hashtag marketing best practices

Best Hashtag Marketing Practices on Instagram for More Targeted Leads in 2021

Hashtag marketing has long been an essential part of many digital marketer’s organic growth strategies for businesses. 

With 7 out of 10 Instagram hashtags considered “branded”, it has clearly caught the attention of marketers and businesses. 

And it’s catching on for tangible reasons. Having 1 hashtag on an Instagram post increases engagement up to 12.6%. 

Hashtag marketing continues to be insanely effective to improve visibility on Twitter as well, and LinkedIn is catching up.

If you’re looking for a targeted way to gain more engagement, leads, and conversions without busting your client’s budget, hashtags are the solution. 

By utilizing and interacting with the trending hashtags for your industry niche or ideal customers, you are exponentially increasing your brand’s online reach. 

It’s viral marketing in its purest form.

In this article, I will share the best ways to take advantage of hashtag marketing on Instagram. However, you can tweak (with caution*)  some of these techniques to adapt to other channels, such as Twitter or LinkedIn.

*Hashtag Marketing Pro Tip: It might be tempting to copy/paste your hashtag research and strategy across social media channels, but a word of caution, they function similarly but differently enough to require a separate strategy. 

Best practices also widely differ across channels, for example, it’s best to use up to 3 hashtags on LinkedIn and Twitter, whereas on Instagram it’s totally okay to use up to 30. 

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Hashtag Marketing Science 101, Let’s Dissect How Instagram Hashtags Work

hashtags on instagram

Hashtag marketing began on Twitter in 2007, thanks to Chris Messina, not the actor, the product designer from San Francisco and has spread to other networks like fire. 🔥🔥🔥

In fact, one of the first use cases is when Chris had asked one of his friends to try out a prototype hashtag, #sandiegofire to communicate and raise awareness surrounding a San Diego wildfire in October 2007. 

Fascinating history lesson, but how do hashtags work? And more importantly, why use hashtags? And what is hashtag marketing? 

What is a Hashtag?

First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page, a hashtag is a little symbol, ‘#’, traditionally known as a “pound” or “number sign” or number symbol. 

When you place a # in front of a word on Instagram (and nearly all social media channels) it becomes a type of link ie: #digitalmarketing. 

These “links” are ways to organize and categorize posts and people around topics and interests in common. So, most marketers are right away thinking to leverage that with some simple reverse psychology. 

For hashtag examples, your ideal customer is a small business owner in Cincinnati, Ohio, perhaps you’d utilize #Cincinnati, #InstaCincinnati. Or perhaps you want to go after a corporate decision-maker, then you might use #entrepreneur or #CEO. 

Hashtag Lab, How to Research and Choose the Best Hashtags 

Get inside your target market’s head, research your ideal client’s persona, and you should be able to come up with a list of ideas for hashtags that they might be following. 

Reverse Psychology to Rank Higher with Hashtag Marketing

Another hashtag example: suppose you are managing the social media for a brand that sells hiking gear. With minimal research, you can find proof that your target market likes nature, environmental conservation, camping, mountains, lakes, and Subarus. 

You will want to find trending and active hashtags in those categories with a high volume using a tool like RiteTag.com. 

hashtag marketing

How Do Hashtags Work on Instagram?

Hashtags essentially place your post on a page or “feed” for that specific hashtag. Instagram users are able to “Follow” any specific hashtag of their liking. 

This creates a ripe scenario for a hashtag marketing strategy by using logical targeting. As the simplest hashtag example, you want to get your client or business’ posts in front of people in Manhattan, then include this in your post: #manhattan. 

hashtag marketing

Boom!💥 Your post just joined a collection, or rather, a community, of over 20,704,807 posts! 

But, that is a very broad audience, and with such a sheer volume of posts, you are likely to be lost in the mix unless you happen to be one of the social media newsfeed algorithm smashing best digital marketers.

Therefore, go granular. Are you looking for someone that is in the market to buy or rent a brownstone in Manhattan? Then go for #brownstones (62,430 posts) or #manhattanhouse (1,869 posts). 

hashtag marketing

These are just a few hashtag examples that show how your business or brand can easily get in front of a new audience by utilizing hashtag marketing on Instagram. 

How to Choose the Right Hashtags 

Hashtag research is a big deal. 

At face value, it seems really simple — and it is, don’t get me wrong. But there is a lot of thought and effort that goes into a Unicorn status hashtag marketing strategy that blows your Instagram up. 

You might ask, “what is hashtag marketing?” and I might tell you, it’s this — everything in this article qualifies. 

Hashtag marketing is the act of researching, analyzing, and utilizing hashtags for the benefit of your clients, business or brand.

Researching the best hashtags for your client or business is the fun part! Besides of course, watching the numbers soar across your monthly analytics reports.📈

Try using Google Trends or a handy tool such as RiteTag. This is one of those marketing agency tools that should be in every marketer’s toolbox. 

hashtag marketing

Hashtag research tools such as RiteTag make it easy to find out exactly how active and engaged any given hashtag is in real-time. Always be sure to also check what your competitors are doing.

Now, follow these best hashtag practices on Instagram for a solid hashtag strategy that will hit all the KPIs.

Best Hashtag Practices On Instagram

While hashtags are associated with positive things like organic growth, brand awareness, and cultivating a community of like minded people, they can also be misused and abused. Perhaps you use too 

Follow these Instagram hashtag marketing best practices to avoid any hashtag etiquette fouls and to maximize reach and engagement.

Hashtag Marketing Best Practices #1: Use Trending Hashtags

I like Gary Vee’s strategies for hashtag marketing in regards to branded hashtags. While sometimes it can be very fitting and effective, the majority of the time it’s a waste of time.   

You are far better off using your energy to research and piggyback on already successful hashtags that align with your brand or target customers. 

“Riding the wave of hashtags instead of creating them is a defining part of my thesis on social media” – Gary Vaynerchuk

The thing is, you don’t own your branded hashtag. Anybody, including a crazy person, could hijack your hashtag thread at any time with off-topic posts and claim ownership just the same as anyone. 

I’m not suggesting skipping branded hashtags. Just that your time might be better spent using established and active hashtags, depending on your goals. 

There are instances where they work incredibly well to cultivate a community of your fans and customers, giving them a platform and garnering tons of valuable UGC. 

hashtag marketing

Hashtag Marketing Best Practices #2: Where to Put That Epic List of 30 Hashtags?

This is a long-standing debate amongst digital marketers. 

Do hashtags on Instagram perform better in the caption or in the first comment? Which is more aesthetically appealing? 

hashtag marketing

You will find it truly varies from marketer to marketer and brand to agency etc., it’s practically become a matter of form over function.

I suggest using the first comment if it’s an available feature within your scheduling software. If you don’t have time to manually do it, then put the hashtags in the caption. You can use the ubiquitous dots/periods to space them away from your caption. 

Some of these practices developed in older releases of Instagram and have stuck around, for better or worse. Just realize, all captions are truncated now with a “…” so nobody is seeing your epic list of targeted hashtags in the newsfeed anyways. 

Hashtag Marketing Best Practices #3: Use Hashtags in Stories

Did you know that you can utilize hashtags in your Instagram Stories? 

hashtag marketing

Not only will it garner more views, engagement, and new followers, but it can also tie into your Instagram marketing funnel to help produce more targeted leads that eventually convert. 

Hashtag Marketing Pro Tip: Optimize your Instagram Stories with hashtag stickers to get way more eyes on a clickable link. 

hashtag marketing

Adding a link to your Instagram Stories is a fantastic and measurable way to drive traffic and conversions from Instagram. It only has to be setup once using Customers.ai in a few easy steps. 

  1. Create a chatbot dialogue. 
  2. When someone mentions your brand or keywords, your Instagram bot automatically replies with the preset chatbot dialogue. 
  3. Automatically say “thank you for the mention!” and add a link to one of your assets or landing pages. 
hashtag marketing

Get more ideas for your Stories with these 20 Instagram Story hacks!

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Hashtag Marketing Best Practices #4: Use the Right # of #s 

Looking good isn’t all that matters on Instagram, at least in regards to hashtag marketing. 

The number of hashtags you include in any given post depends on the specific posts goal. 

Are you building brand awareness? Speaking to your loyal customers? 

For example, a warm welcome to a new employee or a birthday post doesn’t need 30 hashtags. Arguably it may only need 1 or 2, for the event goers and perhaps a funny quip, ie: #icancryifiwantto

So how many hashtags can you use on Instagram? Up to 30, and you should use them all. It’s not going to be critical to hit 30, but the more the merrier. 

hashtag marketing

You can use up to 10 hashtags in Stories, but again, not wise to cram too many in a Story and lose its appeal for the sake of hashtagging. 

If you are wondering how many hashtags on Instagram is considered good etiquette, then the answer is any amount up to 30, it’s all fair game, but some people find it looks spammy. This is also the main reason many marketers hide hashtags in the first comment. 

Don’t try anything sneaky like posting 20 hashtags in the caption and then another 20 in the comment — your post will not go live.

Hashtag Marketing Best Practices #5: Mix It Up

Don’t copy and paste the same list of 20-30 hashtags over and over. Actually, don’t even reuse the same hashtag more than a few times consecutively. 

The more variance, the better. It’s like networking, you are tapping into each hashtag’s network… don’t knock on the same door too many times. 

Hashtag Marketing Best Practices #6: Avoid Banned Hashtags

Don’t be caught using a hashtag that’s associated with inappropriate content. 

That is what many organization’s PR nightmares are made of.

Instagram bans the use of hashtags that become a hotspot for trouble makers. What are banned hashtags? It’s always changing and there is no official list. 

Sometimes strange keywords make the naughty list for hashtag marketing, such as #kansas. However, #kansascity is still fair game… there are a lot of discrepancies like that, where one letter can make or break a hashtag. 

Do your research! 

Hashtag Marketing Growth Hacks

You can have consistent organic growth in followers for your brand or business on Instagram by simply being a bit proactive about your interactions.

Comment and Like

Find the top hashtags for your niche audience and comment and like a few posts. It’s a reciprocal thing, and if you can do that for 10 minutes every day, you’ll be in good shape.

Automate Replies and Auto DM Mentions 

When Facebook opened up the API for Instagram tools, as official Messenger Partners, Customers.ai was primed and ready to become one of the first 100% Instagram-approved fully functional digital marketing tools.

hashtag marketing

Get started by signing up for a free Customers.ai account

Analyzing Hashtag Marketing Metrics

How do you measure your hashtag marketing campaigns? 

While there are some very useful hashtag analytics tools out there, you can simply use Instagram’s native capabilities for basic insights. 

On a specific post click on “View Insights”. This will open a new window, there is a number under “Impressions” for Hashtags, which will give you a broad view idea if your hashtag marketing strategy is working or not. 

You can easily track your keyword insights with the native app, but a 3rd party tool can be extremely useful for hashtag research. 

You can always find software like Analisa.io, an AI-powered third party Instagram marketing tool that is one of the few Instagram-forward apps for analytics.

Instagram marketing tools for analytics

This is robust software that can analyze every aspect of your Instagram business or brand experience. However, most notably for the purposes of this article, is the Hashtag Analytics feature. 

Happy hashtag hunting! 

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