The Ultimate Guide to Hashtags

Jenna Kutcher 

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November 2, 2018


Let’s talk about hashtags (or what my mom likes to call: pound signs!) We all know by now that the name of the game on Instagram these days is engagement so let’s beef up one strategy that can help your posts be seen and engaged with: hashtags. The truth is, if you’re blindly using them right now, using the same list of 30 for every single post, or playing a guessing game each time you’re likely not getting that boost of engagement necessary to show up in the feeds of your dream clients and attract new people to your account. So what do you say we crack the code on how to use hashtags for your business?

Hashtags help cut through all the social media noise

So what is this # and how do you use it (and get results from it?) Hashtags allow you to categorize and label your images so that they show up in searches enabling you to connect with other content (and people) within a category. When someone searches a hashtag, it has its own feed or gallery of sorts and you can scroll through all of the images that the hashtag is used. Think of Instagram as a giant filing cabinet and a hashtag is a file folder, when you tag it using the pound symbol, you’re filing that post into that category so not only you show up in that category, but so that others can seek you out and find you there.

There are a lot of conversations, posts, feeds and just plain noise on social media these days. In my opinion, one of the most valuable ways we can use hashtags for our businesses is to help cut out the noise and join in conversations that matter to us, our business, and to connect us to the right people. Identifying the the right hashtags that will align your brand and content with the exact right audience looking for it is our goal and objective with using hashtags.

Using Hashtags Intentionally

It’s important to be selective in the hashtags that you use and make sure that they not only resonate with your ideal client but that your ideal client would be using that tag to find content like yours. Who is it you’re trying to reach and what terms, phrases, or locations would they be searching for?

One easy way to start thinking of this is using location specific hashtags to connect with others near you. You can do this by using local hashtags to reach people in your community or industry-specific hashtags that will connect you with like-minded creatives and entrepreneurs. Just remember that it’s more important to attract your actual clients than peers in the industry (because last time we checked, popular doesn’t pay the bills!)

Now that you know hashtags are important, it’s also important to note that the way you use them also plays a role in the game of engagement. Hashtags can be a huge turnoff if you are spamming each post with a bunch of hashtags that have absolutely nothing to do with what it is you are talking about or if you’re clearly trying to hop on trending hashtags that don’t relate to your content — which is also silly, because it’s not connecting you with the right people anyways!

In the past, we were taught to make a list of 30 hashtags and use it in every post but let’s be honest, Mark Zuckerberg is smarter than us and now the algorithm will punish you for using hashtags that aren’t relevant to the content you’re posting! This makes it super important that we’re being really intentional about each hashtag we use and not simply copying and pasting the same 30 hashtags each time but using tags that are truly relevant to the content we are sharing.

Where to begin: Do your research

Brainstorm ideas and topics that apply to your business and enter those ideas as a hashtag into Instagram. What is your business about? Where is your business serving clients? What does your brand signify? List these ideas and topics that apply to your business and enter those ideas as a hashtag into the search field within Instagram. Instagram will then give you 5 related tags which will start to generate new additional hashtag ideas for you!

How else can you research hashtags? Look at competitors or other artists and see what hashtags they are using. Scroll through their list and pull a few that might work for you and test them out. Seek out peers in your industry both located near you geographically and nationally and see what hashtags they are using. Click on ones that make you want to take action and see if that tag holds contents that would be on brand with you.

It’s important to dive a little deeper than just copy and pasting a generic list for every single post, but when you research, you can compile lists and organize different groups of hashtags based on the content that you are looking at. Research can pay off big time if you’re looking at individuals that are in a similar industry and sharing work that is similar to your brand message and imagery.

Make sure to pay attention to the number of people who have used the hashtags and prioritize them by popularity to reach the RIGHT people, not just the most. Remember, you have a better chance of standing out if you use a specific hashtag with less posts that’s more pertinent to your actually dream audience than placing your content on a hashtag that is being inundated with new content every minute where your post will get easily lost.

Another place to look for hashtags to use is to check the profiles of those that are already engaging with your content. More specifically, the type of person you want to work more with. Check out what hashtags they are using and grab some that might make sense for your list and connect you to others like them!  If they are using and engaging with the hashtags, you want your content to show up there.

Tools to help with your research: hashtagify.me, ritetag.com and Display Purposes.

How I Hashtag My Posts To Yield Results

For the last seven years, I’ve been a wedding photographer and a lot of my clients found me directly through Instagram! When I was figuring out my hashtag strategy I asked myself the questions above and then developed a strategy that would get my posts in front of both a broad audience as well as a local audience to get not only eyes on my content but also to boost the possibility of booking actual clients from getting my posts seen!

Broad hashtags I used: #wedding, #theknot, #stylemepretty, #greenweddingshoes… 

These tags were to places where my work had the possibility of getting featured and where I knew a lot of brides from all over the world were clicking on or searching to find inspiration for their wedding day. While my work had a chance to get buried, it also had a chance to stand out and so I would use those broader categories to reach a broader audience.

Narrow hashtags I used: #wisconsinbride, #wisconsinwedding, #milwaukeewedding, #(venue)wedding, #(venue), #(vendors)… 

These tags were much more specific to my market! I would use tags specific to the venue, the wedding vendors who were apart of the wedding, and dial in to reach people in my area that may be seeking a local wedding photographer. These tags would change with each post based on the location of the wedding, the subject of the image, and the vendors who played a role in the creation of that photo. These tags likely moved the profit needle more because they connected me with people who might actually become my clients!

Don’t be afraid to mix it up!

A strategy I use is to use a mix of both popular hashtags that a lot of people are browsing to get my content in front of a larger audience and more targeted less popular ones that will more likely ensure that my content is going to be placed in the “top” section of that hashtag and viewed by all of the people searching for it.

Pay attention to the number of people who have used the hashtags and prioritize them by popularity or how targeted they are to cast your net wide among both popular hashtags and smaller, more targeted ones. The beauty about being able to use up to 30 in a post means you don’t have to pick one or the other, you can show up in all the places and see which yields the greater results for your efforts! 

Using a variety of hashtags is key to stay relevant and effective in your hashtag strategy. You’ll want to be consistent and use those branded hashtags and ones that are core to your mission (old), but also mix in new trending topics and conversations happening today (new). It’s important to keep continuity with your branding while staying fresh and assessing your hashtag strategy on a regular basis to maintain the interest of your followers as well as attract new ones.

Before you post another hashtag, ask these 3 questions first

So now that you’ve got an idea of what hashtags to use in your business, how do you know which ones to use and when? Before you post, ask yourself these three things:

1.) What is the main goal/objective of this post? (Ex: Do I want blogs to see it to get it featured? Do I want potential clients to find me and see it? Am I contributing to a broader conversation about a trending topic?)

2.) What categories does this image fall under? (Ex: Is it in a specific geographic area? Does it feature any brands or companies? What would people type in to find it?)

3.) Do I have time to be intentional with hashtags? (Ex: Am I willing to seek out and type in specific hashtags for this post or should I fall back on a past list for speed/efficiency!)

Hashtags can be a great way to attract your ideal clients, connect you to other creatives, and an intentional way to brand your business. Use them thoughtfully, sparingly and do your research for the best results. So tell me, what hashtags are you using currently in your business?

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A small town Minnesota photographer, podcaster, educator and puppy rescuer, my happiest days are spent behind my computer screen sharing my secrets with the world. I'm glad you're here.

I’m an expert at online marketing, a nerd when it comes to the numbers, and my obsession is teaching others how to make a living doing what they love (without it taking over their life). 

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