The popularity and use of Instagram continues to grow, and it is essential for businesses to add it to their social media arsenal. Instagram has recently gained more monthly users than Twitter – 400 million on Instagram, whereas Twitter only has 305 million. But many companies are still putting their main social media
efforts into Facebook and Twitter and ignoring Instagram.
In addition to creating an account on Instagram, it’s important to understand how to use the tool to gain more customers and expand your brand awareness. The key to finding success on Instagram is using hashtags properly.
Why should I use Hashtags on Instagram?
Uploading photos of your products, office, or employee on Instagram can be fun to do. People who already follow your account will be able to see your posts. One of the major benefits of using Instagram is the ability for new users to see your photos and become aware of your brand. Unlike Facebook, where the only people that will see your posts for free are the people who already like your page, any user on Instagram can see your images whether they know about your company or not.
This is where hashtags come in. People regularly search on Instagram for topics they are interested in or are posting about themselves. If you’re posting just your photo, or a description of your photo without the hashtags, you’re greatly decreasing the likelihood that new people will be exposed to your brand. But if you include some hashtags in your post, that greatly increases the ability for other people to see your image and engage with your brand.
How Many Hashtags should I use on Instagram?
On Instagram, we suggest aiming for around five hashtags per post. If you add only one hashtag, that’s only one way for people to find your post. If you’re adding five of them, your chances of getting found increase by 500%.
If five hashtags gives you 500% more chances of being seen, then would 25 hashtags give you 25,000% more chances? Yes, technically. But at some point, it detracts from your message and makes your post look sloppy. That’s similar to websites that used to keyword stuff just to be seen on Google – it’s unfriendly and unprofessional looking to your users. Doing a little research and choosing the right hashtags is a more effective strategy than including a ton of them in your posts.
Researching Instagram Hashtags
If you’re going to be adding 5 hashtags to each of your Instagram posts, you may be tempted to just use a mix of similar words. For example, if you sell clothes for runners, your first instinct may be to have your post include #running, #runners, #run, #girlsontherun, #runallday. This would be one way to target people looking for different iterations of the word “run” on Instagram.
With a little research, we found out that one of these – #running – gets a lot more engagement on Instagram than the other ones do. So we like to spend some time doing research to gather a bunch of different hashtags that apply to a company or brand for them to regularly choose from when doing their Instagram posting. That hour or two of work can give you ideas for the best hashtags to use for three month’s worth of posts.
The quickest way we’ve found to do this research is to open Instagram on your computer versus on your smartphone. In the top center there is a search box. Start typing in the # symbol and one of the keywords you want to focus on, and it will populate in that phrase as well as related ones, and will show how many posts relate to those keywords. It also shows related words. By doing this research, we’ve determined that #running has 18,673,783 posts, #run has 16,451,734 posts, and #runner has 3,923,604 posts. So when we’re posting for this example running clothing line, we’ll add #running and #run to our list of ideal hashtags to use because they get the most engagement among similar terms.
Even something as simple as using an “S” on the end of a word can change the engagement immensely. Looking up #hashtag on Instagram returns 13,798,203 results, but #hashtags is only 5,249,490 results.
Hashtag Suggest Tools
There are some helpful free tools that you can use to get ideas of other hashtags that relate to your term that you may want to use in your posts.
gives you the top ten hashtags related to your term, and the popularity of each of those suggested terms. The data pulled into this tool searches Twitter, Instagram, and other social media networks that use hashtags, so you’ll still want to spot check your numbers in Instagram itself if you’ll be using the hashtags it suggests.
will also give you a list of terms related to a phrase you enter. The results are shown in question form like who, what, where, why, how and can give you some phrase ideas or related terms to use for researching your hashtags. (It also has a fun background video worth the visit to the site alone).
specializes in suggesting phrases based on a term you enter, and can be used to get some ideas of hashtag phrases you may wish to use.
How do I choose a Hashtag on Instagram?
The 5 W’s of Hashtags
We like to use the 5 W’s rule for planning what hashtags apply to a specific picture. The 5 W’s are: who, what, when, where, and why. Think about the answers to these questions as you’re picking out which hashtags to use on your post, and decide which would be relevant to what your customers are searching for.
For an example of how to apply the 5 W’s to a Instagram post, we’re going to use this picture of our employee Lauren Elliot. We know that posts with people’s faces in them get 38% more engagement than posts without, so for her win of Employee of the Month we chose to include her smiling face in the picture instead of just the certificate. Using our 5 W’s model, here’s the hashtags we would use for this picture.
is Lauren. We wouldn’t use her name as a hashtag, because people searching for #Lauren could be thinking Lauren Conrad or Ralph Lauren – not relevant to our business. She is our Marketing Communications Manager, so we’ll use #marketing to represent her title (and this is one of the terms on our previously researched list that we want to target for our posts).
is Employee of the Month. That phrase does get some traction on Instagram, so we’re including #employeeofthemonth.
isn’t really relevant here, because people viewing this picture don’t really care if it was August or December. So in this case, we wouldn’t include anything for a When hashtag. A When hashtag would be relevant if it was related to a holiday or special event we are participating in, such as #earthday or #halloween.
is our office in Raleigh. We’ll use #Raleigh.
is she was voted as our Employee of the Month. We already used #employeeofthemonth as our What hashtag. She won the award for her work with clients where she greatly increased their google ranking, so #SEO would apply (and this is one of the terms on our previously researched list).
That gives us 4 hashtags to include with this image: #marketing, #employeeofthemonth, #Raleigh, #SEO.
For another example, let’s say we’re a dentist office in Greensboro. Using this same picture of Lauren, we would choose a different set of terms. We might use #dentist, #employeeofthemonth, #Greensboro, #braces, and because she’s got a great smile (and we know it’s one of the top 25 hashtags used on Instagram), we’d use #smile.
Reuse Someone Else’s Hashtag
As much fun as it can be to string a group of words together to make your own unique hashtag like #sharonisthequeenofinstagramhashtags, the likelihood that someone will be searching for that hashtag is #zerotonone. Unless you’re creating a unique hashtag for a conference for special promotion for your company, we recommend using a hashtag that already exists. As mentioned above, hashtags are what people search for on Instagram, so you’ll want a term other people are searching for so they run across your post. So instead of #sharonisthequeenofinstagramhashtags, it would be better to use #instagram #hashtag #howto versus that one long made-up one.
To help you find the phrase other people are using, start by typing in a word or phrase you’d like into Instagram, and it will automatically show other versions of that phrase that other people have used to help you choose.
We talk more about this concept in our previous blog about How to Use a Hashtag for your Business
Use the Most Common Hashtag
When you’re referencing an event, musical album, tv show, movie, or other popular culture, there is often one hashtag that is the most commonly used, and this is the one you should use as well. For people talking about the brand new Season 6 of Game of Thrones, the majority of the people are using #gameofthrones versus #gameofthronesseason6. Again, researching in advance can help you figure out what hashtag others are using.
The hashtag you choose should be specific to your image. For example, if you’re posting a picture of your company car, the hashtag of #company #car is too generic. It should be relevant to type of car it is and something about your company. So for TheeDigital we’d use #smartcar #seo since that’s what we drive and what we do. Most people would not be searching on Instagram for a term as generic as #car, but they might be interested in #smartcar.
You don’t want to be too specific though. Think of terms people might generally search for. Posting our photo with #bluesmartcar or #seomobile would be too narrow. If you’re posting a picture of the drinks you bought at Starbucks for your co-workers, you’d want to use #coffee and #starbucks, things that other people would look for. You’d get less traction from posting the title of your actual drink #talljavachipfrappucino. Doing a little research as mentioned above can help guide you with how specific your phrase should be.
Other Instagram basics
If you need help optimizing your Instagram profile or want some other marketing tips, read our blog about Instagram 101 for Business Owners