How to Use Instagram Hashtags for Small Business Growth

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Let’s talk about Instagram hashtags for small business. It is a subject that I get a lot of questions about and that there seems to be a lot of confusion about. Trust me; it doesn’t have to be hard. I’m going to cover how to find the right Instagram hashtags, which ones to use, where to put them and how many to use.

If you are a local business owner whose clients come from your geographic area, this blog post about Instagram hashtags is for you. As a local small business owner, you’ve spent all your time on growing your business. You’re good at what you do. You don’t have time for online marketing. That’s where I come in. Let me show you how DIY online marketing for local business doesn’t have to be time-consuming or overwhelming.

Like I said, I get a lot of questions about Instagram hashtags. What really kills me, is when I’m scrolling through my newsfeed, and I see a missed opportunity. I see a caption with no hashtags or I see a caption that has a hashtag that no one’s searching for. Or, I see a caption with a hashtag that already has 5 million posts so no one is going to find this local business.

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Instagram hashtags for local business

Time Jumps

If you’re watching the video, skip ahead to these times if you want to watch something specific.

4:57 Branded hashtags.

6:58 How to find hashtags to use.

9:48 Getting discovered.

11:47 Finding the right hashtags to use.

21:36 How many hashtags should you use?

22:39 Where to Put Hashtags

How to Find Hashtags

How do you find the right Instagram hashtags for small business growth? First, let’s talk about what a hashtag is.

Do you remember, back in the day, when there were chat rooms on AOL and CompuServe? You could enter a chat room that was specific to a topic, like a movie chat room, or a chat room for fans of a football team, or a chat room for people who like to quilt, or a chat room for cat lovers.

Hashtags connect posts on Instagram much like those chat rooms gathered together everyone who was interested in a specific topic. Someone who is into fashion might follow a bunch of fashion bloggers in Instagram, but they also might search for a hashtag, such as #outfitoftheday or #ootd. Their search results will have post after post of what fashion bloggers are wearing that day.

Another example would be #mondaymood. That a hashtag that millions of people use on Mondays. If you search for #mondaymood on a Monday, you will see how everyone who used that hashtag is feeling. (My guess is they’re feeling tired and grumpy.)

A hashtag is a way to connect posts that are about similar things. A hashtag for weddings could be #weddingphotographer. If you search for #weddingphotographer, you will see the work of a lot of wedding photographers.

Even better, if you are a local wedding photographer, meaning you mainly serve your geographic area, then you could put your city or town in the hashtag. For instance, #pennsylvaniaweddingphotographer or #paweddingphotographer. Or, if you’re in Milwaukee, #milwaukeewedding. The more specific your Instagram hashtag for local business is, the better, because locals will be searching Instagram with specific hashtags.

Getting Discovered

The beauty of the Instagram hashtag is that it helps your local business get discovered. Instagram allows users to follow hashtags. That means if someone is following a local hashtag (in my area, that might be #downtownlancaster), they will come across your post even if they’re not following YOU. They’re not just seeing posts from the accounts they follow; they’re also seeing posts labeled with that hashtag. You can get found by new people!

That is essentially what Instagram hashtags do and why you should use them. You should never post without a hashtag, because unless you have hundreds or thousands of followers, no one’s going to see it.

Finding the Right Hashtags

How do you find the right hashtags to use? You can start by brainstorming. During your brainstorming, try to think of three different categories of hashtags for your local business or the photo you’re posting.

  • A hashtag to describe what’s specifically in the photo (color, product, location)
  • A hashtag to describe the person who would be interested in that photo (hobbyists, enthusiasts, followers, customers)
  • A hashtag to describe a broader category (trending, community, something funny or clever)

For instance, let’s use a wedding photographer as an example again. I’m probably targeting women who just got engaged or brides-to-be. When I post a wedding photo, I can included three different kinds of hashtags.

  • A hashtag to describe what’s specifically in the photo (#lancasterwedding, #corkfactoryhotel, #blushwedding, #barnwedding)
  • A hashtag to describe the person who would be interested in that photo (#lancasterbride, #lancastergetsengaged, #isaidyes, #bridetobe, #newbride, #gettingmarried)
  • A hashtag to describe a broader category (#weddingplanning, #weddinginspiration, #weddingideas)

Mix and mingle these three different kinds of hashtags into your caption.

When you’re brainstorming, it’s smart to do some research. Search for hashtags in your Instagram app. (You have to use the app on your phone or tablet. The features I’m about to describe don’t work on Instagram’s website.) Tap the “tags” tab at the top and type in your hashtag. When you start typing, you’ll see that Instagram tells you how many posts already have that hashtag. You’re looking for a hashtag that has at least 100,000 posts, but less than 1 million. If you go too low, you run the chance of not being discovered because not enough people are searching for that hashtag. If you go too high, you run the risk of not being discovered because the competition is too high.

The only caveat is that, as a local business, you can use hashtags that have less than 100,000 posts and still be effective, especially if you don’t live in a big city. There are only about 500,000 people in Lancaster County. If I find a hashtag that has 75,000 posts — like #lancasterpa — it will still be effective for me. Even so, if there are less than double-digit thousands, use more hashtags that are bigger because you might not get enough eyeballs on your post.

When you search for hashtags, you’ll see that the search results have two tabs: one for top posts and one for recent posts. Top posts have gotten the most likes and comments using that hashtag. Recent posts are exactly that, the most recent posts that used that hashtag. It’s a good idea to look at both top posts and recent posts so you can gauge the kind of content that other people are posting with that hashtag.

For instance, if you’re a hair stylist, you could look at top posts to see what kind of content you should be posting with the hashtag #hairstylist. You can use recent posts to engage with people who just posted with that hashtag, because chances are, they’ll be checking back soon to see if they got any likes ore comments. When they do, they’ll see that you liked and/or commented, which will put you on their radar. Note, if you comment on a post, please make it a genuine statement. Comments like “Great job!” and “Nice photo!” are treated like spam.

Once you’ve found hashtags that fit the above criteria, keep them in a Word or Google document or a spreadsheet. I keep mine in a spreadsheet, labeled by topic. That way, I can do the research once, and then copy and paste them over and over.

How Many Hashtags to Use

How many hashtags should you use in one Instagram caption? Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags in each post. There is a lot of debate about how many hashtags to use.

One a school of thought is to use no more than 9 or 11 hashtags. The theory here is that if you use more than that, Instagram’s algorithm won’t show your post to as many people. The other school of thought is to use as many hashtags as you’re allowed to use, so you can reach as many people as possible.

I’ve tried both methods. I’ve found that using as many hashtags as I can doesn’t hurt my reach. However, I play it safe. I use between around 28, splitting them into those three categories I talked about earlier. Don’t be afraid to use more hashtags. Don’t go above the limit, however, because then Instagram will stop showing your posts to people.

You should experiment with using only a handful of hashtags or using all 30. Then you’ll find out what works for your local business.

Where to Put Hashtags

If you’ve spent any time on Instagram, you’ve noticed that some people put hashtags right in their caption, while others put them in the first comment under the caption. There are pros and cons to both of these methods. However, I have a definite opinion about this issue.

The advantage to putting hashtags in the first comment is that the caption is easier to read; there are no hashtags cluttering the space. I can see the benefit of that. The hashtags will still work like they do inside the caption, but you’re caption looks cleaner without all those hashtags.

The disadvantage isn’t readily apparent. In fact, I didn’t discover disadvantage right away. The problem is that it was impossible for me to track analytics. My business is online marketing. My whole business depends on testing strategies to see what works and what doesn’t. When I put hashtags in the first comment, I wasn’t able to track whether or not my hashtags were helping my clients get found, or which ones were more popular than others.

Normally, Instagram will show you insights for your post that includes whether or not your hashtags brought people to your post. If you put them in the first comment, you lose those analytics.

Hashtag Tools

You can also use online hashtag tools to help you research the best Instagram hashtags for small business. I’ve mentioned before that I use Tailwind. I am also an affiliate, because I love their service. I use Tailwind to schedule my Instagram posts and to schedule my clients’ Instagram posts. Tailwind will give you hashtag suggestions as you write. You can also create saved hashtag lists to use over and over. The premium plans will also analyze your hashtags to tell you which hashtags are getting you the most followers. Tailwind lets me work smart, not hard.

Another tool I’ve used is Hashtagify.me. It also has paid options, but its free service still tells you a lot about any hashtag you search for.

What Not to Do

I see a lot of new Instagram users use cute or clever or jokey hashtags. As you can imagine, these aren’t hashtags that anyone is searching for. You can use clever or jokey hashtags as long as you are also using well-researched hashtags that people are actually searching for.

For instance, if you’ve been out all day and you’re hot and sweaty, you might post #imglowingnotsweating. If I have a bad day, I might post #nancyproblems. Those are very specific, so no one’s searching for them, which means no one will find those posts. Avoid using cutie-pie hashtags.

Instagram Stories

You can also use hashtags in your Instagram stories. I strongly recommend using hashtags in your stories because, again, they will help you get discovered. More than once, my stories were seen by hundreds of people simply because of the hashtag I used.

I recommend typing your hashtag or hashtags rather than using the hashtag sticker. When you type them, you can use multiple hashtags (although in stories, I wouldn’t use more than three). The hashtag sticker only allows one hashtag.

Bonus Tip

Your bonus tip today is to use a branded hashtag in your Instagram profile. What is a branded hashtag? A branded hashtag is one that is unique to you and your business. It’s not a general category hashtag. For instance, I have a landscaping client whose branded hashtag is #bestlaidplants. I use that branded hashtag in every single caption of his Instagram posts. By using a branded hashtag, someone could search for #bestlaidplants and Instagram would return any and all posts that use that hashtag.

Nike’s branded hashtag is #justdoit. Another branded hashtag might be, if you are a fan of Riverdale, their branded hashtag might be #bughead for the fans who like Betty and Jughead. That’s a branded hashtag; it relates to a very specific thing.

If you’re a florist, your hashtag could be something related to flowers. I wouldn’t use #flowerchild or #flowerpower because those are already really popular. Your brand wouldn’t stand out in that big crowd of posts. You could use something much more specific to your city and to flowers. I live in Lancaster, so a florist here could use #lancasterflowerchild or #lancasterflowerpower. If someone searched for your hashtag, they would see all the posts that use that hashtag, whether you posted them or a customer did.

Use your branded hashtag in your Instagram profile because it tips off your followers or anyone who looks at your profile. Then, if they do become a customer of yours and use your product or service, they can use your branded hashtag, which makes it easier for other people to find you. Or they can tap or click on that branded hashtag in your profile and see all the posts that relate to your business.

Use a branded Hashtag in your profile.

By now, you can see that hashtags are incredibly important on Instagram. Hashtags help people find your business. They’re how posts are connected. And hashtags can say a lot about your brand.

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2 Comment

  1. Hi Nancy . I’m Jonah from Hashtagify.me. I’ve just read your article and want to thank you very much for mentioning our tool. :)Appreciate it a lot!

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