Your Hashtags Suck
Specifically, your hashtag strategy sucks. Here’s how to fix it.
So You’re following all the so-called Best Practices
- You use all 30 Hashtag “spots”
- You hide them in the comments.
- You find “big” and “small”
- Oh! and “mid-tier” hashtags. A wide variety you tell yourself.
Let’s Be Real
- You don’t click hashtags yourself.
- Finding hashtags takes too long.
- And your followers hate them too.
You Don’t Click Hashtags Yourself
First off, let’s quickly talk about how you’re using hashtags, right now. You’re not clicking them. You’re assuming that many people… “out there”…. click hashtags to find relevant content.
They don’t. You don’t. I don’t.
Not at least not as much as you think.
I know how much people click
Clients show me their “Impressions from Hashtags” stat, on Instagram. I’ve yet to find someone who gets more than 1% of their impressions from this stat consistently. Sometimes a peak of 4%. oooh wow!
Check It Yourself
If you are using 30 hashtags in each post, I implore you to find your true metric. Go to your stats ( turn on your business profile now if you haven’t.) . and go to a post. get the stat: “Impressions from Hashtag” now divide that by the total Impressions for that post.
If you can’t do math…
Screenshot your stats, email them to me: email@example.com
I’ll do the math for you.
The Act of Finding Hashtags Suck
No matter how long it takes, it’s taking you too long to find hashtags.
You’re looking at competitors, colleagues, you’re using search sites and apps that are just telling you what you know. Tangential “keywords” that seem similar to the post you’re posting.
Sure #ItalianAdventures, sorta works for that post from Sorrento, the cafe in Kansas City that has their two for one happy hour every Thursday.
Your Hashtags Cause People to Leave
So you posted 30 hashtags, to bring people to you. Have you thought of how they are getting there in the first place? They clicked on that hashtag, to begin with, in some other poor sap’s post. Went to that explore page and somehow scoured through, to find you…
You’re the poor sap
Your fans, followers, … heck, your friends…they are all using your hashtags in your post, to find more relevant posts.
#ItalianAdventures you used for your Thursday night happy hour pizza post, now your friends are on the shores of Positano, dreaming of renting a small boat to Capri. The captain’s a really nice Italian man who knows of Oklahoma. He heard about it. But right now they’re navigating their way to the top of Capri by way of the funicular…. you get my point. Your fans are now, a long ways away from Oklahoma.
Your Fans Hate Hashtags Too
Believe it or not. Your fans, followers, friends… they hate your hashtags. That’s why they don’t click on them. And people who find your posts through hashtags, they think you suck.
Let me tell you how I found this out.
A Hashtag Test
I did a study last year with a client, She had refused to use hashtags. At the time I was seeing great “success” in growing small Instagram accounts with hashtags and so I wanted her to use them too.
I was bullish on hashtags. (That means I really liked them, probably more than you do now. I told everyone I could about how awesome hashtags were.)
We used the same search sites you know of. I even bought an app to find hashtags. We matched perfectly the hashtags to her posts. We added hashtags every other day for 2 weeks on posts.
In the end, we found that the post with hashtags had -2% engagement rate compared to the posts without hashtags. Yes, Negative Two Percent. Not only were the tags not helping, they were actually slightly hurting.
What we think happened
What had happened was there was a very very slight increase in users who found her posts through these very carefully chosen hashtags, then, left.
They just went away. On to the next tag.
Those who do click Hashtags, the truth is, they don’t like you. They like exploring. (hence the “Explore” Page).
Give Your Followers What They Want
Really you should be giving them what they want. To do that you need to figure out what they want.
WHAT THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THEN!?
Yeah, I feel ya, mate.
It’s tough out there.
Here are two ways I’ve developed to utilize Hashtags to their true potential. I’ve seen success with these. And I’ll explain them both in detail.
- Only use hashtags that people will regram you, figure out Who To Tag.
- Organize your own feed with hashtags.
Who To Tag
So instead of thinking “what to tag?” or “which hashtag(s) should I use?”. I like to think of who. Who is going to like this post? Who is going to notice that this photo rocks?
On Instagram right now are thousands of accounts that feature, or curate your work into theirs. Heaps of communities gathered around a wide variety of topics. From dogs to portraits to night photography to best shots of Paris.
I built a search tool that you can use right now to search for relevant accounts that will regram you. Honestly, the UI sucks but you can check it out here: www.whototag.com
I’ll Help You
If you like the idea, but find it hard to use, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll search it for you.
Give to Get
But that’s not all. If you just tag someone’s hashtag. You’re not doing enough for your own followers. You’re just trying to get something for free.
Let’s give some value, upfront.
Call To Action (CTA)
Write a nice call to action for your followers to go check out this other feed. They are already following you, don’t worry about losing them. Worry that you’re not giving enough.
Give them, your fans, a gift of more of what they want.
Hey Family: Check out this great feed of other photos from Paris. Really love what @paris.vacations is doing. Explore the feed at #paris_vacations
Do it to increase “Repeat Readers”
It’s not sending people away. It’s giving people what they want.
If they are followers of yours, they’ll be back and they’ll be more engaged.
They’ll read more captions next time.
The more captions people read, the more time they spend with you.
The more time people spend with you, the more likes they’ll give you.
Give them a reason to come back again and again.
Flavors of CTA’s
You’ll have your own style. Make sure you super call out your own style.
If you do get featured, it’s easy to go back to your past caption and change it to: “Holy Moly! I got featured on @paris.vacations!”
This is going to sound strange, to begin with. I guarantee if everyone did this, Instagram would be a better place.
You have a few ways to find individual posts in a person’s feed:
- Scroll through the feed.
- Click on a post on an explore page.
- Get a shared post in the DM.
- Get a URL of the post shared with you (emailed, texted, whatsapp’ed, etc.)
So naturally, we’re limited here right.
Create Your Own Unique Hashtag(s)
Hashtags, thankfully, are super easy to make. Just type it. That’s all.
To get a hashtag used in posts is super hard. You gotta let people know about it and then they have to want to use it.
Brands, businesses, try to get people to use hashtags all the time. For events and such. That’s just so they can figure out who is “engaged”.
Be Greedy, for Once
But this type of unique hashtag, we don’t want people to add this hashtag to their own posts.
Let’s be greedy.
We want people to just CLICK on the hashtag.
Origins of Hashtags
Let’s use hashtags as they were originally meant to be used, to organize conversations around events. Seriously check back at early days of Twitter and Chris Messina… why he “invented” hashtags.
Our event, and how we use hashtags personally, is whatever we make it.
A newly created hashtag: just using a “#” and then a group of words, Will automatically create a unique url. Instagram.com/explore/tags/[groupofwords] and in Instagram, if you click that hashtag on a phone, you’ll be taken to that page. Where all posts using that hashtag are.
Let’s say my account is @AndrewsCoolPhotos (it’s not) and I go on a trip to Paris, but I am not going to post 100% of my photos during that week I’m in Paris.
But when people do see my Paris photos, I’d like to send them to a place ( an explore page) that shows them all my Paris photos across my feed.
So I create a new unique hashtag that nobody else will use. I also don’t care about the length because I’m adding it, all followers need to do is click on it.
- or #AndrewsCoolPhotosinParis
- or #AndrewsCoolPhotos_in_Paris
The last one is a bit more “readable” giving the “Paris” some space to breathe. It’s ultimately my decision but you see. I could also incorporate the unique hashtag really creatively into my name.
if I were a photographer: #[name] DoesPortraits. # [name]DoesLandscapes
You see you can organize your photos into any number of groups.
If you’re a power user of Instagram you probably have spent countless nights lying awake trying to figure out how to make it to the top 9 of the explore page of hashtags.
I just gave you the way. You invent your own hashtag.
Seriously. who else would use “ThisHashtagWillNeverBeUsed” and there are 0 posts. (at the time of writing this) the first nine posts used will be the top 9.
My Friend Needs This!
If you know someone whose hashtags suck. Someone who could use the help. You can share them the link. Or…
Send them to YourHashtagsSuck.com
which will redirect them to this article.
Why am I writing this?
Full disclosure, I run a growth agency for Instagrammers. Email me if you need help growing your followers or growing your revenue.
and I run WhoToTag.com go use it. At the time of writing, it’s free. But soon It’ll be paid access (small amount of free access).
And honestly, I think Instagram would be a better place to discover great content if we’re all working in sync and use these strategies to create a better fan experience.
Thanks to Amelia and Charlotte for reading early drafts.