One of the most misunderstood concepts on Instagram is how to use the hashtags (properly). Many people know what they are but most people don’t understand how to use them.
Using hashtags is a great way to grow your following and get your content seen by people that aren’t on your follower list. It can be super effective if used in the correct way.
If you manage to rank amongst the hashtags – you can be visible on these feeds for several days – sometimes even weeks. This all depends on how much content is being shared using those hashtags.
You’re probably sick of hearing: “use small, medium and large hashtags for maximum efficiency”. This is all very generalized and not specific to musicians.
Today, I want to show you exactly how you can start trending on the different hashtags.
But first, let’s take a step back and start from the beginning so you get a full understanding of what hashtags are.
Instagram is a search engine and it’s far less advanced than Google’s. Google picks up text, video, images, everything – whenever you search for something. However, since Instagram is mostly images and video content, it’s hard for Instagram to distribute the content for the right audience.
Instagram allows you to add hashtags, similar to how you would use keywords in your blog post or on YouTube. Keywords are a little different to hashtags though.
Using the same keywords on YouTube and Instagram will not work. You need to understand how people are searching on these different platforms.
For example, a keyword I will use for this blog post would be “hashtags for musicians tutorial” where as #hashtagsformusicianstutorial on Instagram won’t be very useful for me.
On YouTube people type with spaces and keywords and on Instagram there aren’t spaces or special characters. So you need to approach it differently.
So when I post this blog to Instagram, I will go for something more general, but still niche to my target audience. This means I’ll use something like #musicmarketing because I know that there’s lots of people following that exact hashtag.
By adding hashtags to your content, you’re making it easier for the Instagram algorithm to understand where to place your content – and to who.
But, how do you start trending on hashtags?
Whenever somebody lands on the hashtag search page – if you’re trending – you get a place at the top of that feed. This is very dependent on the hashtag but you could end up sitting at the top for weeks which drives some serious traffic your way. Although, Instagram recently removed the ‘recent’ tab on certain hashtags because of the US election – it will return post-election.
In order for anybody scrolling the hashtag feed to get a good understanding of what my posts are, I make sure that the first slide of my carousel or video thumbnail is captivating and obviously shows what the content actually is.
The easier it is for somebody to identify the topic/theme of the content, the more likely they are to click and check it out.
So, let’s jump right into how you can start trending with your hashtags and getting some great traffic to your account and grow your followers.
Do Your Research
So where to start? I always start with researching what my competitors are doing.
You should begin looking at some similar artists to you, see what hashtags they’re using, especially repeat use of certain tags that generates them lots of engagement. Get inspired and then use what you’ve learnt to look into anything similar.
Try to avoid using the big hashtags that have sh*t loads of posts. Why? Because the volume of posts means that your content will get lost in a sea of accounts with huge follower numbers that usually dominate these hashtags.
To get the right hashtags for you, find hashtags where the top 12 posts don’t have crazy high likes and comments.
For example, let’s say you choose a very broad hashtag such as #music… You will see a feed like this with over 336,000,000 content pieces to compete with:
Then when you go into the top few posts, you will see how many likes and how many comments they have received.
If your account gets around the same amount of likes and comments – you have a chance of trending on this hashtag.
However, if you do not get even remotely close to these results, you need to start finding some niche ones that you can use. For example, #technoproducer (if that’s what you are) you will see a feed like this.
This time, with only 107,000 posts to compete with:
If you’re getting around the same amount of likes and comments as the top 12 here – then you’ve found the hashtag for you.
So the more likes and comments (as well as shares, saves, etc.) you get on your posts gives you a higher chance of trending on the hashtags. We know this…
However, it’s also really important how much engagement you get within the first hour or two of posting too. Check my carousel post to understand how the algorithm works here:
If you’re struggling to get engagement on your posts, then I’d recommend you join some ‘pods’ to help with this. I made a video all about Instagram Pods here:
If you naturally get a lot of engagement on your content, you should then optimize this more. When you get a comment, answer with a question to get people to come back and give more comments. Ramp up those interactions. You will then start trending on the different hashtags you choose.
If you are starting your Instagram from scratch and do not get a lot of engagement; then start with the smaller hashtags. The ones you actually have a chance of trending on. It’s better to grow into different hashtags than to just waste real estate on hashtags that won’t work for you yet.
Your Hashtags Need to be Relevant
This is becoming more and more important the more Instagram is enhancing their algorithm and including AI to help them sort content better.
The worst thing you can do and annoy the algorithm is to tag your content incorrectly.
If you post a picture of yourself performing and use the hashtag #inthestudio – people who search for content related to ‘in the studio’ will not want to see your content as it has nothing to do with the hashtag.
The goal of using hashtags isn’t so you can place your content in front of random people. You are using hashtags so people looking for specific things on the platform and are using the search bar can find what they are looking for.
The more relevant you can get, the better.
Perhaps that picture of you performing you mentioned “being in the studio for a long time and it’s nice to finally meet people again” so you feel maybe the #inthestudio may fit. Nope, because when people search on Instagram they only see images not captions.
It’s not like the Youtube algorithm where you see descriptions, thumbnail and preview (text, image and video).
So you need to make sure the hashtags you are using are directly relevant to what you are seeing on the photo/video.
If you are using relevant hashtags that are describing your content, you will make the algorithm happy.
So it’s not only the amount of engagement you get, they also need to be relevant to the post you shared. So the strategy of using the same hashtags on every post does not work and is a waste of opportunity.
Start creating a list of all the different hashtags and note down the popularity next to them. Keep a spreadsheet on Google and whenever you come across a good hashtag – make a record.
Eventually you will start compiling a serious list of some pretty specific and relevant hashtags to your brand and content.
As you are following a plan every week of what you have to post, you know the different areas you touch upon throughout the week, so you can start collecting some good hashtags that are relevant to the content you share.
You can use many of these hashtags on a regular basis but there will always be something unique to each content piece that will need some strategic hashtag thinking and placement as well.
The Amount of Hashtags
Let me introduce to you the ‘staircase method’.
Start by choosing 5-7 hashtags that you know you can rank on (because you get the same amount of engagement as the competition). This would be a slam dunk almost.
Because your content will consistently receive the amount of engagement that requires. Then go ahead and select a few hashtags that are more top tier.
Look through your engagement and see how your top performing posts have done. Let’s say you normally get 100 likes – but some posts will receive 300 depending on the content. Then select a few hashtags (5-7) that are in this top tier.
What will happen is that you will start ranking in the smaller hashtags right away, which will bring the engagement up even further, so you’ll take a step up and can start competing on the bigger hashtags.
This is called the staircase model as you actually need to start trending small so you can get enough to go up top. Then once you’ve cracked those, start putting a few really big hashtags.
If your post was to go viral through the first and smaller hashtags, you can then move on up to the bigger ones as well. If you climb each step successfully you will eventually be on the top step and competing on the big hashtags.
It is very difficult to get to the top stairs and most of the time we will just go up 1 or 2 steps.
Try to use anything from between 9-30 hashtags. Test this out and find what works best for you.
Learn As You Go
It’s important to monitor this very closely so you can really optimize your hashtag strategy. You can go into the insights and see in the dashboard how much traffic came from hashtags on each individual post. If you see you gained some traction from certain hashtags then repeat using them again (if they’re relevant).
I typically receive a lot of engagement from my carousel tutorials as I tend to use thumbnails that draw people in from the hashtag feed.
So every time I post a carousel I try different hashtags to see what works or not.
Tools To Do It For You
There are tons of tools to help you with your hashtags. Finding the right hashtags and monitoring how you do on the hashtag.
Flick is a tool with a 7 day free trial.
Sprout Social helps you both with the research and measuring.
Before you join and start paying money to any of these tools; make sure you’ve got a strong understanding of strategy.
So remember, a little research goes a long way with hashtags. Have a spy on what other people similar to you are successfully using. Make sure every tag is relevant at all times and trial out different amounts of hashtags for each post.
Keep climbing those stairs by starting low and working your way up to the bigger hashtags. Rome wasn’t built in a day afterall.
Utilise the tools available to assist with the research and measurement.
Now go and experiment and let me know how much you improved!