How to Build an Effective Instagram Hashtag Strategy: Part One

When working with a client on their Instagram strategy, I always recommend coupling strong storytelling with a thoughtful, curated and intentional selection of hashtags.

Using hashtags on Instagram can help you connect with targeted audiences, and discover influencers and inspiration. It can also help to strengthen your brand influence within your industries of focus. All of these effects can lead to lasting success on social media for your brand.

In conversation with my clients, I aim to demystify hashtags, as they can seem very convoluted at first glance. Written below is a first step to consider when building a unique hashtag strategy. If you're interested in discussing how I can personally help you achieve social media success through hashtags, campaign building and more, contact me; I'd love to chat with you.

Key Tip: Remember Your Brand’s “Who, What, Where, Why and How.”

You may have learned about these five questions in elementary school. Dust off the memory, because the lesson comes in handy when crafting a hashtag plan for your brand.

Before we delve into writing specific hashtags, I first want you to create a comprehensive list of brand keywords and short phrases, framed by the five elementary school prompts. Identifying the specific keywords for your brand will help you select hashtags with focused, goals-aligned intentions. Aim to write two to five keywords per prompt:

1. Who are you?

Or, in other words, describe your brand. For instance, if you are in the creative arts, you may use words like “photographer, “singer-songwriter,” “musician” or “painter.” And a food service brand may use words like “fine dining,” “casual cuisine,” “cafe” or “restaurant.”

Get granular, and pinpoint the specialties you have in your field. A photographer, for example, may specialize in portraits, still life or documentary-style photography.

2. What do you want to share on social media? 

For instance, if you’re a singer, you may write “original music,” “performance dates” and “photos of a recording session." And if you’re a barber, you may write “client examples,” “glimpses of the shop vibe” and “styling techniques.”

3. Where are you?

For local businesses, this is especially important. Incorporating location-specific hashtags in your strategy (along with using Instagram’s location tag feature) will help connect you with potential patrons in the neighborhood.

For a clothing store in the Bronx, for instance, I would recommend getting close, by adding “New York,” “Bronx,” then “North Bronx” or “South Bronx” to their list of keywords, depending on their specific location.

4. Why will people enjoy what you sell or the services you provide?

This question is especially important for effective storytelling in social media, as it not only helps build a hashtag strategy, but it also helps create unique identifiers that carve out spaces for you and your brand.

A baker in SoHo, for instance, may pride itself on offering colorful treats made from organic ingredients. Keywords like “colorful,” “sweet” and “organic” are unique identifiers that would be both effective storytelling components and key elements in the brand’s hashtag strategy.

5. How do you want to present your story?

Instagram is a visual-first platform, which means that visual presentation is essential to an effective hashtag and storytelling strategy. A brilliant wardrobe stylist, for instance, may find it difficult for others to connect with their work if they consistently share examples that are in low light or are always closely cropped. Identifying visual techniques to apply when sharing your work can keeping your audience engaged, and lead you to hashtag communities specifically built around those techniques.

For example, perhaps you're a jewelry maker who likes to display their work neatly on a work table. You may want to consider writing down the keywords “flat lay” or “neatly organized” as techniques you apply when presenting your brand. Or maybe you’re a photographer who loves incorporating shadows in your work. If so, then “shadows” “half light” or even “chiaroscuro” may be good keywords for you.

Now, after answering the questions above, you should have a list of at least 10 keywords that connect to your brand. Here are my lists:

You may want to add more or take some out as your journey progresses – feel free to do so. Next, we’ll take our list and begin identifying hashtags that align with them, with help from tools like Instagram’s Search & Explore feature and Iconosquare. Stay tuned for Tip #2 by following me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook