What is a #Hashtag, do they #work?

Increase your Instagram engagement by 12.6% by using them?

From time-to-time business leaders ask me: 'What is a hashtag, why do I need them and do they really work?'. Hashtags have been around for so long now, that many of us take them for granted. This article explores the value of using a hashtag and some of the best ways to using them.  

I am often told that I 'overthink' when it comes to hand-picking hashtags, but I still believe that if a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing right! So why do people even bother at all to use a hashtag on platforms such as Instagram? The reason, experts say, is that there is a 12.6% increase in engagement when using appropriate hashtags in social posts compared to those with none (source: Brandwatch). 

In our Blog we will share a simple guide to researching and using hashtags effectively, #enjoy

What is a #hashtag?

Hashtags as signposts Secret SourceThink of it as a signpost. People want to know all about their favourite celebrity or brand, and they do so by 'following' them on Instagram or liking them on Facebook. However, when it comes to social platforms, like Instagram, then you can also follow 'topics'. If you are interested in a hobby or topic, most Instagram users might not know, from the millions of accounts, which ones will be useful or engaging, so they follow the actual hashtag instead. So the hashtag you attach to your post will appear in their hashtag feed and be viewed by interested parties that might in turn decide to follow you directly? Believe it or not, people like to follow signposts, so why not view them in that way? Hashtags are also a nice way for social media users to organise their interests and check in with what is going on in their hobby, sport, music etc. 

For your business, it will enable you to be found by interested people for the specialities you are known for (or want to be known for). Your 'already interested' audience are waiting for you, so why would you not use a hashtag to show you exist and demonstrate that you are invested in their market/area/topic/cause? It can get your business in front of a much larger crowd and gain more direct followers, if your post is deemed interesting enough of course! 

#Hashtag Strategy 

1. Have a plan!

Don't be too opportunistic and post about everything and anything. If you are selling a product, service or building a brand, then note down your; core messaging, challenges and pain points of your audience, how your business helps, your personality, skills etc. In other words put some effort and thought into your hashtags upfront, and you'll find it will make your life easier later down the line, by trying to think of hashtags to use every time or being random!  

instagram Secret source marketing Carry out some research first. Rather than just adding the # symbol in front of every random word you can think of, invest some time to see which ones are best. If you need inspiration then why not check out these free sites. 

There are plenty more free tools to choose from, so find the one that suits you best. Another simple, free trick is that you can even use the web search engines like Google and Bing, simply type in your keywords and see what auto-populates?

2. Don't go #mad! 

When is it too much? You can have as many as 30 hashtags on Instagram, but it might start to look a bit needy, so don't go overboard. Research shows that the optimal number of hashtags per post is around 11, so make them count. 

If you don't want to clutter your beautiful prose with your description underneath your image, then you can simply follow up your own post with a comment containing the hashtags. Thus, separating the message from the list of hashtags. It keeps it neat and tidy. 

3. Time 

Hashtags can get fiddly, people spend time typing them out, which gets laborious! Instead, save time and type out your hashtags and save them on your 'Notes App' on your phone, if you are posting via a mobile phone or handheld device. Most smartphones will have a place you can save text. This way you can grab your stable, commonly used hashtags and add them quickly, stopping only to add a few bespoke ones tailored to your specific post. If you are using your laptop/desktop then having your hashtags in a Word or Excel document will also help. 

4. Following the #herd

When it comes to your hashtag strategy, then don't always be tempted to just go with the most popular. Whilst the most popular hashtags might give you the best audience presence, note that this might not be your dedicated future audience, and you may get lost in the mass mob. So don't ignore hashtags with fewer followers or posts, because remember, every #Hashtag started somewhere with no followers once upon a time. This way you can dominate a particular Hashtag. It will take time and effort,  but after time it might pay off. 'Insta' experts comment that the more niche the topic, then more conversations are happening. 

5. Get #Competitive 

Competition is healthy, so follow your marketplace. Don't try to emulate your competition, but rather differentiate. Try to see who is following your market/competitors, and who they are in turn following! You might not want to follow all of them, but it gives you an idea...

6. Join it up!

We see thousands of posts on Instagram each day that miss this next trick. If you have written content elsewhere, like on your website blog or another platform, then why not use Instagram to signpost people to it? While you can't use external links to make it easy for followers, you can still tell them where to find it or just draw attention to it! 

7. Prepare

Instagram Hashtag-1Plan ahead. Consider industry or national events that you know are coming up and plan for them in advance. These events might be annual industry activities, anniversaries, national holidays, even personal achievements, Whatever your sector, make sure to map out what key dates or moments are in your calendar. This will help you structure the timing of your other content.  

8. I am not a robot

Watch out for 'bots'! There are millions of fake accounts out there, and you will end up with some of them following you. They are fairly harmless, albeit it does skew any measurement of perceived success in your campaigns and may put off potential followers if they see there are just a ton of bots following you. Instagram's users may do a bit of spring-cleaning from time to time, block unwanted users and report any unsavoury activity. 

9. Proof of life

Keep your feed/account active. While you may want to avoid overloading your feed with inane rubbish, you do want to use your feed as a 'proof of life' as we call it at Secret Source i.e. if we want to see if a company has a pulse, we will often review their social feeds; are they active, if so how often? What is the quality of their content, are they helping/engaging with their audience responsibly and investing in their hashtag communities. 

10. Build domain equity

Own a hashtag. Just because it doesn't exist doesn't mean you cannot own it? While you'll be doing well to find a word, phrase or jumble of letters that 'hasn't' been used yet, you can come up with your own #'s for campaigns? Don't believe me, then #icebucketchallenge would have had zero followers once upon a time, to being an overnight success!

11. Think outside the box!

Don't forget the variations of the keywords you want to use, #UKbusiness (334k posts) vs #businessuk (29.4k posts). I also hate to draw attention to it, but the misspelling of words may also be considered? Do you drive a #mustang or a #mastang Both exist believe it or not! Feel free to check out the misspelled words as there are millions of examples of this, so just be aware.

12. Protecting your brand

Defensive hashtagging. Make sure you use your own company or brands as one of the hashtags, this is not essential every time, but if people do decide to follow #yourcompany and find lots of random posts or something completely different, then they could get the wrong idea.

13. It's a community at the end of the day

Don't just post your content, but invest time on liking and commenting on other peoples posts too. People love a mention or a positive comment, thumbs up or smiley face! If you want to have your business be the face of your market, then truly get involved. For target accounts you can even message other accounts. 

14. Free Cake! 

People love to #winstuff, so think about running a few competitions or giveaways. We do advise, always worth checking out with competition rules and regs in your jurisdiction, but that aside, it is worth making it part of your hashtag strategy #competition

To Summarise

Instagram Secret SourceIn this post we've discussed what is a hashtag, why use one than not (+12% engagement) and the use of hashtags, with some handy tricks to consider and use. We have not gone into detail however; 

  • How to construct a content plan for your blog and social platforms
  • Different tricks and tips in your setting or your profile
  • Different platforms to help you post, measure and manage your Instagram and other social platforms. 

So, if you want to find out more, then follow us, subscribe, so you don't miss out on future helpful ideas, hints and tips that we are happy to share. 

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Written by Nick Carlson