How to Use Instagram Hashtags
Alright, so you’ve made your weekly floral masterpiece, moved the furniture and knick-knacks from the corner of your home with the best light, contorted yourself to get the best angle, and finally chosen and edited your picture for Instagram. Your dog is looking at you like you’ve lost your mind, but it’s a great feeling. If you’re anything like me, though (a total newb at social-media marketing), you probably started an Instagram account—flinging your art and passion into the whirlwind—without any knowledge of how to create a stable and engaged following.
I had only used Instagram as a social platform and wasn’t looking for ways to get total strangers to like my mostly dog-mom pics. So when I approached my business Instagram the same way, my only engaged followers were, unsurprisingly, my mom and husband.
When I sat down to figure out what these successful Instagram personalities were doing to get 200, 1000, 5000+ followers with an engagement of 50-200 likes per photo, it baffled me. I read their short descriptions, and nothing stood out. But even though the entire caption was visible, Instagram was hiding stuff from me: the hashtags these florists were using.
The social-media populars had inserted a long space between their picture caption and a slew of floral-related hashtags at the bottom. Of the dozens of artists I follow, nearly every picture had these hashtags that described the image in some way: #slowflowers, #weddingflorist, #floraldesign
Eureka! So I started hashtagging my photos. The first one was astonishing: not only did my most-engaged followers still like my photo (thanks, Mom!), I had also grasped the elusive total-stranger audience. It started slowly, but in one week of posting with hashtags, I went from four followers to twenty-five.
But I didn’t want to stop there. I decided to research why this worked so well and what I could do to increase my visibility to total strangers—strangers who may become industry connections or hopefully, customers.
How does Instagram use the hashtag?
When someone searches Google, the website looks for the searched phrase in the title of the page, body text, and even photo captions on the page. In Instagram, however, any words in the photo caption will be overlooked if they are not in the hashtag format. Instagram uses hashtags as the filing system for all searches and posts. If a photo has a hashtag, it gets filed with all other posts that use that hashtag. Since this is their only way of categorizing data, Instagram allows users to use up to 30 hashtags per post.
And just as users can follow a particular person or brand, users can now follow specific hashtags, meaning that they see not only what the people they follow post, but also the posts of brands and people they have yet to discover.
Instagram also notices when certain hashtags appear together or are similar in their wording. This allows hashtags to be linked to one another and helps Instagram users discover related content. For instance, when a user searches “flowers” in the search window under the tags bar, Instagram gives them a list of other hashtags often used in conjunction with #flowers. It will also give you the number of times that hashtag has been used, which is a good indication of how competitive the hashtag will be.
What kinds of hashtags are there?
There are two types of hashtags your business can use: the branded hashtag or the community hashtag.
Branded hashtags are just what they sound like. They are created by and for a specific brand for products, events, or marketing campaigns. Most companies using branded hashtags are selling visually-appealing products. For instance, Nike posting a picture of sneakers and tagging it with #AirMax or #NikeLab.
Seventy percent of hashtags used on Instagram are branded. This creates a category inside Instagram that is just for the brand and allows users to engage with the brand by using the hashtag on their own account. (“I love my new #Nike #AirMax kicks!”) Branded hashtags also have the benefit of being great for social-media marketing tools, to understand who your followers are, and how to connect with them more.
Community hashtags, on the other hand, are for general use and are not specific to a company or product. These can be as broad as #flowers to categorize what is in the picture, or even movements within an industry to create a more specific category, like #localflowers if you are using product from local farms. Community hashtags are to signal to the consumer and fellow professionals your personal style and your values for your business.
Community hashtags are the ones that make your business more discoverable. Branded hashtags are how you create engagement amidst your audience, who then lead you to more engaged followers as they promote your business.
How do you decide which hashtags to use?
Whether you use branded or community hashtags, research shows that although you are allowed 30 hashtags per post, the optimal number of hashtags used by popular Instagram brands is 11. Ideally, you will have one or two branded hashtags you can use; then the other 9-10 will be community hashtags that connect you to the floral industry or even brands and trends in your specific market.
Since many florists are studio florists who provide a product, it seems as though branded hashtags would be appropriate. What I have found, however, is that few studio florists use branded hashtags for their own business. The florists I have seen using branded hashtags are typically ones with brick-and-mortar stores or ones who specialize in daily deliveries, where they try to encourage customers to post their arrangement to Instagram with a branded hashtag.
As studio florists, our role in the event or photo shoot is typically to capture the specific mood or character that the client is looking for. We are almost feeding the brand they are creating, and if any branded hashtags are used, it is typically the hashtag they created for the event or marketing campaign and doesn’t relate to your business.
In that vein, if you are trying to use a branded hashtag, I would ask the permission of the organizers of the event—be it a wedding or company, etc.—if you can use their brand’s hashtag while posting your work. They may want you to delay until the event is over or the marketing campaign has launched. But where you can do it, these hashtags can connect you with an audience who might not typically find your work.
A recent example of this is the Team Flower Conference in Orlando, Florida, earlier this month. Team Flower used the branded hashtag #teamflowerconference. If you went to this conference, you could post a photo from the event and use the conference hashtag. This allows other florists who attended the Team Flower Conference or those who followed the conference to discover you and lets them see what your style and values are.
If you have a brick-and-mortar business, get to work on some branded hashtags! The more you use your business’s hashtag, along with popular community hashtags, the more discoverable your hashtag becomes to people who are searching only community hashtags. Encourage customers to use your hashtag when posting a photo of a lovely daily arrangement someone sent them, for instance, instead of just using the @janedoeflorist that will link to your shop directly so that Instagram will file that photo with the appropriate hashtag and connect it to community hashtags.
Deciding on a branded hashtag can sound daunting, but it can be as simple as your business name or the mood you are trying to capture with your designs. Your first one should probably be your business name or some form of it. If you add one or two (don’t add too many), make sure it is backed up by some marketing campaign you are using on other social media outlets, on your website, in ad space, or even your business card. You want it to be clear what your branded hashtag is so users can follow it. When you pick a branded hashtag, stick with it. This is the only way to measure the success of the hashtag using marketing tools.
These hashtags can be used by everyone and can be broad and literal (#flowers, #bouquet) to narrow or abstract (#OMGtheseflowersareridiculous, #vintageromance). Any florist can use these effectively. Since there are an infinite amount of them, I have a list of questions to ask yourself about narrowing down what hashtags you want to be attached your work:
- What are the 2-3 keywords you use for search engine optimization (SEO) on other platforms? Search for those and see if they have enough posts to have a community following.
- What are the common hashtags of the florists you admire on Instagram? Over a period of time, see which ones they consistently use and note patterns on how engaged their followers are with each.
- What are the common hashtags of florists whose style you don’t particularly like? Note these as well. If you are using hashtags similar to these florists, you may be putting your work into communities that will not end up engaging in your work.
- What are the common hashtags of florists in your market and area of business? Is there a hashtag that is used locally that brides and consumers would follow to know about florists in the area?
- What about other industry specialists or bridal publications in your area? You should expand who you follow to include these folks.
- Do you adhere to any trends or movements inside of the floral industry? Are you apart of any trade organizations? What are the hashtags these groups use—and do you have clearance to use them? #slowflowers, for instance, is based on a book and podcast by Debra Prinzing and may be referring specifically to her brand and the movement she has popularized.
- What hashtags are trending outside of the industry that you could use to cross-pollinate with other artistic fields?
Lastly, hashtag discovery tools are available from social-media marketing tools. Much of my research came from Sprout Social, and they have a good list of devices they recommend.
Top Tips for using Instagram Hashtags
- Once you have a decent list of hashtags to try out, start experimenting. The optimal number of hashtags is 11 (some sources such as buffer app saying that 11 is the minimum).
- Use variety. Don’t just use the same old 11 hashtags every post. When you have a healthy body of data built up, you want enough variability to use tools available to track user engagement.
- Notice how often the hashtag has been used. While “#flowersofinstagram” has a large following, it also has 5 million+ posts. This makes the tag more competitive, with your photo possibly being buried under more recent posts before users have a chance to engage. A less frequently used, and therefore less competitive, community hashtag may have a smaller net, but your chances of being seen may be higher.
- Once you start hash-tagging, search the hashtags and see where you land in the grid of photos. I try to select some focused hashtags, where I can see a picture I posted 3-5 days ago within a 10-20 second scroll from the top, if not one I can get into the “top posts” section. This helps me not to have to post every day and still have good exposure to an audience who isn't going to spend an afternoon scrolling through a tag.
- Lastly, look at your photo in the grid system of a hashtag search. Does it actually stand out? Notice what the other images are doing (lighting, angle, color, subject matter, etc.) and try to stay away from that aesthetic if this is a hashtag where you want to stand out.
Well flower friends, that’s all I have for you today. I hope this demystifies the use of hashtags in your Instagram business accounts and helps you make yourself as visible as possible to your target audience. Please leave your comments, thoughts, and any experience you have had with this in the comments!
To explore the topic in more depth, visit the following websites:
- Buffer App - How to Use Instagram Hashtags
- Simply Measured - Instagram Study
- Social Media Today - Optimal Hashtag Use
- Sprout Social - How Not to Suck at Instagram Hashtags