo. You can use hashtags to easily share this info. In Part 2, I introduced hashtags via competition and engagement. That was to get you started, but let’s dive a little deeper now.
Applying Hashtags to Your Photos
You can use up to 30 hashtags on each photo on Instagram, but there is a lot of debate as to how many you should actually use. Some people will say 3-5, others suggest 7-11 is optimal. And other users (like me) will go for the full 30. Unless you’re posting something mundane, which isn’t offering the viewer much you can probably come up with 30 hashtags for each photograph easily. There are far more than 30 unique hashtags that can be used for coffee! Each hashtag you use can connect you to a potential new community, so don’t waste those potential networking opportunities. With that being said, if you cannot come up with 30 worthwhile hashtags, no need to stretch it and misfile your photos. Only use relevant hashtags.
I’m going to walk you through how I recently strategically tagged this photo.
Finding Key Words
If you’re not too sure where to start, go back to the question words you learned in elementary school. Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?
Who: Well, there was no one in this photo, but I might want to tag my personal brand since I was the photographer. I could create a hashtag #gingeronthego to use on all of my photos, but I don’t do this for my personal brand. I do for my business account.
For your photos, consider these possibilities. Is it a famous person? (Probably not, but if you snapped a shot of #Beyonce or #KateMiddleton, tag it. Is it a #ballerina, #musician, #bartender? Let us know! #Friend or #Family?
What: My photo is a #rainbow on the #beach by the #ocean. I’ve just identified several keywords. I can hashtag each of these words to help draw users to my photo, and then I can expand on them.
When tagging your own photos, use hashtags to describe the content. #Breakfast, #Lunch, or #Dinner? #Dress? #CuteAnimals? #Waffles or #Pancakes? #Tea or #Coffee?
Where: My picture is on #GeorgicaBeach in #theHamptons, more specifically #EastHampton.
Be specific. When I went to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic my location hashtags included the country, the city, the hotel, and the specific beach.
#DominicanRepublic #PuntaCana #MeliaCaribeTropical #BavaroBeach I used these hashtags on every picture from the trip.
When: This was a photo I snapped about 5+ years ago, so I used the hashtags #throwbackthursday and its abbreviation #tbt
You can consider using other hashtags to help specifiy time of day, season, month, etc. Try #morning #bedtime #Summer #Winter #Holidays #MLKWeekend #MemorialDay2016
Why: Well, I took this photograph because it was #beautiful.
You might consider taking pictures because it’s a #birthday #girlsnightout #charityevent #iinstagramchallenge or a million other reasons.
How: You can use this to let us know how you took the photo, the camera you used, the photo editing tools, the filters, etc. #selfie #VSCO #nofilter #nikon #gopro Plenty of options in this category if you choose to use them. This photo is so old, I do not remember which camera I used to take it.
Finding Hashtags Based on Key Words
So walking through these questions gave me 9 keywords. My Hashtag pods are building. Some people might stop here or just adapt these keywords to slightly more optimal hashtags.
#GeorgicaBeach #EastHampton #TheHamptons
The first thing I’ll do is add my basic blogger pod of hashtags to this list.
#girlslovetravel and #femaletravelbloggers are two tags I use on almost every photo so like minded women can easily see my photos.
When I am actually in the photo I also usually add this pod.
#ginger #happyginger #redhairdontcare #redheadsofinstagram #redheads #uptowngirl
If I have hashtags to spare, I will add in #travelwriter #travelblogger #influencer #fashionblogger #fblogger #lifestyleblogger
One of the interesting things about hashtags is that you can see how frequently they’re used. So for #beach, I can see that 111 MILLION photos have used this tag. #BeachLife has only 5 million and #beachwear (not applicable here) and #beachtime both have 1 Million uses. I try to limit the tags I use with over a million uses to 3-5 per photo. So of these, I might choose #beach #beachlife (leaving room for 1Million+ tags from my other key words)
Between 100,000 and 500,000 use hashtags for Beach include #beachlove4, #beachwaves, #beachwalk, #beachparty, #beachvibes, #beachselfie. This is a popular keyword, so it’s a little harder to find less commonly used hashtags. But if I am more specific, maybe using the name of the beach. In this case #GeorgicaBeach but in other cases #oceancitybeach #capemaybeach #wildwoodbeach. #Georgicabeach has just over 1k tags…so people going to that beach might use it and look at my photos, allowing me to connect with others nearby.
My beach pod now looks like this:
#beachlife #beachbum #beachgirl #beachside #beachvibes #beachwaves #beachfront #beachlovers #beachplease
Repeat this process with each of your keywords. I eliminated beautiful from my key word set prior to posting.
Why Hashtag Rankings Matter
Now you’re puzzled. I know, because others have asked me about this before? Why does it matter how frequently a hashtag is used? Isn’t more better? No, not always. Using popular hashtags will INSTANTLY connect your photo to other users. Instantly, as in the first few seconds after posting. This will generate some traffic for your photo right away, so having these most popular hashtags is essential. Once your photo shows signs of popularity (based on Instagram’s secret algorithm) your photo then has potential to reach the Top ( Posts for some of your other hashtags where it might sit for 24 hours or 24 weeks depending on the popularity of the hashtag. I just checked and one of my photos is holding strong in the Top 9 after 19 weeks for a hashtag with 1000 uses. In some of my other favorite hashtags my daily photos usually make top 9, and I almost always have one there.
When I click on my hashtag #thehamptons, my photo is one of 66,000 BUT it is the first photo in the top 9 even 12 hours after I posted it. And about 60 photos down in the chronology. It is offseason in the Hamptons, so this hashtag will function differently between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s in the top 9 in all of my hamptosn tags, ranging from 600k – 5k. This is just getting you more exposure, and making sure your pictures are being seen by more people.
Where Can You Find These Hashtags?
- Stalk your competitors. What are they using? This is a good starting place.
- Looking them up on Instagram
My final hashtags look like this:
I kept the pods separate for this little research experiment, but usually they are all lumped together. You can also do a few different things with them to help the aesthetics of your posts (see section below Captions vs Comments)
Using Hashtags to Engage
And you might be wondering, who looks at pictures by hashtags? Well, now you do! You must do this. This is the future of Instagram. It is the best way to find other users who share the same interest as you. I use these hashtag searches to look up places I am interested in, or things I like. Before going to Punta Cana, I searched a few resorts. When looking for new clothes I might search #SpringFashion2016 or a favorite designer like #dvf. A few times a week I will search my favorite hashtags just to see what’s going on in the travel world.
Your tags should go from broad to narrow(#USA to #Georgetown), but not too narrow unless you want a private photo album (and some people do…everyone has a wedding hashtag these days, or a hashtag for your group vacation, etc). Event specific tags might not have as many follows, but definitely use these too to connect with the people in your real life networks!!Business might also want to develop specialty hashtags for their brands, products, and contests.
Caption vs Comments
There is some debate about where to put the hashtags. Many people prefer to put them in the first comment instead of the caption for aesthetic purposes, but when using very popular hashtags this can backfire. The feeds for top hashtags move very quickly, so your pictures won’t get any feature time if you do this. Use your broadest hashtags in the caption, and then your niche hashtags in the comment.
I’ve found slightly better engagement when including them in the caption instead of the first comment, but if you are reposting to twitter or Facebook directly from Instagram, you might want a cleaner image and caption. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, you just have to decide what works for you and your account.
Other Hashtag Tips
- Iconosquare offers Hashtag analysis in its Elite service. While I haven’t tried this product, it appears that this is best used by brands who have created their own hashtags. In my dreams, there’s a service that tells you exactly which hashtags are bringing new traffic to your photos.
- You can also use hashtags to participate in Days of the Week Hashtags as I discussed in Part 2 of this series.
- You can add hashtags later. (Especially can be useful for features, more on this another day). So if your to-do list is empty and you want to increase your engagement, go back and add hashtags to older photos. In this case, I would avoid those overused hashtags and go for niche. You want people who are looking up these hashtags to see your photos. There are a few glitches at the moment. In some cases tagging an older photo is sending it to the front of the tag’s feed, but this is not happening across the board for all users.
- Tagging people. You can also tag your friends, businesses, and brands with their instagram names. For this people typically use the @ to link to their account instead of a hashtag.
- You can hashtag brands represented in your photos with hashtags or @’s, but just remember that’s free advertising for them. If you are a personal brand, think twice before doing this. While you might get a regram for this, you are not giving away your work for free.
- Geo Tagging is another way to tag your photos. As I discussed you might sometimes tag people or brands with @Brand in addition to or instead of #Brand, there’s also one other way to tag your photos. This can be a game changer. You must do this for every photo. This feature allows you to enter the location above your photo, below your username. This will link it to other photos at this same location. While you might want to get your newest photo up right away, it is sometime wise to wait to tag a location until you are leaving for privacy. You should also be cautious about geotagging your home address. I live in NYC so there are hundreds if not a few thousand people living on my block, but if you are in a more rural location, this could be an invitation for some unwanted visitors. Be very mindful of your personal privacy and safety in your online activities.
- If you want to learn even more about Instagram, check out my Instagram Pinterest Board to read other great articles. I’ve loaded up several new ones this week!
- And finally, remember to stay current. The hottest hashtags are constantly changing. Always be on the look out for what others are using, and update your pods every so often.