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The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags for 2018

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Did you know an Instagram post with at least one hashtag averages 12.6% more engagement than a post with no hashtags?

Hashtags are powerful. They can help your posts reach a target audience, attract followers in your niche, increase engagement, and develop a more positive and recognizable brand image.

Here’s the thing, though: with great power comes great responsibility (#spiderman).Download 25 free Instagram templates to increase engagement and elevate your  presence. 

Hashtags can skyrocket your business to new heights, but if used too frequently or without a clear strategy in mind, they become pointless and inefficient, e.g.: #happy #superhappy #ecstatic #jumpingforjoy #whatsanothersynonym.

We want your business’s Instagram posts to receive optimal engagement, so we’ve put together an ultimate guide for using Instagram hashtags in 2018. With this guide, you won’t just attract followers -- you’ll attract the right followers.

Why Hashtags Are Important

Hashtags are essentially Instagram’s sorting process. With around 95 million photos posted on Instagram every day, it’s difficult for Instagram to efficiently deliver the right content to the right people. Hashtags help your post get discovered by viewers most interested in seeing it.

Krystal Gillespie, HubSpot’s Social Media Community Manager, explains the importance of hashtags this way: “Hashtags are like a funnel. For instance, #marketing is incredibly broad and attracts all types of posts. We’ve found #digitalmarketing or #marketingmotivation gives us a more specific, targeted reach. The audience searching for these hashtags are also trying to narrow their search to what we offer related to Marketing, so we're actually reaching more of the right people.”

Essentially, hashtags are a better way to categorize your posts. They help you reach a target audience, and more importantly, they help your target audience find you. These users are more likely to engage with your post because your post is exactly what they wanted.

Adding one of the most popular Instagram hashtags to your post doesn’t necessarily mean you'll see more interaction. Since the hashtags above are so popular, they are being used by millions of people, so your post will most likely be obscured by the competition. Narrowing your hashtag topic is important, but we’ll get to that next.

How to Use Hashtags for Your Business

1. Keep Your Hashtags Organized

To create an efficient hashtag system, you can use Excel or an Instagram analytics tool. If you choose an excel sheet, you’ll need to manually keep track of which hashtags you use, how often, and which ones correlate to your most popular posts. Over time, you’ll see relationships between certain hashtags and your most popular posts, and this can help you decide which hashtags work best for your brand.

If you have a more advanced social media team, you might want to consider a tool like Iconosquare, which automatically stores top hashtags and provides reports on which hashtags reach the most people.

For smaller businesses with limited budgets, Krystal Gillespie says that, “an excel sheet is the best way to start. Once you get more advanced I would highly recommend using a tool to track the data. A manual system can get overwhelming when you’re posting three times a day and using about 20 hashtags per post.”

2. Figure Out Your Magic Number

Most top brands -- 91% of them, to be exact -- use seven or fewer hashtags per post, so it's easy to assume that's the magic number for everyone … right? Krystal explains that this isn't always the case: She told me HubSpot has been more successful with hashtags ranging in the low 20s.

The point is, you can’t know how many hashtags work best for you until you test it. For HubSpot, it took the team several months to find a number that worked best, and during our trial period, we ranged from seven to 30. Give yourself the same flexibility for trial and error.

3. Narrow Your Hashtags

There are two big reasons more specific, smaller-volume hashtags are better for your brand: first, you can compete in a smaller pool. HubSpot, for example, doesn’t typically use the hashtag #marketing because it’s too broad. If you search #marketing, you’ll find pictures of restaurants, inspirational quotes, before-and-after hair style pictures, and memes.

The randomness of #marketing leads me to the second reason specific hashtags are a good idea: as a user, I’m more likely to find what I need if I search for something specific, and when your business comes up for my specific search request, I’m more likely to be happy with what I found.

Krystal explains: “Keeping a hashtag close to the interests of your brand really helps. We try to use hashtags tailored for a specific topic and then narrow it down further -- for instance, we’d use #SEOTips if our marketing post was mostly about SEO.”

Think of it this way: #dogs is more popular, but it has a wide demographic. If I search #goldenretrieverpuppies and I find your post, I’m more likely to engage with it because it’s exactly what I wanted.

4. Research What Other People are Hashtagging

An easy way to generate hashtag ideas is to make a list of your followers or competitors and research what they’re hashtagging on their own photos. It can also be particularly helpful to research what influencers in your industry are hashtagging -- by definition, influencers are people with a large social media following, so they must be doing something right.

5. Test Out Related Hashtags

When you type a hashtag into Instagram’s search bar, Instagram shows you related hashtags in the scroll-down menu. Instagram also delivers related hashtags on the next page after you click on a hashtag. This is a simple way to create a longer list of hashtags to try out.

6. Follow Your Own Hashtag

Another way to use Instagram hashtags for your marketing purposes is to follow your own hashtag. Krystal explains, “On Instagram I actually follow the hashtag #hubspot so I can find anyone who talks about us and connect with them. As long as your account isn't private, people will be able to find you via the hashtag.”

Following your own hashtag is an effective way to engage with other people talking about your brand and develop better relationships with them.

7. Create a Brand Campaign Hashtag

This is the trickiest item on the list, but if done successfully, it can pay off big time. Some businesses have successfully attracted followers by creating their own campaign hashtag. A campaign hashtag needs to be funny, clever, or at least memorable in order to work.

Campaign hashtags are particularly useful for promoting a new product or upcoming event, or even just inspiring people. Red Bull, for example, encouraged followers to post Red Bull pictures with a #putacanonit hashtag (see what I mean about clever?). LuLuLemon, rather than running a more traditional ad campaign, developed a positive connotation for their brand by asking followers to post real, active pictures of themselves with a #sweatlife hashtag.

How to Use Instagram Search Within the App

Now that we’ve covered the importance of using Instagram hashtags for your business, you might be wondering how to search for Instagram hashtags within the app, or how to use the search function to find related ideas. If you’re unsure of the technical process for hashtag searching, here’s how:

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