A 2014 study found Instagram posts with “at least one hashtag have an average of 12.6% more engagement” than those with none. Hashtags are so ubiquitous, we see them everywhere from Facebook and Twitter to cartoons and graffiti. In today’s competitive landscape, leveraging the power of the Instagram hashtag means following these seven rules to grow your audience and drive conversions.

1. Hope is NOT a Strategy

No one ever plans to fail. But if you aren’t seeing audience growth it’s because you’ve failed to devise a long-term strategy based on solid research. And that includes researching the right hashtags to get your posts in front of the right audience. To do that, you need to know what your audience wants. To succeed, target the narrowest choices to kill your niche.

2. Black Holes  

Using Instagram hashtags with millions of posts is seductive. So many eyes on your clever post. But if you go over to the dark side, don’t expect anyone to see your post. Millions of posts means yours might be visible for a few seconds before being lost in an endless black hole of similar posts. Get smart and use hashtags with 5,000-500,000 posts if you expect to be seen. The narrower the hashtag, the more active the users, and that’s the audience you want.

3. It’s Not About You

Hashtags categorize content, making it easy for people to find what interests them. Savvy businesses use carefully chosen hashtags to grow their audience by getting their posts in front of people who aren’t following the brand but share the same interests. Your hashtag choices should reflect their interests, not yours. That means you need to know what’s considered relevant content for each hashtag you use. Just because it sounds right doesn’t mean it’s appropriate!

4. It IS About You

Branded hashtags are also a must. Whether you’re creating a unique campaign hashtag, riffing on the company name or promoting your tagline, branded hashtags make it easy for people to give you a shoutout. Help your loyalists become effective brand ambassadors by giving them a reason to promote your company by including your hashtag in their posts. When they do, it’s only polite to say thank you!

5. SEO Power

Instagram hashtags can be SEO gold. Google indexes them just like your on-page content. And just like keywords, the more specific your hashtag, the more likely it is to drive conversions. So think in terms of your consumer. What are they looking for? It’s all about them!

6. Fewer = Better

Zealots who use 30 hashtags per post may believe more is more, but they’re wrong. Studies show images with 11 hashtags get higher engagement than those with more. Limit yourself to using only the most relevant hashtags for each post instead of recycling the same group every single time you post. Remember: Shadowbanning is the platform’s way of targeting spammy or inappropriate behavior. Using the same hashtags every day can get you lumped into those Instagram believes are spam or displaying inappropriate behavior.

7. Metrics Matter

Savvy brands treasure the power of analytics. They measure what matters, and what matters is clearly spelled out in their strategy. And that includes hashtag performance. Which posts and hashtags made it to feature post status? Did you see a spike in comments, views or followers after using a specific one? Part of the job is tracking hashtag performance, and that will help you rotate the best to avoid repetitive behavior that can get you penalized.

Bonus: Start Something

Don’t be afraid to create a powerful new hashtag for your followers to use to help you find their posts about your product. Make it a thing. Comment on their post and ask if you can regramm it. You’ll get points for being a part of the conversation and being an engaged brand rather than just a one-way marketer.

Being successful on Instagram with hashtags means devoting time to the process. If you’re not sure how to set up a winning strategy, or if you simply don’t have the time, talk to Harris at EVG about how we can help you transform your Instagram account from blah to wow!

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