Grow Your Instagram Following Using Hashtags
By: Mary Kate Gulick
When you’re in Instagram and you’re searching a hashtag, it brings up the posts that are going to be featured under that hashtag. Do you think that if you have an account with less than 500 followers, that if you target one of those massive hashtags with more than a million users, what are the odds that your post is going to be featured under that hashtag so that it will be discovered by people who are looking under the hashtag? No, of course not. If you have a huge account, it’s going to be featured there. So really, the size of the hashtags that you select to include on your Instagram account are really important to how discoverable you are.
We’re going to talk through a strategy that’s called Rightsizing Your Instagram Hashtags. Now, I have busted out my trusty whiteboard for this so that we could talk about it, and it is hashtag time. I categorize hashtags into small, medium, large, and extra-large. Small is a hashtag, when you look up your hashtag on Instagram and it shows you how many uses that hashtag has, a small hashtag is something that has under 100,000 uses. So, it’s a great hashtag in the small category. A medium hashtag has between 100,000 and 500,000 uses. A large hashtag has between 500,000 and a million. And an extra-large hashtag is those million plus uses. Something like dogsofinstagram would be an extra-large hashtag, right? and not always appropriate for you.
So, as I was saying, if I have a small following and all of the hashtags that I put on my posts are extra- large hashtags, who am I competing with? Who are the other accounts that I’m competing with to get seen under those hashtags? They’re huge accounts. So which posts are Instagram going to feature under those hashtags, when someone’s looking at those hashtags? Well, they feature the posts that have the most engagement on them. Is my 500 person or less account going to have the same engagement on their posts as a massive account that’s using the same hashtags? No. There’s no way I can compete in that category. It doesn’t make sense for my account, as a small Instagram account, to use those extra- large hashtags. So I want to rightsize the hashtags I’m using because my goal is to get in front of new people and to grow my Instagram account, right?
Here’s how I am recommending using hashtags. Understanding that we have small, medium and large, what we’re going to do is . . . Okay, so if you have less than 1,000 followers on your brand’s Instagram account, you get 30 hashtags that you can use with every post, and the experts go back and forth as to whether or not you can use all of them. The newest usage data is saying use all of your hashtags, use all 30 of them because each hashtag that you use is another opportunity for exposure to a new audience. It’s another chance to grow your account.
So, if you have under 1,000 followers on your Instagram account, you don’t want to be using those extra-large hashtags. You want to allocate your 30 by using 24 small hashtags, so hashtags with less than 100,000 uses, three medium hashtags, two large hashtags and one extra-large hashtag, that one pie in the sky “go for it” hashtag just to see what you can do.
The reason we want to use any of those is because if you’re using some of these small and medium hashtags, if you’re getting engagement along the way by making use of those rightsized hashtags, then you do have the potential to show up as featured in one of these large or extra-large hashtags. So if you have under 1,000 followers on your account, focus on those small hashtags. Do your hashtag research and find the really well aligned hashtags for your business and for what you’re offering that are under 100,000 uses.
If your account is a little bit bigger, if you have more than 1,000 followers, between 1,000 and 5,000, then we’re going to shift that allocation a little bit, of your 30 hashtags for your posts. You still want about 10 of those small hashtags, again, because those are the easy hashtags for you to be featured in, right? It’s more likely that those people are going to see you. But we can up our game when it comes to those medium hashtags and have about 10 of those this time, and then six large hashtags and four of those extra-large hashtags. So really, we’re just shifting that allocation to make it more likely that people are seeing you, and that as you’re getting more engagement by showing up in these small hashtags that you’re able to be seen, you have the opportunity to be seen, in those large and extra-large hashtags, potentially.
Then as your accounts get bigger, as your follower counts grow, you shift that allocation even more. If we come all the way down to the bottom, if you have over 100,000 followers, obviously you’re targeting large and extra-large hashtags. It doesn’t make sense for you to be going after small hashtags at that point because you have the ability to be featured in front of these larger audiences, right? So, that’s what you’re going to do. But when you’re in that messy middle, between 1,000 and 100,000, that’s when you really want to be thinking about which hashtags you’re targeting with your posts.
If you have between 5,000 and 10,000 Instagram followers, that allocation really shifts towards the middle. So, you have six small hashtags that you want to be targeting, but then do eight medium, 10 large and then six extra-large. Most of the engagement that you’re going to get is going to come in these medium and large hashtags so that’s where you want to be focusing when you’re this kind of mid-level 5,000 to 10,000 account.
Once you hit above 10,000, then we really are shifting towards that large and extra-large with 12 large and eight extra-large hashtags. But we still need to be playing in the small and medium spaces as well because we haven’t hit that 100 K mark. I would say that this is such a large window, 10 to 100 K, that if you’re closer to 10, you’ll want to shift these a little bit more towards the small and medium.
Does it make sense why we would want to rightsize our hashtags? Because when I search for a hashtag on Instagram, if I’m looking at a hashtag that has a million plus uses, what it’s going to be showing me are the posts with the most engagement, and the posts with the most engagement in a space that big are going to be ones from massive accounts. So if you have a smaller account, you simply aren’t going to get discovered playing under that hashtag. You want to be playing under a smaller hashtag that has less than 1,000.
It’s like the whole concept of long tail keywords in SEO. Do you get a massive audience from that keyword? No, but you get a really qualified audience from those keywords. So focus on those highly aligned hashtags that have a little smaller audience. And if you have a smaller account, you are much more likely to actually put your post in front of them and thereby grow your following.