In the social media realm, hashtags have always been controversial. If you bombard your followers with them, you might not look 'cool'. But if you don't use them at all, you're potentially cutting out a huge chunk of audience. With the altered Instagram algorithm, it's now even harder to get your content seen by the masses, hence the resurgence, and newfound popularity, of using hashtags.
We spoke to some influencers who use hashtags about why they use them, how to research them, and how to get the most out of them.
Sara Tasker of the blog MeandOrla writes a guide to Instagram tagging, and hones in on the logistics of hashtagging. She says that whilst you can add hashtags at any point,
"this won’t bump them back to the top of the timeline, so there’s little point unless it’s for cataloguing specifics".
Georgie, of Georgie St Clair, always uses interesting, and sometimes, rather niche, hashtags. She says one of the most important things to do is to remember you are essentially looking for customers.
"Think how your potential or ideal customer thinks. If you’re an artist or maker for example, think about what your potential customers are looking for. It could be as specific as #flamingoprint or #heartjewellery. Or more broad such as #artforinteriors. Don’t be afraid to ask how people find you on Instagram and if they used a certain hashtag. Research the tags you use first though and make sure they are being used well.
Avoid general tags such as #flamingo #print, #heart #jewellery. They are a waste of tags as they are too broad."
Georgie also says you should think about your community: "Taking part in community hashtags is a great way to find like-minded people. You might believe in #slowlivingforlife or be a #funkopopcollector. Type these hashtags into the search on your mobile app and Instagram will also recommend related tags for you to further research. Join in community contests. If you have a product or service this could be a great way to find a potential audience. On the other side, these contests give you a fantastic opportunity to flex your creative muscles and come up with an image around the contest's theme."
Sara agrees with Georgie, suggesting tagging photos by mood. "Tag for the mood of your photo, rather than the details. This is why tags like #liveauthentic, #thatsdarling, #nothingisordinary have had so much success; they’re broad and inclusive. making the resulting feeds interesting to browse."
One of the most important things is research. Make sure to use hashtags that aren neither too broad or too niche. Georgie says to,
"Research your hashtags well. Generally I won’t use tags over 1 million as you’ll often get lost in the noise. Even 500,00 scares me!
Make sure the tags aren’t being spammed either with loads of irrelevant content. Your post may run the risk of being seen a spam too. And don’t be afraid of the niche tags with perhaps only a few hundred photos tagged. In fact these are great because you’ll often be seen by a smaller more engaged community. When posting hashtags I find it’s better to pop them in the comment, it results in better engagement."
Sara Tasker agrees with this saying, "Occasionally these masstags ‘break’ on Instagram too, and render all your hashtags useless until the culprit is deleted from your post. Avoid anything too generic."
The number is also important. Georgie says "You can have up to 30 hashtags but I have recently found using fewer hashtags results in better visibility. I use up to 15 usually, and no more.", whereas Sara says whilst the 'prime' number of hashtags may vary,
> "we're seeing images in the top posts section with 11-20 tags added, so don’t be afraid to use your full arsenal."
Don’t just post and go. "If you find a great hashtag, go in and compliment or like other people's images using that hashtag. Share the love and be an active part of your community", says Georgie.
"Start your own hashtag. Encourage people to tag into your hashtag, run a competition, offer a prize or simply give them a shoutout. In the flower loving community I’ve seen this used to great effect. @Momentsofmine curated by @hannahargyle and @underthefloralspell curated by @flowerrona are great successes. Build a community of followers with shared interests and celebrate the community members work."
I also spoke to Mario of @cine.pix, most well known for his mesmerising cinemagraphs.
His advice was to find inspiration. "I look up accounts that I follow that that inspire me, and see what tags they use. Really big accounts rarely use tags, or don’t really care what tags they use because they have good traffic, but the smaller accounts usually use more creative and innovative hashtags, so
it’s worth following a mix of accounts, not just people with 100k+ followers."
Explore Instagram! "From there, I’d often follow the tag links and see what related tags Instagram suggests as well, and follow through to some of them to see the type of content they feature."
**Use a mixture of tags** "Because my account isn’t too big, I divide my tag collection between popular and less popular tags. If you only use popular tags, your content will have no shelf life, because the big tags get flooded right away with more content, while
> the smaller tags will give your posts more breathing space to feature. Generally, I try to collect tags that can go from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand posts, but rarely over a million."
Be strategic about where you post your hashtags "I try to build 30-60 tags that I post, and when I post I make sure to post the most popular ones straight away in a comment, while adding the smaller tags to my post afterward. So posting them in descending order, starting with the first comment. This is a bypass that allows you to post 60 tags - but it has to go to comments first and then in your post. If your post has any tags in it when you post, Instagram won’t allow you to post more than a total of 30 tags."
What's your top hashtagging tip? Tell us in the comments below.
Illustration by Kris Noelle for This Magazine