Let's hashtag that hashtag!
Hashtags are everywhere! Let’s face it - People use hashtags for every day vernacular, to emphasize sarcasm in personal posts and on just about every social media platform everywhere!
When I first started doing social media marketing, there wasn’t such a great emphasis on using hashtags unless you were posting to Twitter and Instagram. But over the years, it’s become commonplace to use them for just about anything.
Some social media platforms have even evolved to allow hashtags to perform much like SEO for a website or blog. They can seem like a simple and no-brainer thing to do when you want to be found online. But, do you use them appropriately and in a way that actually works for your business?
How to Use Them
One way to ensure you are using hashtags to their fullest potential is by making a list of a few things you’ll want to include in your hashtags. To begin, think of your industry.
The first type of hashtag you’ll want to look for is industry related hashtags. For example, if you are a food business that specializes in tacos, you’ll want to create a running list of every single hashtag that is appropriately associated with tacos. You can even break it down further by looking up relevant hashtags for ingredients in your tacos such as: #cheeselover #salsaqueen #hotsauceboss #avocadosforlife - you get the point.
The second type of hashtag you’ll want to look for are relevant hashtags to your location. For example, I live in Lakeland, Florida. When I post to Instagram, I always include hashtags related to my city and area. I also include some out-of-the-box hashtags that I know my ideal client follows such as #lovelakeland #lkldlove #lkldhavenbusiness. More on how to find what hashtags my ideal client is following down below!
The third type of hashtag you should include in your post is relative context within the content. Whenever I make a post that includes social media tips, I want to make sure that I include hashtags such as #socialmediamarketingtip #socialmediaconsultant #socialmediamarketer #socialmediastrategist. Even though my photo may be of a plate of tacos, if my copy includes a social media tip, I need to make sure that my hashtags apply to what I’m saying.
There are several other hashtag categories that could work for you and your business. These include community hashtags such as #bloggerlife or #lakelandblogger, the type of content such as #quote or #sunsetphotograph and brands in the content such as #targetstyle.
A good variety of hashtags should be used. It used to be that to beat the Instagram algorithm, you should use 30 hashtags. Now, in June 2022, it's looking like anywhere between 8-12 hashtags are becoming more of the sweet spot.
How to Tell If a Hashtag Has Been Banned and How to Not Get Shadowbanned
Shadowbans are a relatively newish term for social media. What it means is that if you use a hashtag that has been reported to Instagram as tied to inappropriate content and you continue to use that hashtag or other banned hashtags, your content will not appear in the newsfeed to your audience. When your content isn’t being shown on the newsfeed, you’ve been shadowbanned.
Sounds terrible, right? Instagram “claims” they don’t actually do this, but there have been several tests done and have proved that they do in fact do this.
So how can you tell if a hashtag has been banned? The best way is to search for the hashtags you plan on using in the Instagram search bar. Once you find a hashtag, click on it from a drop down list. Such as #tacotuesday.
Then check to see if there are both Top Posts and Most Recent Posts shown.
If those two parts are not present, then you know the hashtag has been reported as containing inappropriate content. You will also want to make sure you can click on the button to follow that hashtag. Again, if that button is not present, that is a key indicator that the hashtag has been banned. It may be pretty time consuming to check for every single post, so a good rule of thumb is to check out your most used hashtags every so often and double check any hashtags that are new to you.
During Valentine’s Day, Instagram banned the hashtag #valentinesday. Since most businesses would be running social media posts for a limited time around the holiday, it was not a hashtag that would be used again and again year round. Because it wouldn’t normally be on their radar as a commonly used hashtag, many businesses didn’t check to see if it had been banned; costing them the opportunity to actually show up in front of their target audience.
What’s A Good Sweet Spot?
Hashtags that are crazy popular have been used millions of times. Often when smaller brands (those who don’t have millions or hundreds of thousands of followers) use those larger hashtags (i.e. the above photo of #TacoTuesday that showed it was used 4,457,685 times) they rarely get seen in the most recent and hardly ever get seen as a top post for that hashtag.
It’s a common mistake that many brands make when putting together their hashtag list for their content.
Another common mistake is when brands use hashtags that have only been used under 500 times. Those are hashtags that very rarely get searched for and probably won’t be on your target audience’s radar.
So what is a good sweet spot?
If you are a brand that has less than 10,000 followers, your hashtag sweet spot is going to be around the 300,000 and under range. What I mean by that is each hashtag should not be used more than around 299,999 times.
A great way to give yourself a good mix of hashtags is to ensure you use small, medium, and large hashtags. For example:
Small hashtags are hashtags that have been used under 15,000 times. Medium hashtags are hashtags that have been used between 15,000 - 500,000 times. Large hashtags are hashtags that have been used over 500,000 times.
Seems like a lot of work, I know - but trust me when I say this actually works if you do your research.
One easy way to keep track of all these rules and tips is to create a running list. For instance:
I try to use a variety of location-based hashtags that have a good representation of small, medium, and large hashtags. This ensures that I’m using hashtags effectively and keeps me coming back to my list to switch things up.
How to Treat Hashtags Like SEO
Hashtags are keywords that people search for just as they would on Google. When you’re interested in finding inspiration before baking a birthday cake for your mother, you may turn to Instagram and search for something like #birthdaycakeideas.
Treating hashtags in this manner can help shape your content copy, help you build on larger pieces of content such as blogs and videos for YouTube, and can help you tap into reaching your target audience and ideal client much quicker and easier.
Just be sure that what hashtag you think could work, actually helps. Making up hashtags from thin air that have never been used before or have had less than 500 uses could hurt more than help. In those cases, not only will your target audience not be looking for that phrase or word combination, but you’re also now wasting one of your available hashtag spots. Be intentional with your hashtag usage.
Speaking of making sure you get in front of your target audience…
How to Find Hashtags Your Ideal Client Wants
When you are searching for your ideal client on social media, where do you start? A great place to start is to look at what hashtags your target audience follows. To do that, head to the list of people/accounts that follow you. Look at those who fit your ideal client (through your buyer persona) and click on them.
Once you have clicked on their profile, head to “Following” and look for hashtags.
By default, Instagram opens this window on People, but you can click on the word Hashtags; if they are following any. From there you will see a running list of all the hashtags they follow. See if any apply to your business, industry, location, content type, etc., and research how many times those hashtags have been used and add them to your Small, Medium, and Large list.
When you’re able to use those hashtags that your followers follow, you get a better chance of being seen by your ideal client.
These hashtags are also a great place to spark engagement and look for new clients and customers. Hopping onto those hashtags, seeing what top accounts have posted with those hashtags, commenting authentically, and adding value to the conversation puts you on track to be seen and gain more followers.
Don't Skimp On The Work
One seemingly small part of marketing your business is actually quite huge. While it can be time-consuming to make sure you are following all the rules, utilizing hashtags to their fullest potential, ensuring you aren’t using hashtags that have been banned, and making sure you aren’t pulling hashtags out of thin air, it is considered a big difference in your reach and putting your content in front of as many ideal client eyeballs as possible.
Sure, there are hashtag generators out there that can assist you in creating applicable hashtags. However, many of those generators use extremely large and popular hashtags (i.e., millions of uses) and have not been checked to see if they have been banned.
While doing everything manually can be cumbersome, once you get in the groove and keep a running list of your most commonly used hashtags, you’ll be posting them like a pro in no time. One really great way to keep track of it all is by keeping a running hashtag list on your phone in Notes so you can copy and paste it when applicable. And if you feel yourself getting stuck or want an extra hand, you can always count on your fellow taco lover - me!
Have a hashtag or marketing question? Drop me a message! firstname.lastname@example.org