How To Pick Effective Hashtags for Instagram Posts

Photo by OhTilly on Unsplash

I’ve had countless people reach out to me via Instagram and Twitter asking for guidance on how to start a blog, or how I plan my Instagram posts, captions, hashtags, etc. I love helping you guys, but I’ve been hesitant to write about my blogging and Instagramming techniques for two reasons.

  1. I don’t have any kind of formal background in writing, marketing, or graphic design. All of my knowledge has been acquired from trial and error. I’ve just barely started to learn what works and what doesn’t (for me), and what I like and don’t like.
  2. I don’t want to give the impression that I blog or Instagram for the wrong reasons. Of course, it is exciting seeing that people enjoy and benefit from the content I share. But, I don’t ever want people to think I do this for likes, followers, or money. The satisfaction of helping others, and the amount of learning I do in the process, is what drives me.

One thing you may not know about me, though, is I’ve been dabbling in social media marketing for almost 5 years now. I’m no trained professional, but I have always enjoyed writing and creating content other people enjoy, even when I was still a college student studying Computer Science.⁣⁣

If sharing this type of content helps one person start a blog, discover a new friend/mentor on Instagram, or get a customer for their small business, then I will know that these types of posts are worth it.

So, here we go… my first post about blogging. We’re starting with a topic that everyone wonders about, but that few people realize the true worth of – HASHTAGS BABY!

Why hashtags?

I remember about 2-3 years ago was when the first person from my hometown started using hashtags on their photography Instagram account. At that time, I was so so far from being a content creator. I remember thinking hashtags were so STRANGE! Of course, my opinion has changed some. Still, hashtags can get spammy and annoying – trust me, I got it then and I get it now.

Regardless of how they seem, hashtags are an extremely powerful way to reach a curated audience that may not have been exposed to your account before. For example, if you are an Instagrammer who shares vegan recipes, new followers could possibly discover you on hashtags like #VeganCooking or #VeganFoodIsLife.

In fact, studies have shown that posts with at least one hashtag gain 12.6% more engagement.

Pro Tip

Still aren’t sold on hashtags yet? Well, check this pro tip out. Since I’m a data analyst by trade, let’s use the #DataAnalysts hashtag as an example. When I search #DataAnalysts on Instagram, here is what I see:

Do you notice that photo of my big ol’ face in the second row on the bottom? It shows up front and center when someone searches #DataAnalysts. The best part? I posted this photo in January 2020 (almost five months ago at time of writing!!). This photo is still showing at the top of this hashtag search, even months after posting.

Hashtags give your posts more persistence. Long after they leave your followers’ news feeds, your posts with hashtags may keep being recommended months to a year in the future, if you can choose your hashtags just right.

So, how do I pick the right hashtags for me?

If you’ve stuck with me this far, hopefully I’ve convinced you that hashtags can give you a boost in helping your Instagram content reach a wider audience. But I don’t want to leave it at that. I want to also give you a couple ways to pick optimal hashtags for your Instagram posts. In particular, I tend to take into account the content of the post, the intended audience of the post, and the current following of the account posting the content.

Post Content

This one may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don’t think of this. You should try to curate your hashtags to what is actually in the photo you are posting.

Example: Let’s say you are a fitness blogger who is selling workout content and consultations. 85% of your posts are workouts, healthy meals, the best leggings, etc. But, let’s say today you are switching it up and posting about your family instead. You should use hashtags that match your family photo, such as #FamilyIsLife or #FamilyFirstAlways rather than your usual #FitLife type hashtags. Focusing your hashtags more closely on what is in frame will encourage new types of people to find your content and fall in love with it… which in turn will lead them to actually like it or comment on it.

Posting to the same hashtags consistently can definitely have its benefits too – don’t get me wrong. But, I believe that switching it up and focusing more intimately on the relationship between hashtags and pictures will really help to grow a broader audience in a more organic way.

Maybe switching up the hashtags from fitness to family will help a lovely mom of five (who is nervous about getting started on her fitness journey) get connected with your fitness account… which leads me into focus number two!

Intended Audience

As I started to excitedly mention above, you should always think of your intended audience when you are selecting your hashtags. I’m not necessarily talking demographics – don’t hit me with the “18-39 year old females” as an answer to this question. Instead, think of the question from a more emotional level.

Who do you want to try and reel in with this post? Who do you think would find joy from this post? If you have a position or thought you are trying to share, who do you think would be motivated, or even upset by this post?

For example, trending hashtags will be more hotly observed by tech savvy, informed, usually younger people who keep up to date with current events and viral trends. A person who is trying to learn HTML for the first time will be far less likely to click on a hashtag labeled #AdvancedWebDevelopment than someone who has been in the industry for awhile.

Once you have really contemplated about the main goal of the post and the audience you want to reach, it is time to really refine the hashtags you choose, based on the current statistics of your account.

Current Following

It doesn’t matter if you have 2 followers or 12,000 followers – you can and should use hashtags! They are valuable for accounts of all sizes to get discovered by new potential followers, friends, or customers. Carefully picking your hashtags with size in mind will keep you from getting lost in the sea of photos and will increase your likelihood of staying on the “Top” posts for a given hashtag.

They key here is to really pay attention to the number of posts for each hashtag. Let’s look at #DataAnalysts again for an example. Notice how above the blue button, it says 1000+ posts? This means that I have about 1,000 other posts on this hashtag to try to fit in with and make it up to the top.

Fun fact: #Love on Instagram currently has 1.8 BILLION photos posted to it. The top photos are constantly changing based on the algorithm and what is “hot”. As you can see, it would be much tougher for a small account to make it to the top and stay on the top of a hashtag like #Love that is this large.

It is crucial to pay attention to the way your follower count relates to the post count of a hashtag. To make it easy, I’ll break it down into four basic follower categories. Pick the one that most closely matches the status of your account – and these hashtag rules of thumb may possibly help you make it to the top of some hashtag pages no matter what stage your account is at.

Please note that I developed these numbers myself based on past experience and the little success I’ve had. It is no guarantee for success – because there are so many other factors that come into play. Also, you still can get success by posting on the larger hashtags. I just found that this type of setup worked for me so far!

Under 2,000

  • Hashtags with < 5,000 posts: 50%
  • Hashtags with 5,000 – 20,000 posts: 50%

2,000 to 5,000

  • Hashtags with < 5,000 posts: 25%
  • Hashtags with 5,000 – 20,000 posts: 50%
  • Hashtags with 20,000 – 100,000 posts: 25%

5,000 to 10,000

  • Hashtags with 5,000 – 20,000 posts: 25%
  • Hashtags with 20,000 – 100,000 posts: 50%
  • Hashtags with 100,000 – 250,000 posts: 25%

10,000+

  • Hashtags with 20,000 – 100,000 posts: 25%
  • Hashtags with 100,000 – 500,000 posts: 50%
  • Hashtags with 250,000+ posts: 25%

Hashtag like a pro

Sheesh, that was a lot of information. If you’re like me when I first started diving deeper into hashtags, then you’re probably feeling like this:

I’ve got one more little hashtag hack to make your life even easier. And it all comes from the source of one beautiful, free little app called Preview.

Preview has become the ultimate savior for me when it comes to managing Instagram hashtags. After spending countless hours doing hashtag research for some main categories that I tend to gear my posts towards, I needed a place to organize all my hashtags – and Preview does exactly that.

Preview has a feature called Hashtag Groups that allows you to create and save organized groups of hashtags. This makes it sooo simple to research certain content categories that you know you will be posting about, so that you can be prepared when it comes time to post. Check out some of my hashtag groups I’ve tried out in the past.

Each group can hold up to 30 hashtags. The most beautiful part is that Preview gives you the chance to copy all of the hashtags directly from the app. Here’s what an old hashtag group of mine looks like. NO MORE WASTED TIME TYPING OUT HASHTAGS OVER AND OVER *crying emoji* *heart eyes emoji*

Thanks so much for sticking with me throughout this blog. I really truly enjoyed writing about something besides data analysis and machine learning for a change. I hope that this blog benefits you on your business, marketing, YouTube, or blogging journey. If you found this information valuable, please drop a comment. It would really help me determine if I should keep writing more blogs in this category. Thank you so much, and happy hashtagging 🙂

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