How to Build an Effective Instagram Hashtag Strategy: Part Two

If you followed Part One of this series, you should now have a comprehensive list of keywords and short phrases that describe your brand’s Who, What, Where, How and Why.

Now, let's take those keywords and use them to find the hashtags that will connect your brand to key audiences on Instagram. To do this, we’ll first uncover where to look for hashtags, then we’ll go over tips for selecting the best ones for your brand.

Where to Look for Great Hashtags

Most of the resources I use to find hashtags are native features in Instagram, while one is a third-party resource.

Instagram Search (best on mobile only)

Use Instagram’s search tool (represented by the magnifying glass icon in their app) to find hashtags that start with each of your keywords. Often, though not always, the search results may be organized by relevancy or by the number of posts associated with each tag. Paying attention to the number of posts for each tag allows you to select the most popular one first, though I don’t think that you should stop there (more on that later). Like my examples below, you may also see hashtags that you've previously used appear first in your search results.

Tap on one of the hashtags in the search results, and you’ll see two more tools to further aid you on your hashtag journey: Related and Top Posts.

Instagram’s Related feature (seen at the very top of the screen grab above) shows hashtags that are similar in theme to your chosen hashtag, but that may not include words identical to it. It’s a great resource for discovering hashtag options that may not have come to mind in your initial keyword brainstorm but that are just as relevant to you and your brand.

Then, shown prominently on the same page as the Related feature is Top Posts, which highlights the most liked and commented content associated with the hashtag that you've selected. You can also find Top Posts on the desktop version of each dedicated hashtag page, like here.

Top Posts are an excellent way to identify influencers in your industry, and see what other hashtags they may be using. It’s helpful to note that many influencers add their hashtags as the first comment in their posts. With an influencer who generates many comments on their posts, you may have to dig deep to find their hashtag choices.

Iconosquare (great for desktop use)

Iconosquare is an Instagram analytics service that offers both free and paid solutions. One free resource they offer is hashtag and user search, which mirrors Instagram’s search feature. Type your keywords in their search bar to see the hashtags and usernames that currently begin with it.

Iconosquare’s search tool is an especially great alternative if you’re unable to access Instagram’s search feature via their mobile app.

With these tools in tow, you’re on your way to finding brand-affirmative hashtags. But let’s not stop there. Optimize for thoughtful success with these five tips:

Go high and go low

According to their stats, Instagram is a community with over 400 million active users uploading over 80 million photos every day. The competition to grab and maintain the attention of your audience is high. While popular hashtags with millions of posts associated with it may seem like a sure way to reach large audiences fast, it’s easy for your posts to get quickly lost in the shuffle of other submissions.

Conversely, using hashtags that are used by very few people also limits your posts’ potential to be seen.

A thoughtful hashtag strategy covers each base: Find hashtags used by large, medium and small groups (as determined by the number of posts currently associated with it), and make sure your posts have a good selection for each. I find it helpful to define what “large,” “medium” and “small” is according to your brand needs. A small, local restaurant, for instance, may want to have a lower hashtag ceiling than a global, rapidly expanding clothing brand.

Think singular, plural and international

Singular and plural words, like “color" and "colors," lead to separate results on Instagram. Find opportunities to widen the reach of your posts by including these subtle variations in your existing list.

Be also mindful of international spelling variations, like "colour" and "colours," especially if your brand has global reach. With 75% of Instagram’s active users living outside the U.S., there’s great opportunity to connect with others across borders through this small but important step.

Set a hashtag minimum

While you should first aim for quality over quantity in your hashtag selections, it’s helpful to set a minimum hashtag amount for each post.

Setting a hashtag minimum increases opportunity for your posts to be consistently impactful. It also establishes a baseline that you can analyze and adjust over time.

Though Instagram currently has a maximum of 30 hashtags per post, select an amount that is manageable with your current schedule, and think thoughtfully about the unique hashtags that can apply to each of your posts.

Give your story space

Images and videos are undoubtedly king on Instagram, but I’m still a firm believer in the power of a great caption. A thoughtfully written, evocative caption can give your content the proper context it needs to foster deeper connections with your intended audiences. Though they are indeed important, your hashtags selections shouldn’t distract from this form of storytelling.

Like some influencers do, you can consider adding your hashtags as the first comment on your post. Others have devised tricks for adding paragraph breaks in their captions – a quick Google search may help uncover the latest hack. Unfortunately, there isn't a native ability to include paragraph breaks directly on Instagram just yet. 

And remember: Emojis are hashtag-able

Emojis are fast becoming the primary way that people express themselves on social media. They cross language barriers, there’s a huge selection of options to choose from and, best of all, they’re super-cute. All of these adorable characters are hashtag friendly on Instagram. Incorporate them into your hashtag strategy: Simply add the hash sign to any emoji relevant to your brand.

I hope these tips help you reach success on social media. If you're interested in exploring impactful, compelling and creative strategy building and storytelling through my paid services, please let me know. I'd love to chat with you.