I get asked a lot of business questions, and the one that pops up the most is how I have so many followers on Instagram. I will be honest - this is the part of my business that I’m least humble about. I am proud of that K, and I danced when the “swipe up” feature got added, but what I’m most proud of is that those followers are the right followers for my business. This is the key to the entire social media game - not growing the number, but growing the number in the right way. So today, we’ll talk about how you can use #hashtags to do just that! If you prefer video format, check out our YouTube video on this same topic - the information is a little different.
First, a Personal Story…
My amazing boyfriend is invested in my follower count too - he sent me a text one day back in 2016 saying he was pumped I’d reached 1,234 followers! What a cool number! I will always thank him for sending that text, because it provided the benchmark I needed for the whirlwind of a week that would follow. One of my posts went “viral” and I ended the week with over 4,000 followers (yep, that’s more than triple). This isn’t to brag, and this hasn’t happened in similar magnitude in over 2 years, but it’s just to show you the true power of a well-placed hashtag.
Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em
This applies to all the best things in life - hashtags are not an exception. Instagram allows 30 hashtags per post, and I see no reason not to use them! I personally use somewhere between 20 and 30 on EVERY POST. I have heard that using 30 every time can penalize you in the new algorithm, so I stay around 25ish.
Use 3-5 Hashtags That Matter
I recommend having 3-5 that remain fairly consistent on every post. These are your basics - for me, #dailydoseofpaper and #calligraphy or #weddinginvitations, depending on the post. A florist may use #weddingflorist on every post, or something more specific like #ncflorist. This is a place where you want your work showing up a lot and you want to stand out - the most basic place people are coming to find you.
Vary the Rest
Besides those 3-5, you should vary the rest to get as many new eyes on your page as possible. I rotate some, from #weddinginvites to #NCwedding and a bunch of others, depending on the photo. I like to use tags that are so similar the same person won’t type them both - a potential client may search #NCphotographer AND #GreensboroPhotographer for instance, but I doubt the same person would search #GreensboroPhotographer and #GreensboroPhotography. They’re so similar that people will think about it in one way or the other. (not both). An example for stationery is that I like to use #weddinginvite AND #weddinginvites - a client will likely only type one of these in, so I open myself up to a broader range of eyes on my post.
It’s hard to come up with good search terms - there are literally jobs dedicated to this. Try to look at your photo from different angles and find new things that your ideal client may search. I think of what settings my products will fit into well - #goldwedding, #modernwedding, #uniquewedding, for instance. Materials help too, or thinking very literally about what is in the photo - #handmadepaper, #velluminvitations, #marbletiles, to name a few.
I also try to tailor posts to what’s going on in the world - more people will be looking at the #americanflag tag on July 4th, so maybe post something about the holiday to gain more traction. My viral Valentine’s Day post was a great example of this working out excellently! However, people aren’t as likely to pay attention to posts that are completely unrelated to the hashtag they searched, so try to keep it at least mildly relevant.
Use the Data Instagram Insights Provides
If you are using Instagram for business, you need a business account. Period. The benefit of this is that there is a ton of data provided in the Insights section, and it’s growing with every update! In the past, you could only look at a few factors, but now you can sort your photos by which ones got you the most email clicks or followers. Pay attention to what tags you used in the top photos - these are likely getting you the right type of attention!
Where do They Go?
I’ll keep this simple. In the caption. Sorry if you hate it - it’s the way Instagram works now, and you’ll have significantly better results this way. However, I recommend NOT using them in your sentence structure - don’t caption like this: “Beautiful #peonies for a #summerwedding at #summerfieldfarms this weekend.” Just don’t do this, it’s hard to read, and frankly, people hate it. Put your tags after your caption so it doesn’t clutter up what you’re trying to say - creating the right Instagram captions is an art in and of itself!
Remember Who You’re Targeting
When hashtagging, you’ll want to focus on your ideal client and how to get that person to your page - everyone else, you don’t care about. Okay fine, I want my mom to enjoy my posts too! But seriously, if you are using Instagram to grow your business, then you should have a clear idea of who you want target. Using hashtags that only other people in your same industry check (#risingtidesociety, #ig_masterpieces, etc.) may not be the best use of your limited tags. There is absolutely value in networking with people in your industry, so I’m not saying it’s terrible to include these other folks. I offer coaching and resources for other business owners, so I purposely use some of those tags to attract that audience, but don’t waste tags that could be better used to target potential clients.
If you know people who are your “ideal client” then ask them what tags they look at - see what photos they’ve liked on IG and check out the tags that may have attracted them there. Real life case studies will definitely give you some new ideas! Keep in mind that clients may not know industry lingo. I’m mildly ashamed to admit that I do sometimes use the #stationary tag, even though it’s spelled wrong - I cringe, but the truth is, my target audience *often* doesn’t spell stationEry correctly (I never did until I started in the industry!), and I want to meet them where they are, not where I am or other stationery designers might be.
Don’t Focus on the Numbers
Most importantly, don’t focus too much on numbers. This is hard. For me, and for everyone. However, you can have 3 million followers, get tons of likes on your photos, and sell absolutely nothing. And while Influencer Marketing is absolutely a thing, that’s not who I’m targeting with this information. As a creative business owner, you want people to actually put their money where their double taps are, and this may mean not having the largest number at the top of your profile. A successful following is one that engages, clicks, and most importantly, purchases. So instead of going after those bots or 13-year-olds who love your #ootd, use tags that are actually going to bring your ideal client to your profile with interest in your services.
Quality Content Matters, Too
Okay, okay, so it’s not all about the hashtags. We obviously are all drawn to pretty photos as well, so I wouldn’t ignore the look of your feed, or having quality photos. But if you are already focusing so much time and energy into getting the best photos, then you are simply wasting their potential by not maximizing your hashtags! Think of the tags as an extra little boost that gets your pictures farther out into the world with very little work.
Are you already hashtagging effectively? If not, try out a few of our tips for a couple weeks (give it 2 weeks before you start noticing consistent results) and let us know how it went! We are happy to answer any questions you have in the comments below! Beating the Instagram Algorithm is a science (and a little bit of a game!) but with consistency and dedication, you can use Instagram to get your business information in ALL the right hands!