How To Use Hashtags to Grow Your Instagram | In Search of Sheila

How To Use Hashtags to Grow Your Instagram

April 19, 2017

It seems like everyone either loves hashtags or totally hates them. Well, I'll let you in on a little secret: they are your golden ticket to killing the Instagram game. Don't believe me? Maybe you're not using them with a strategy in mind. Love 'em or hate 'em, hashtags were put on this earth for a reason. The savvy bloggers and business owners know that they are an incredibly useful tool to organically grow their accounts. In this post you'll learn why hashtags are so important for your blog or brand, how I use them, and how you can use them to YOUR advantage to take your Instagram to the next level.

How to use Instagram Hashtags to Get More Followers

Believe it or not there is a strategy to using hashtags to your advantage. Everyone's strategy is going to be a little different, so my biggest piece of advice is to try different things to see what works for you. Embrace trial and error or you'll end up overwhelmed and frustrated. This post includes ways that work for ME, but they might not work for you and that's okay. There is no science to Instagram (although I wish there was sometimes...) and it is always changing so you have to be willing to adapt and keep up.

How I Use Hashtags

I can vouch that hashtags work for me, because I see results. I post at my optimal times by paying attention to my analytics and average 300-500 likes per photo. With a little over 6,000 followers, I think that's pretty good! I'm not trying to brag (okay, maybe a little), but these numbers don't come overnight. 

I make sure to never post a photo without hashtags, because I view it as a missed opportunity for my photo to get noticed and perform as best as it can. I'm a self-diagnosed hashtag hoarder and I have multiple notebooks of lists with category-specific hashtags. I used to carry a little white one with me all the time, but I mostly refer to my pre-made lists in my Notes app on my phone. I'm always looking up new ones to add to my list and make sure use a good variety of them on different posts.

My main point: you gotta hustle with the hashtags and you'll see the growth.


Why You Should Use Hashtags

The biggest reason to consider using hashtags if you're not already is Instagram's new algorithm. I won't go into too much detail, but basically posts don't show up in chronological order anymore, but based on an equation (ew, math!) and probability that your followers "would like it." Okay, thanks Instagram. This change has made it so much harder for accounts to gain followers, but also means smaller accounts have a shot at getting noticed. It only means you need to work smarter and play the game as best you can. 

Remember that the main purpose of hashtags is to attract new users to your account, interact with your photos, and potentially give you a follow if they genuinely love your content. This doesn't mean that they can't be used to connect with your followers too, however. I elaborate more on this topic later in this post.

How to Find Hashtags

Finding hashtags isn't hard at all. Simply typing in a keyword in the search function is a good place to start. My favorite way to find hashtags that are relevant and active is to see what other people are using. Check out your favorite accounts and start building a list from there. Once you have a few to start with you can explore related hashtags and it kind of turns into a domino effect. In my last blogging tips post I dished out all my favorite hashtags that I personally use on my photos. 

Tip: Save category-specific ones in a text editor on your phone to save you time and stress. I can't tell you how many hours I've wasted on searching for hashtags. Now that I have ready-made lists based on categories such as fashion and lifestyle, I can copy and paste them and tweak a few tags depending on the image and how I'm feeling. Also make sure to regularly update your lists as new hashtags are always emerging, or to retire ones that aren't so relevant anymore.



Use 'Em All

People always wonder, how many hashtags should I use? Honestly, the only rule is that Instagram grants you to use a maximum of 30 tags. Some people swear by using all 30 (waves hand), some people are too prideful to use any or only a few (well, good for you!), or some people are just plain oblivious to their effectiveness. There is no shame in using all the hashtags that Instagram allows and this goes for accounts of ALL sizes--big or small. It's the best way to increase the chances of your photo getting seen and you're honestly only hurting your account but NOT using all of them.

Use Niche-Specific Hashtags

This is important! The key to getting noticed is targeting the right people aka your target audience. These are the users who are more likely to engage with your account and give you a follow. If you aren't sure who your audience is or you're just starting out, focus on your niche or brand. You also want to make sure the hashtags you use are relevant to the photo and are ACTIVE. If someone is looking under the "outfitinspo" tag and see a photo of a building, they're probably going to scroll right past it.

When you tag your posts get in the head of your audience and ask yourself, what would people be searching for in order to find my photo? For example, I post fashion related content on my Instagram, so I always make sure I use hashtags that I know will reach people that are looking for fashion related content, such as #bloggerstyle, #americanstyle, and #outfitideas

Using a variety of hashtags in different categories is important if you don't have a super specific niche. Since I'm a fashion and lifestyle blogger, but my Instagram's mainly fashion with a little lifestyle in the mix, I make sure to use a combination of blogging, fashion, and lifestyle hashtags to reach different users that would be interested in my account.

Find a Good Balance

Don't use the same exact tags on every post and avoid using generic ones with millions of posts such as #happy or #shoes. Your photo will not only get seen by the wrong people, but it probably won't get seen at all. Try to use hashtags with less than 500,000 posts so your image has a better chance of being seen.

BUT ALSO try using tags with more than 500,000 posts, because if you get featured on Instagram's Top Posts, your image will get seen by A LOT of people who will probably follow you. Experiment to see what gets more (or less) engagement and to target different audiences. I try to use 3-5 "big" hashtags per post.




Get Featured on Top Posts

Each hashtag has a Top Posts or "top nine" that features nine of the most popular posts that were tagged with that hashtag and are essentially trending. Making it on the Top Posts is guaranteed to give your post a lot of exposure or even go viral.  It's honestly kind of a big deal, especially if it's a tag with over a million posts. I've personally gained a lot of followers by making it on Insta's Top Posts for tags like #minimalist, #minimalism, #fashionkilla, and even #fashionbloggers!


Instagram Hashtag Top Posts Featured

So, How Do You Get on the Top Posts?
One big misconception is that only the biggest accounts can make it on the Top Posts, but this isn't true! What you need to pay attention to is the Instagram algorithm. No one really knows how the algorithm works, but Instagram does favor posts with high engagement, meaning that the more likes and comments your post gets, the more likely it is to be featured in the Top Posts.

But Instagram also takes into consideration how quickly your post receives its engagement. Photos that make it on the Top Posts are usually published within the last 24 hours, so you also need to strategize when you post. Pay attention to your Instagram Analytics for when you're followers are most active and post during your peak times. If you're just starting your account, try different times and analyze how quickly you get likes and comments.

For accounts with less than 10,000 followers, you want to focus your attention on hashtags with around 100,000 or less posts where you are more likely to be selected by Instagram. But don't feel discouraged or limited! I always include 3-5 "big" hashtags that are still relevant to my photo such as #fashionbloggers, #thatsdarling, or #minimalism. It's kind of like submitting your artwork to a panel of judges, except the panel is an algorithm that can't be easily swayed.

In the end, it all comes down to a large amount of engagement in short amount of time. The best strategy to achieve this?  Having great photos, using the right hashtags that are relevant to your post, and publishing at your optimal times.

Use Community and Branded Hashtags


Community hashtags
connect like-minded users around a specific subject such as the popular #thatsdarling or #morningslikethese tags. They're a great way to connect with other users in your niche, get the chance to be featured on different accounts, and expand your reach.

Branded hashtags
are unique to your blog or business. They are a great way to connect with your followers and create your own little community. As a blogger it's a good way to curate your posts so they all show up under one tag and users can browse them. My own tags are #insearchofsheila which just features my outfit photos and #coffeeandsheila which includes all of my selfies and flat lays with coffee.

For a brand or business, having your own tag is a great way for your followers and customers to share their own experiences and promote your products and account to others.


Hashtag Etiquette 


Hide 'Em!
Conceal your hashtags by using the "five vertical dots" trick by typing a period into five separate rows prior to your list of hashtags. The purpose of this is to eliminate any distractions surrounding your photo, making it appear more clean and allowing users to completely focus on your image.

Don't Go Overboard on Your Caption
Avoid looking like an arse by #hashtagging #every #word in your caption. Was this ever cool? I used to do it when I started out my Instagram, but in retrospect I must have sounded so lame, haha!

Don't Be a Copycat
Although I totally suggest seeing what hashtags other accounts are using, I don't suggest directly copying them into your post. Not only is that just uncool, but how can you be confident in their expertise? Find what works for you.


Trying to Up Your Instagram Game?

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Get my FREE downloadable PDF jam-packed with over 350 hashtags for ANY niche + tips to strategically use them to YOUR advantage!


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Do you use hashtags? If so, what's your strategy? What are some of your favorite hashtags? Let me know down below in the comments so I can add them to my lists!


Why you should use hashtags to organically grow your Instagram account

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