There are many ways to hack Instagram. But if you’re trying to boost engagement and get likes and comments on your posts, learning how to properly use hashtags is essential.
Ironically, while Twitter was the first to popularize the almighty hashtag and is the network we most often associate with hashtags in popular culture, Instagram’s algorithm encourages more hashtag usage than does the algorithm of any other platform, so why not use Instagram hashtags to your advantage?
Mastering the art and science of Instagram hashtags can be tricky. But the key to getting your posts in front of more people, as well as the right people, is making sure your posts show up as Top Posts for your targeted hashtags.
How Top Posts Work
Instagram Top Posts appear as the first 9 images that pop up when you click on a hashtag or enter a tag into Instagram’s search bar. These top posts are what Instagram has decided are the best posts using that hashtag and they are the first ones users see when they look for anything associated with that hashtag. By getting your content to appear in Top Posts, your images will gain more impressions and exposure.
Images that make it into Top Posts stay at the top longer, and unlike the Most Recent section below it, Top Posts aren’t in chronological order. Rather, they are based on the amount of user engagement or interaction with the post within a finite amount of time.
How to Consistently Make it into Top Posts
I doubt anyone outside of Instagram’s staff actually knows the platform’s algorithm, but I discovered a nice little trick to get more likes on posts through my own experiences of trial and error using Instagram. I did not have a large following (and I still don’t have a super huge following), but I wanted my posts to receive more meaningful engagement and my profile to accrue more targeted followers who would be truly interested in my content. To do that, my posts would have to show up for the right people – the sort of people whom I want to attract.
Most people think of Instagram as a social media network and that is true, but I realized Instagram (like Twitter) is actually a search engine as well, and a powerful one at that.
Applying what I knew about search engines, I decided it would be better to rank higher i.e. get into Top Posts for narrow, niche hashtags that specifically target the audience with whom I wished to interact. I also wanted to get more exposure on hashtags with a wide enough following to be relevant, but a small enough following so as to minimize competition for the coveted Top Posts section.
I began to research ‘long-tail,’ niche or targeted hashtags that relate to my audience and my business to see how many previous posts each hashtag had. Those with a low enough number of posts to make competition for the top spot low, but a high enough number of posts to get a significant number of eyeballs on my posts were deemed worthy of use.
I now consistently (or at least most of the time) make it into the Top Posts section for hashtags like #businessstrategy, #contentwriter, and #internetbusiness, which is useful to me as a freelance copywriter and marketer. Occasionally, I get into Top Posts for even more popular hashtags such as #copywriting and #contentwriting. I also use more popular hashtags like #marketing, #contentmarketing, and #freelance.
Note: No, I’m not scared that some of you are going to ‘steal’ those hashtags, because I welcome the competition and you will not defeat me. Bring it, #&%$*! 🙂
While these narrow hashtags are the most helpful, I still use broad hashtags when appropriate that are based on specific themes related to the image or general trends. Examples include #summer, #grind, #hustle, #MotivationMonday, and #creative.
I do this because the post will briefly appear at the top of the Most Recent section of some very popular hashtags, which increases the likelihood that the post will be seen and and pick up a few likes quickly after it is posted before it disappears down into the Most Recent section of those popular hashtags. In the short-run, this may attract likes from people outside my target audience, bots, and fake or fickle followers, but I’m cool with that. It’s OK, because these first few likes will tell Instagram that the post is valuable, which will get the post bumped up higher into Top Posts for the narrow hashtags.
Once I’m in the Top Posts section for the targeted hashtags that I was aiming for, I’ll be up there for a while achieving more visibility, more likes for a longer period of time, and new followers who are actually interested in topics related to my brand.
Don’t Underestimate Most Recent:
While landing in the Top Posts section is far more valuable than being at the top of the Most Recent section, over-indexing for Most Recent on narrow, long-tail, targeted hashtags that relate to your brand is also a smart strategy.
Remaining at the top of the Most Recent section for a long period of time ensures that even when your post has faded away from the Top Post limelight, you can continue to mine that post’s equity. For narrow hashtags, you may stay at the top of the Most Recent section for a especially long time, because the hashtag receives new posts so infrequently. When your content dominates the Most Recent feed for a niche hashtag, this can keep you at the top of mind for the people you wish to target. You may also gain more likes and find yourself back in the Top Posts section now and then.
Furthermore, if you begin to dominate the Most Recent section of a given hashtag, you’ll become the account most associated with that hashtag on Instagram, which can be a tremendous asset to your branding efforts.
Another important strategy, which could very well be the subject of its own blog post, is leveraging branded hashtags.
Branded hashtags are hashtags that relate specifically to your business. Creating a hashtag that is specific to your business, such as one that features the name of your business or one of your campaigns e.g. #madewithchobani (Chobani) or #OfficeHack (Staples), can go a long way toward crafting a brand on Instagram.
Experiment with several branded hashtags and reuse the ones that receive the best results. If one of your branded hashtags starts trending, more attention will be shifted directly to your brand.
Good luck and if you found this post helpful, please follow me on Instagram @zevg1 for more inspiring, useful content related to digital marketing! #followmenow #thanksforreading #GoGetEm