Brand awareness and loyalty

How to Carry Out Instagram Hashtag Research and Boost Your Reach

  • 16 Minutes
To get that sweet organic reach your brand deserves, you need to be on-point with your hashtag game.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, Instagram didn’t have ads, and businesses all over the world could achieve astonishing levels of organic reach and engagement just by posting great content and throwing a few hashtags on their posts. Fast forward to today, and boy, have things changed! Now, businesses need to ensure they are using targeted hashtags strategically in a way that will help (not harm) their brand. To do that, they need to conduct thorough Instagram hashtag research to be able to boost their reach and access new audiences.

The power of hashtags on Instagram is undeniable – in fact, it’s been shown that Instagram posts with hashtags get 12.6% more engagement than those that have none. That said, it’s important you’re using the right hashtags, rather than 30 spammy hashtags that aren’t even relevant to your content.

Using hashtags seems simple enough, but using them strategically is a different matter, and is actually far more complex than you might think.

Let’s be real: if you’re going to put loads of time and energy into creating kick-ass social media content, it makes sense to give it the best possible chance of success and maximize each post’s reach and engagement with the proper hashtags.

If marketers want to make the most of their content, a well-considered hashtag strategy is essential. Only by discovering how to conduct Instagram hashtag research properly can you be sure your posts are optimized correctly and will continue generating high levels of reach and engagement.

Using the right hashtags could mean the difference between having a post that performs ‘ok’, to having a post that connects with a large group of relevant social media users and ends up generating leads or sales for your business. After all, it might only take one influential person to repost your image for that post to turn viral! Ready to learn? Read on to find out all you need to know about Instagram hashtag research.

Why do Instagram Hashtags Matter?

First of all, what’s so great about Instagram hashtags anyway? Well, we’ve already shown that Instagram hashtags boost engagement. But how does that work, exactly? Well, unless you’ve already established a strong following on Instagram, you want to keep reaching new audiences.

New audiences = new customers, right?

BUT the Instagram algorithm will only show your organic content to a certain percentage of your own followers. Even if you’re lucky enough to have thousands of followers (lucky you!), the majority of your followers won’t even see your content at all, because there are just so many accounts out there trying to get their content out to bigger audiences.

That means you need to use hashtags to boost your reach, foster communities, and, in turn, increase your engagement. The more you can boost your reach, the more engagement you get. More engagement creates a snowball effect, and Instagram will show your content to more users as it begins to realize that people are loving your content.

Hashtags can help your content reach new audiences who may be searching for a very specific hashtag, like #weddingvenuestoronto, or #airfryerrecipes, or #tulumaccomodation.

Instagram now even allows users to follow hashtags. So, if we were to search for the #airfryerrecipes hashtag, we can follow it to find videos, images and get recipes that we can save and use in the future. This presents FMCG brands with an opportunity to post useful content and utilize the #airfryerrecipes hashtag as a way of getting in front of new audiences. They could post recipes using their products and thereby encourage trial of their products.

Air fryer recipes hashtag results page

How to Perform Instagram Hashtag Research

By now there should be no question about the power of hashtags. But how can you get started with Instagram hashtag research and be confident that you’re coming up with the best hashtags for your business?

Using the wrong hashtags is not only a waste of your time, but it can also harm your brand image. Using spammy hashtags like #likeforlike or #instagood or using totally irrelevant hashtags makes your brand look desperate, inauthentic, and unprofessional. After all, if you’re making false promises with your hashtags, what other false promises could you be making?

There’s another important reason to research your hashtags carefully, though.

If you don’t do your Instagram hashtag research properly, you could unknowingly be using hashtags that have a double meaning. For instance, Italian power company, Powergen Italia had a terrible time connecting with the English-speaking community when it launched its hashtag #PowerGenitalia.

And let’s not forget Susan Boyle trying to promote her new album with the campaign ‘Susan Boyle Album Party’, using the hashtag #susanalbumparty.

Think about it.

But, lucky for you, we’ll be showing you exactly how to get started with laser-focused Instagram hashtag research so you can avoid any hashtag blunders and start reaching previously untapped audiences. Here goes!

Step 1: Review Your Audience

First up: do a review of your audience, keeping in mind that your intended audience IRL may not be your audience on Instagram. Depending on your brand, your potential audience on Instagram may be younger or more female skewed than your existing customers.

Start by reviewing your existing audience on Instagram using Instagram Insights. If you only have a small audience, this is probably less relevant, especially if you’re planning on growing your audience. But if you have more than a few thousand followers, it might be worth checking out who is following you and loving your content so far. You might be surprised at the results.

When you’re coming up with hashtags, try to think outside the box and use the language your customers are using. In some cases, this might even mean mis-spelling words or using acronyms. It’s all about understanding your community and the terms they are using.

Step 2: Keep the Golden Rules in Mind

The golden rules when it comes to Instagram hashtag research are relevance and hashtag popularity. The right hashtags should strike a healthy balance between the two.

When choosing the perfect hashtag, it’s not just about the number of times a hashtag has been used. If you enter a hashtag in Instagram’s search bar, you’ll see the number of results. But a hashtag with millions of posts isn’t necessarily the hashtag you can be using. In fact, there might be little point in using such a popular hashtag, as your posts will just get lost in amongst millions of other posts using the same hashtag.

Just because millions of accounts are using a certain hashtag when they post, doesn’t mean millions of people are searching through those hashtags for content and inspiration.

Ideally, you want a hashtag with some traction, but not millions of uses. So, depending on your brand, it might be best to use hashtags that have been used at least 10,000 times.

And what if your brand is hyper-local or super niche? In that scenario, it might be best to use hashtags that have only been used hundreds of times.

Step 3: Research Relevant Topics

So, where to begin? Start your Instagram hashtag research by researching hashtags that are ultra-relevant to your business. Keywords that you’re already using on your website might be a good place to start. Above all, hashtags should be intuitive and easy to remember.

Beyond that, search for topics relevant to your brand, such as product categories, wider categories, or hashtags relaying to tips and information related to your post.

So, for skincare, your hashtags might include #skincare, #brighteningskincare, or #hydratingskincare. Hashtags that are too long, too specific, too wordy, or not immediately obvious are unlikely to gain traction, like #hydratingskincareproduct or #skincareforoilyskin.

On the other hand, hashtags that are too general like #skin are far too broad.

Step 4: Analyze Your Competitors

Next, analyze your best competitors or the industry leaders in your field, and check out their top posts on Instagram. What hashtags are they using? You might need to sift through their comments and find the second post they have added to find their hashtags.

But just because they’ve had a successful post doesn’t mean you should immediately go and copy all their hashtags! Only use hashtags that are relevant to your business and your specific posts.

Step 5: Start Choosing Your Hashtags

Next up, start making lists of hashtags. You’ll want to choose up to 30 hashtags for each post. How many you decide to use is up to you, but we recommend using 25-30 to take every opportunity to reach new followers.

You’ll probably want to use some combination of the following formula to make up your hashtags:

  • 1-2 branded hashtags, which should remain consistent
  • 10-15 category hashtags
  • A few specific hashtags related to your specific content theme, so, for the skincare example, your post might be related to #organicskincare or #organingredients, or it could be related to a #skincareregime or could include #skincaretips
  • A few trending hashtags related to your specific post
  • At least a few location-specific hashtags
  • Any other hashtags related to trending movements, days of the week, or moments in time

You might have 1-5 hashtags that you use for every post, then you can include additional hashtags related to more specific content categories.

Step 6: Add More Related Hashtags

Once you have your initial list of hashtags, you want to be sure you’re including all related hashtags.

To ensure you’re capturing everything, try using Sked Social’s Hashtag Recommendation Tool. This tool is a hashtag generator that allows you to input a particular hashtag and find other related hashtags quickly and easily while you schedule your posts!

This tool is awesome because it will automatically generate related hashtags that users are also searching for within a particular topic group. The more hashtags you input, the better the tool understands your posting category, and it will add even more targeted hashtags.

So, using a home décor example, you could add a hashtag like #wallart when posting for a home décor brand. Every Sked Social user will have access to the Hashtag Recommendation Tool.

So, how do you use the tool? It’s super simple. When creating a post to schedule, simply enter any hashtag into your post. Then, if you click the little hashtag symbol near your caption, you’ll see associated hashtags.

In this example, the hashtag entered is #wallart. The Sked Social tool suggests that we also use #decor, #artoftheday, and #interiordecorator, among others.

Hashtag research tool

Step 7: Add Time-Related Hashtags

Next up, add any campaign-related hashtags or hashtags related to days of the week, such as #WCW – Woman Crush Wednesday or #ThrowbackThursday, also known as #tbt. Also, be aware of trending hashtags relating to any movements or social issues currently in the media.

Social media should be social, after all, and, while it’s great to “set and forget” your content using a scheduler, you should also keep tabs on opportunities to join the conversation on current issues. You could set aside a post or two a month to add ad-hoc content relating to current issues and use relevant trending hashtags alongside these posts.

For instance, many brands weighed in on the Black Lives Matter movement, or #BLM, to varying levels of success. Ben & Jerry’s swiftly took action to show support for the movement, releasing a bold statement on social media, a statement on their website, and even a new ice cream flavor related to the cause.

Ben and Jerry's BLM message on Instagram

While this worked well for Ben & Jerry’s, the most important aspect of aligning with any social justice issues is that this is truly coming from a place of authenticity. Any alignment with a social justice issue, movement, or charity should align with your business and its values. Ben & Jerry’s have a history of supporting similar causes, so their stance on #BLM isn’t out of character.

Step 8: Review and Organize Your Hashtags

Are you varying hashtags across your content? Are you using any spammy hashtags? If you have time, or if you’re unsure, check every hashtag you’re using manually, just in case!

You’ll also want to group different hashtag sets according to your content topics. So, for instance, a European travel company might have different sets of hashtags according to the different tours they sell; some might relate to Eastern Europe, while others relate to the Greek Islands. Sked Social also allows you to save and group together hashtags in the ‘Template Manager’ section of the tool. This makes it super-easy to add different hashtags to different social media content themes and means that you don’t need to type out each hashtag every single time you post!

Hashtag templates

Step 9: Make Sure You’re Covering All Bases

Assess your hashtag lists critically. Are you including industry-specific hashtags, branded hashtags, more generic hashtags, and any time-specific or trending hashtags?

If you’re a local brand, make sure you’re also using local hashtags or just country-specific hashtags to find more relevant followers. This is especially important if you’re a local business, a brick-and-mortar retail store, or a service-based business operating in a specific area.

How to Review Your Instagram Hashtag Analytics

So, you’ve started using hashtags, but how do you know if they’re actually working or not? Don’t underestimate the importance of analyzing your hashtag strategy regularly. There’s no point putting all that effort into coming up with a hashtag strategy and conducting Instagram hashtag research if you’re not going to review your efforts.

We recommend using a regular reporting tool at least monthly (if not more frequently) and reviewing your strategy to ensure it’s actually working. If not, you could be missing out on valuable opportunities to reach your target audience.

Instagram Hashtag Analytics Tools

As more and more marketers begin to realize the importance of a comprehensive hashtag strategy, the market is filling up with Instagram hashtag analytics tools that have the power to transform the way businesses use Instagram. This is great news for businesses wanting to refine their Instagram hashtag strategy and expand their reach.

When you’re analyzing your hashtags, all you really need to do is try strategically A/B testing using different hashtags on a variety of posts. That way, you can discover the hashtags that work best for your business.

But this is easier said than done! When you’re a business owner with a million other things to do, Instagram hashtag analytics tools can help enormously.

These Instagram analytics tools can automatically feed into your monthly reporting process, forming a part of your overall social media marketing reporting, so you’ll be able to tweak your hashtag use each month according to what’s working. Some hashtags, particularly your trending hashtags, are likely to go in and out of use quickly, whereas others will be more evergreen.

Here are the best Instagram analytics tools to track your hashtag use and ensure your hashtag strategy remains on point.

Hashtagify

Hashtagify has been around for a long time, and it has significantly refined its functionality since then. Today, Hashtagify has both paid and free options that allow you to search for hashtags and check their usage.

The free part of the tool only analyses hashtags for Twitter, while the paid version (starting from $29USD/month) covers hashtags on Instagram. The tool will give each hashtag a ‘popularity’ score, show related hashtags, and even demonstrate the use of specific hashtags over time.

Hashtagify hashtag search results for beauty

Keyhole

Keyhole is a great Instagram hashtag analytics tool but starts at $49/month. It’s a comprehensive tool but the more hashtags you want to track, the more pricing increases. However, if you have a few niche hashtags that you want to track and analyze over a campaign, or if you’re already using hashtags but want to monitor your strategy, this tool could be really handy.

It’s also great if you’d like to measure other people using your branded hashtags. This can allow you to see the success of long-term UGC campaigns over time, or monitor brand engagement.

Sked Social

Sked Social is a comprehensive, all-in-one social media management tool that not only helps you refine, track, and analyze your hashtag strategy, but it also helps you create and schedule posts and manage your community.

When it comes to its power as an Instagram hashtag analytics tool, Sked Social can provide you with helpful data on hashtags. Our ‘Insights’ tab helps you track your trending hashtags. The ‘Hashtags’ section of this tab will analyze all of your recent posts and help you see which of your hashtags have gained the most traction over time, and which haven’t.

After long periods of time, with more historical data from using hashtags, you’ll start to be able to see which hashtags and content themes work the best with your audience – and which don’t!

Sked Social hashtag research tool

Need more support to do your Instagram hashtag research or analytics? Find out more about Instagram hashtag tools here.

Hashtags aren’t the be-all and end-all

Even though using hashtags on Instagram can work wonders in boosting your organic reach and, in turn, your engagement, they’re not the only thing you need to worry about.

You can’t just slap thirty hashtags on all of your posts and expect your account to blow up with followers. Above all, success on Instagram starts and ends with high-quality content that resonates with your target audience.

Still not sure how to use Instagram hashtags properly? Get our definitive guide on how to use hashtags on Instagram here.

Ready to refine your social strategy and boost your reach on Instagram?

Sked Social allows you to select, refine and track your hashtags, all with the click of a button or two! Stay on top of trending hashtags, refine your hashtag strategy and then track the success of your content with our all-in-one social media management tool

Manage your accounts, set and forget your posts months in advance, and collaborate with different teams or clients seamlessly.

Is Sked Social right for you? Find out with a free 7-day trial now!

Photo of Kyra GoodmanKyra Goodman

Kyra is a Junior Marketing Manager and "Spicy Meme Master" at Sked Social who loves to create content. Born and raised in Hawaii, her favorite things are traveling, yoga, beaching, coffee and baseball. Connect with her on twitter at @kyra_n_goodman.

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