It’s now the middle of 2018 and social media officially has a new king. A myriad of factors has brought on the decline of Facebook, from scandal after scandal to the uncoolness factor of having all of your great aunts and uncles on the platform. Twitter still floats around for the power users who have already built up audiences. Snapchat is stuck in its super young audience after Instagram launched stories and Snapchat recreated its interface.
Right now, the horse that’s winning the race by leaps and bounds is Instagram. Brands are heavily investing in content and growth. New ad formats are opening the flood gates to media budgets around the world. You can’t go to a trendy restaurant or bar anywhere anymore without seeing at least a few people taking 20 to 30 pictures of themselves in order to create the perfect post.
Now that everyone is getting in on that action, how do you emerge? How can you find your place and rise with the tide?
The answer is two-fold. Money and hashtags. Money is great but that’s an entirely different strategy that is not available to all. Hashtags are.
Why use hashtags?
Hashtags centralize content and make that content available to people who don’t already follow your account. This is ever-more important now that people can follow hashtags. When people follow a hashtag, they see the content posted under that hashtag in their feeds, regardless of who posts that content. For you, it’s one of the best ways to gain new followers and maximize the reach of your posts.
The Instagram Hashtag Strategy
Hashtags can be broadly divided into two over-arching categories: branded and recuitment. Branded hashtags are ones that are directly related to your brand, company, or product. Recruitment hashtags are broader hashtags that are designed to amplify your message and capitalize on existing conversations in Instagram. We’ll dive into both of them.
Branded hashtags are the most narrow in terms of focus, meaning that in many cases it will only be you, a few influencers you work with, as well as a couple of your consumers that will use the hashtags. Branded hashtags come in different levels. You can have company-specific hashtags, product-specific, and campaign-specific hashtags.
Here is an example using Adidas and a campaign to personalize their iconic Stan Smith shoes. A post that has these shoes in them could use all three of the hashtags I mentioned above:
- Branded: #adidas
- Product: #stansmith
- Campaign: #designyourstans
Considering that Adidas makes more than just shoes, you could add a category hashtag like #adidassneakers.
The key here is to be consistent. As more and more people follow your branded hashtags, you don’t want to come up with new ones every time. You want to build up the audience around that hashtag like you build up the audience that follows your account.
You could say that the branded hashtags are a given, and in some cases this is true. The name of your company already exists, for example. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your branded hashtags. You could create a conversation around the brand in new ways, calling out the benefit of your product in a fun way and really owning the hashtag. In the best case it’s general enough that it can catch on outside of your core audience. In the worst case it’s an extra bit of storytelling in your digital arsenal.
Recruitment is where the real work of hashtag analysis begins. Hashtags are not created equally. Just like accounts, some hashtags are so common that it is essentially pointless to use them because you will never appear in the Top Posts section when someone clicks on a hashtag:
Plus, there is so much content being created on those hashtags that even if someone is following that hashtag, the chances that your post will make it into anyone’s feed is slim.
There is a sweetspot for hashtags when they are active enough that people are there but not too active where there is no chance of emerging.
Here is the sweetspot according to Tailwind.
As a general rule, then, you should be looking at hashtags where the total is between 10K and 10 million. That’s still quite a large range, and it is not a catch-all. But what is certain is that hashtags with less than 1K posts won’t recruit and neither will hashtags with more than 10 million posts.
You may have seen examples of posts with dozens of hashtags attached to them. Is there a best practice for how many hashtags a post should contain? You might think that having as many as possible is the best solution, and in some cases this is true. The more hashtags there are, the higher the chance that someone will stumble upon your content.
But there is also a sweetspot in terms of performance for the number of hashtags that you use in your post. According to TrackMaven, the magic number is 9 hashtags.
As you can see on the graph, the mosts with more hashtags still performed better in terms of engagement than posts with fewer hashtags.
This is not to say that you should fill your posts with extra hashtags. The strategy is to identify recruitment hashtags that are in the sweetspot in terms of activity. If your post has 3 branded hashtags (one for the brand, one for the product, and one for the campaign) then you should find 6 recruitment hashtags to go along with it.
Recruitment hashtags should always stay in line with your brand, so something like #foodporn probably wouldn’t fit well with a yogurt brand aimed at children.
Just like working with keywords in your SEO strategy, hashtags are a trial and error process where different angles need to be tested until you find the right balance between being general and the specific. That means that hashtags are starting to get longer. The hashtag #love is over-used, so as we saw in the example above, the more qualifiers that we add to the word love in the hashtag, the more targeted it becomes.
You might be surprised to know that there is a sweetspot in terms of how many characters the best hashtags have. According to TrackMaven, in 2018, that number is 21.
By 2020, if Instagram continues to be the king of social, I would imagine that the hashtags will start getting longer and longer as the primary ones continue to be ever-more saturated.
To Sum Up
All of this means that if you are a brand (or influencer, or company, or anyone using Instagram who wants to grow their audience) then you should create amazing visual content and accompany your posts with 9 (or more) hashtags that each have been used between 10K and 10M times and are around 21 characters in length.
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