If you don't already know what a hashtag is, maybe you've been living under a rock? Just kidding.. kind of! Hashtags are those words you see with the # symbol before them and they quickly took over how we use social media. You'll see many of your favorite big brands using them, but they aren't just for big business.
Nope, hashtags are the PERFECT tool for small businesses to categorize their work and find their customers. And I will give hashtags at least half the credit for helping me get over 50K followers on Instagram.
But I didn't just slap some random hashtags on my photos and call it a day. Though just the act of using them does do some of the work for you, you still have to work for your fans. There are so many nuances to how hashtags should be used and I'm going to solve the mysteries here right now! No more guessing games.
How do hashtags work?
Hashtags can work for you in more than one way. The first and most obvious way to use hashtags is to categorize your work. When you post something on social media, placing a hashtag on it gives it a category to belong in. When you put a hashtag on your work, you're saying "this work belongs with other work that uses this hashtag too." You can use as many or as few hashtags as you like, but every platform is different. This helps people FIND you.
The second way hashtags work for you is as a search tool. When you post a hashtag on social media, it automatically gets made into a link. This means you can click on it and easily find other work categorized similarly to yours. This can be a good way to find community and other like-minded people, as well as do research on your "competition."
But it also means that you can search work that isn't categorized like yours. It means that you can search hashtags that your customers or readers might use, which helps YOU seek THEM out (not the other way around) and entice them to your social media accounts, website or products for sale. Your fans will almost never be people exactly like you, which is why you need to use both of these steps in order to GROW A COMMUNITY and FIND DEVOTED FANS.
For example, if you sell baby headbands, your fans might use hashtags like #momlife or #stayathomemom (even though you might not use those to categorize your work) so you can search the hashtag and leave comments and love for mothers that would love your work. Just knowing who your customers or readers are isn't enough - you have to engage with them.
To reiterate, use hashtags both to CATEGORIZE your work and as a SEARCH tool. Categorizing will attract people who are similar to you, but searching and USING hashtags helps you find people who will be into you. Yes, this is work, but if you put a little bit of time in each day, you will build a meaningful following.
Which hashtags should I use and how do I find them?
So now that you know that you can use hashtags in two different and really cool ways, you're probably wondering.. BUT WHICH ONES SHOULD I USE? Now, this question can be tough to answer directly because the answer will change for everyone because most hashtags do not work for everyone.
If you search Google about which hashtags to use, you'll get dozens of articles with canned responses to the "most popular" hashtags to use, but as small business owners of all niches, we know this: they don't work. Popularity does not equate to results. Never has, never will.
Instead, you need to do some research about which hashtags fit your niche or niches. Two easy ways to figure out what hashtags work for you are by searching keywords on Instagram itself - simply type in a keyword and scroll down to find potential hashtags to use. Another way is to look at other people similar to you and figure out what hashtags they are using.
Other hashtags you might consider using are a couple of general ones like #stationary, #watercolor or #wanderlust. I only recommend using a couple of these because you want the majority of your hashtag use to be more specific. You can also often find hashtags that are location-specific if you want to connect with people near you or if you are sharing photos of travel or adventure around your city. Check local media accounts (think magazines and newspapers) as well as local travel sites. This can also help you get featured by local media!
Other hashtags to use might be ones that could get you featured by an account that your followers engage with and love. #abmlifeiscolorful or #flashesofdelight are a couple that I love to use for my niche and I actually was featured by the A Beautiful Mess Instagram last year - sometimes these things pay off!
The more specific your hashtags are, the more likely you are to be found within them and the less likely you are to be followed by and liked by spam. Though let's be honest, spam is just inevitable on the app unfortunately and the more followers you get, the more they are attracted to you. I recommend blocking spam accounts as often as you can.
How do you know what a good hashtag is? Well, this can be a bit of trial and error, but also.. scroll through the hashtag when you find it. See the quality of the content. Do you feel like yours fits in or is better? Also, a hashtag that has 1 million tags is very popular is less likely to bring your account traffic. Aim for tags with less, but don't obsess. Below you'll learn that you can switch them up if they're not working for you.
Update: A friend in a Facebook group let me know about this AMAZING tool called Display Purposes - basically you type in a hashtag and it shows you a big grouping of other similar hashtags - perfect for specific niche hashtags!
How many hashtags do you need and where do you put them?
Instagram allows 30 hashtags per post. If you can, use them all every time and please don't use the excuse that there aren't 30 for your niche or that you think it looks bad to use so many. There are plenty for everyone (and if there aren't, start one!) and hashtags are a FREE TOOL that are given to you to improve your social media following and business - use it!
Don't just pad your hashtags with junk just to get to 30 though - using meaningful hashtags is more important than using 30.
There is so much advice out there about how many hashtags you should use and it can be so confusing! There is no real documentation about how many is the right amount, but what I do know is that hashtags are a big part of my own results and Instagram gives you 30. They wouldn't give us 30 if they believed that was too much.
I know 30 hashtags sounds like a lot and if you put them directly into your caption, it will also look like a lot. Instead, I recommend putting them in the first comment of your post. Simply type or copy them into a comment right after posting your caption. There is no longer any need to add any special characters or spacing because Instagram does the work of hiding that comment for you.
How do I keep track of 30 hashtags?
Thirty is a lot and ideally, you will amass a list of much more than 30 that work for you! But remembering them all is an unreasonable pain. In the Notes app on your phone, type out groups of 30 hashtags that could work for different types of photos. If you have a few groups of hashtags, you will be putting yourself in front of new audiences regularly. There are some that you will want to repeat over and over and that's totally okay!
You can also create a keyboard shortcut for your hashtags! In iPhone settings, go to General > Keyboard > Text Replacement and create a new text replacement, using your hashtags as the phrase and a word you'll remember (like hashtags) as your phrase. Next time you want to post your hashtags, just type your phrase and your phone will replace it with your hashtags. Be careful not to use a phrase or word that you type often in other places!
Now that I have the Plann app though, I use it to store my hashtags. It's super simple to create groups of hashtags and label them. Then you can just quickly copy the grouping with the click of a button and paste it into your comment. So handy!
Which platforms use hashtags?
Twitter and Instagram only. On Instagram, you can use up to 30 effectively. On Twitter, I only generally recommend them when you are interested in connecting with a thread of other tweets, such as if you are watching the #GoldenGlobes or if you are part of a Twitter Chat.
Hashtags are NOT meant for Facebook or Pinterest or your website and could actually hurt your chances of being seen on those platforms. Just don't do it. Hashtags do not affect your Google Analytics or your search results, so using them on your site is not necessary.
So there you have it! Your ultimate (and pretty easy, yeah?) guide to hashtags! They aren't so tough once you put in the work and find the right ones!