Using Instagram Hashtags to Improve Your Reach and Discoverability

JMatt and Tia (@MidwestGirlAdventures) explain their strategies

January 21, 2020
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On this episode of JMatt’s Social Club we will be discussing Instagram Hashtags along with my invited guest, Tia. She is better known as Iowa Girl Adventures on Instagram and recently changed her account to @MidwestGirlAdventures to go along with her blog on MidwestGirlAdventures.com.

Consider this episode as a starting point for refining your Instagram hashtag strategies, we understand that some strategies we use may not be ideal for you but it should give you some new ideas to test out with your own posts. Everyone’s audience is different, so you have to be constantly testing what works for you!

To start, a hashtag is a way to categorize your content and allow it to be searched (in this case, on Instagram) that starts with the # symbol. The hashtag is either a keyword or grouping of words that form a phrase (without using a space between words).

On Instagram (and TikTok), you aren’t required to leave a space between each hashtag (though, on Twitter, you do need a space) – visually, it’s less appealing to cram several hashtags together without spaces to separate them. As for styling, it is easier on the reader if you capitalize the first letter of each word within a hashtag (i.e. #TryThisNextTime as opposed to #trythisnexttime).

Related: JMatt's Social Club - Episode 1 - 2020 Social Media Trends

How many hashtags should someone use on a post on Instagram? Tia and I both agree that using the allotted 30 hashtags improves your post’s visibility. At the end of the day, using hashtags on Instagram allows your content to be discoverable to those that don’t follow you, so you should take advantage of each one.

If you’re newer to Instagram, be aware that the Instagram limit is 30 hashtags per post in both the caption and comment – if you use 1 in the caption and then 30 in the comment, Instagram won’t allow the comment to publish; instead, you need to limit yourself to 29 hashtags in the comment.

Another tip is to do your hashtag research (more on that below) ahead of time and save your 30 hashtags to a notepad on your phone so you can copy/paste the hashtags right away after posting (right away means within the first 60 seconds of posting – you don’t want to figure out your associated hashtags AFTER you publish your content).

Tia likes to bury the hashtags with several periods on (one per line for about 9 lines) to push the hashtags down within the comments; this is her way to prevent her content from looking ‘spammy’. Additionally, Tia has tested out the order of hashtags (putting hashtags associated with 100,000+ posts vs 1,000 posts at the top or bottom of the grouping) and hasn’t seen a notable difference either way.

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Hashtag research – I have two different ways that I look into the right hashtags for me, first, you can explore via your phone with the Instagram app. Type in the # symbol and few letters of a word and it will auto-populate with suggestions (i.e. #milw and you’ll get #milwaukee, #milwaukeetools, #milwaukeehairstylist for starters) and how many posts are associated with the hasthtag. On the app, when you select a hashtag, it also shows you related hashtags to use.

I personally prefer to do this research via a desktop, opening Instagram on a browser. The latest update of the app now offers related hashtags on the desktop as well as on the app; so, it really comes down to personal preference where you do the research.

Tia uses a resource called all-hashtag.com to find hashtags associated with what you’re looking for and it will list out 30 for you. It’s a free resource that generates hashtags for ‘top’, ‘random’, or ‘live’ to help you find unique hashtags you may not have thought of yourself. *Note, you should still cross-check the suggested hashtags to make sure they fit your brand (based on what others are posting to it) and to make sure they aren’t over-used (or under-used).

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When it comes to changing up hashtags, Tia prefers to use different hashtags based on the content she chooses to post; while there are a few constants that she will use from post to post, she has found it good to change them up. Every couple of months she goes through to update the hashtags that she prefers to use and to find new ones that may be a good fit.

For me, with the 22 Pushup Challenge (22 pushups a day for the 18-20 [previously 22> veterans that die by suicide each day – posting a video daily to my Instagram @JMattMke for over 1,100 days in a row), I have recycled the same core 25 hashtags each time and manage to get 60% (even up to 80%) discovery from people who aren’t following me but saw the post via a hashtag.

Related: JMatt's Break The Stigma: 30-Day Instagram Story Challenge

As long as the hashtags are relevant to your content and if your content is consistent day in and day out, you don’t “have to” change up your hashtags regularly to receive good reach. Again, this is one of those, ‘keep testing to see what works best for you’ situations, but don’t feel like you need a new batch of 30 hashtags every single day!

There are rumors about shadow-banning for overly using hashtags. I personally, am not a big believer in shadow-banning; I think it comes down to the content and if the person viewing the content finds it valuable to them or not. However, Tia firmly believes that shadow-banning is something that happens to accounts based on the hashtags you choose to use.

Related: Instagram Launches New Feature to Silence Bullies

For those that don’t know, to check to see your analytics – you need a business account. You can check the analytics on individual posts by tapping “view insights” under a given post, then slide the pop-up up to reveal thorough insights on how your post is performing, including how many people found you via your hashtags.

Another popular debate is whether or not having a personal vs business account impacts your reach. Does Instagram’s algorithm hide business account content more than a personal account’s post? Tia thinks it’s possible and to an extent, I do too. But the value you get from the insights to be able to better craft your future content feels worth it than to keep it as a personal account. The analytics can also help when reaching out to future business partners too.

Finally, hashtag ownership – how do you determine which hashtags you can ‘own’? Do your research, if they aren’t utilized by others, it’s an easy one to ‘claim’. Granted, anyone can use any hashtag they want and when certain ones become more popular, they tend to get used more by others (not necessarily for its intended purposes). But if no one has used it yet or it’s under 1,000 posts and hasn’t been used in months/years – chances are you can use that hashtag for your own branding.

There are several ways you can get others to start using your selected hashtag, you can include it in your bio on your Instagram account and you can also make a call to action within your own posts (i.e. ‘to be featured, use #BrandedHashtag with your post!’). Branding around a hashtag also helps with events or conferences, if you promote to your attendees to use a specific hashtag, you are more likely to find content happening in real-time that you can engage with! It’s a great way to build a community too.

JMatt’s Social Club is a RADIO.COM podcast through 103.7 KISS-FM where we take a deeper dive into social media strategies with Milwaukee-area professionals. If you’d like us to cover a specific topic or invite someone to be on a future episode, reach out to JMatt on social media at @JMattMke (same handle on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok)!

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