You’re hashtagging wrong: how to choose the right tags for Instagram

Updated: Dec 4, 2018

#oops. You know if I’m talking about you. You’ve had that nagging feeling in the back of your head that you’re not quite sure how to choose the right hashtags. But there are some tell-tale signs.

Here are the signs that you're using the wrong tags on Instagram:

That last one actually is cool if you’re happy with your instagram account’s reach and growth rate. You go, Glen Coco. Brands, celebrities and influencers with a lot of exposure and clout, who are getting traffic through other means, often forgo hashtags entirely and that’s great. Strategizing, researching and using hashtags definitely does take time, so do a little c/b on what increased exposure on your 'gram is worth to you in terms of your time.

It’s useful to break tags down into branded, content, industry and niche tags.

Branded tags

This is your own territory. The size of your brand and your social collateral correlates to the amount of hashtag turf you can reasonably claim. Branded tags are owned by you, and ideally used by other people to showcase your product and tout your brand. So they’re pretty powerful, the backbone of social influencer marketing. About 7 out of 10 of the tags on instagram are branded.

Content tags

These tags are directly related to the content you’re posting. Throw in a couple of these and you’ll be able to reach new audiences everytime you post something different. Here’s where your afternoon donut run exposes your PR consultant page to a foodie audience because #dessertforbreakfast @voodoodoughnuts.

Industry tags

These tags serve as your direct connection to your industry. If you don’t know offhand what your key industry tags, get to searching now. From local competitors to national brands, do your research to find out what tags successful accounts in your industry are using. (#socialmediatips).

Niche tags

These are the super specific tags that help you reach your super specific target audience. This is where you’ll drill down to location, if you’re a #dcweddingphotograper or specializing with #wixwebsite.

Got that? Yeah, so then you need to think about relevancy and volume.

Relevancy is everything in hashtags

So, when you’re pulling up a tag you’re considering using, check first to see that the top and most recent posts are similar to your content (to avoid a vegan blog #veggietales situation, or, as I narrowly avoided earlier this summer, a #freecashmere luxury clothing giveaway and a grassroots prison justice reform campaign mixup.

The tags that will get you the biggest return are the ones with a cohesive Top 9 and feed, on the instances where your content is a perfectly complement to that aesthetic. So, really, someone has to check the tags. A lot of this is common sense, so I know that you know not to tag your pic of your dog with #flatlaymakeup.

And volume is also everything (plus a philosophical aside or two)

This factor, again, is a little more nuanced than go big or go home. Throwing out super huge hashtags like #happy are both too frequently used and likely overgeneralizations. Whatever your instagram goals are, they’re probably not unrestricted growth and willy-nilly exposure, so your hashtags should throw your content to the top of relevant, targeted streams that your persona is seeking out. There’s a difference between playing around with different content tags and going too bland (think about #sundayfunday vs. #friday). My husband makes this point so well, with simply "who's looking at #tbt?"

Mindless though social media can feel sometimes, people are searching through tags for a reason: they're looking for something, wanting to see a certain type of image. This is the cardinal lesson of inbound: why wasn't any time or money trying to convince anyone to like you, when you can just work to make sure the people who are asking the questions only you can answer are finding your answers.

There’s some pull between relevancy and volume, but great hashtags have regular traffic. I like to try to look in the 5 figure realm, and tags at around 30-80,000 posts tend to generate the most interaction.

But there's no real boil it down: you can find a really crappy hashtag that has 46,000 posts on it: bad for your brand, your goals, your content, or just plain, tacky, bad. That's why bots that generate hashtag clusters aren't foolproof, and even Tailwind doesn't always suggest the perfect tag (I'm sorry I said that, Tailwind. Love letter on this Pinterest tool/life giver to come soon, dear readers). Tangent aside, you can't trust technology to pick your tags because you can't just narrow it down to the numbers.

Compounding the stats of a tag on the context of your social media goals, audience and content, you'll be able to identify and start to use really smart tags that make sense. Using analytics, you can discern what tags are working for you and what tags you are ranking in the Top 9 on. I am a literal Airtable addict, so that is where I build out my lil hashtag data sets for brands. I like to build out a list of tags and label them with post volume and a few other key points, so I might see that a niche tag has a post volume of 56,000, what type of posts we would want to use that tag with (actually tying it to content strategy), and a checkbox for when I'm ranking. Yes, checking your ranking is always manual; however, you can definitely set up a sweet Zap (I'm a Zapier gal as well, there are all sorts of other paths through API) to bring in everything you post on Instagram (or other platforms) into your Airtable database.

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© 2018 by sally jane