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Located in Red Bluff, CA


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Located in Red Bluff, CA

Use Instagram Hashtags to Expand Your Reach


​An efficient use of hashtags on Instagram can help you grow followers, increase reach, connect with people of similar interests and most importantly, drive engagement.  Using hashtags is not a complicated task but a well-designed, flexible strategy will provide the best results.  While I will touch on the use of hashtags as a brand strategy, the emphasis of this post will be on reaching more real people who are looking for content just like yours.  

​If you're reading this but are unsure about how to search for content on Instagram, take a moment and read my post on using Instagram's search function.  A quick review of that post will help quite a bit in understanding this one.  

Instagram caps the number of hashtags you can attach to your photo at 30 and there is some debate as to what number between one and thirty drives the best results.  For the purposes of this post, I'll offer my opinion; don't worry about the number of hashtags you're using.  Let the driving force behind your hashtag usage be determined by the number of hashtags that are directly relevant to your post.  

For example, if you post a photo from Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, hashtags like; #laketahoe,  #southlaketahoe, #tahoe and #heavenlymountain would be a few you would want to include.  Avoid using hashtags like #newyork or #sanfrancisco or #vailcolorado because you think more eyes will see your post.  This will work against you.   

 If you post a photo and attach eight relevant hashtags because that's all there were, then eight is the perfect number for that post.  If there are fifteen, fifteen is the perfect number.  Let relevancy dictate hashtags, not the other way around.  So, how do you decide what relevant hashtags will get your post the most views and more importantly, the most engagement?  That efficiency is found by using a combination of broad and defined hashtags which are unique for every post you publish. It also involves some testing.

What is a 'broad' or 'defined' hashtag 

You might remember from my previous post on using the search feature on Instagram, that when you're viewing photos from a particular hashtag search, you can choose Top to see what Instagram considers the 'top' photos or Recent, to view by date/time.  No one really knows how Instagram decides what photos it places in its Top section but the Recent section, the one many seem to prefer, displays the most recent photos published at the top of your feed with older posts appearing as your scroll down.  This is important when considering what hashtags to use. 

Take a look at the graphic below.  In each of the 3 sets of 4, I started with a broad hashtag on top, moved through more relative hashtags and down to more defined hashtags.  The number in parenthesis is the number of times that hashtag had been used at the time of this writing.  What you'll notice is that the more broad the hashtag, the more popular it is and the more defined the hashtag, the less.  If someone is searching for photos of California, food or music, using broad search terms would provide the best results.  If someone is looking for something more specific, Trinidad State Beach, chicken burrito or posts referencing the song, Walk This Way, using a broad hashtag would produce a lot of results so something more specific would be a better way to go about finding what they're looking for. 

If you're searching for photos, Instagram's hashtag feature is pretty amazing. Put in your search phrase and your results could range from zero (Is there a hashtag that hasn't been used by now?) to millions of photos.

If you're posting, it means your photo can be buried quickly within a popular hashtag group, limiting the people that see it.  It also means that your photo is much more likely to be seen by people who are looking for photos just like yours when they use more defined hashtags to search.  

Why Does it Matter Which I Use? 

​Say for example you post a beautiful picture from Trinidad State Beach and attach the four hashtags from the first example above; #california, #northerncalifornia, #trinidad and #trinidadstatebeach.  If I get on IG a few hours later to check out some photos and search #california, I may not even see your photo depending on how many photos using #california have been posted since you posted yours.  If I'm looking for photos of NorCal and use #northerncalifornia, I have a better chance of seeing your photo.  #trinidadca, even better, and in this case, #trinidadstatebeach, the best.  Luckily, you can use all four hashtags (I would) but it's an important distinction to remember, especially since many people use the recent feature when searching for photos. 

On Instagram, in addition to following individual accounts, people can also follow hashtags.  The more popular the hashtag, the more likely people are to follow it so if you tag a photo with a relevant, popular hashtag, you're in the pool of photos that may get posted to people's feed.  When you search hashtags, Instagram will also suggest related hashtags to use.  This is an awesome feature to help you build a hashtag list which I cover later in this post. The use of popular hashtags may also increase your chances of showing up in the 'top' section, can be good for branding purposes and other marketing related activities.

Let's Go To The Numbers

A week or so ago, between Wednesday at 6:00am and the following Thursday morning at 6:00am, I tracked fifteen hashtags to see how many times the specific hashtag would get used in a twenty-four hour period.  I chose Wednesday because it is often reported to be one of the 'slower' days on Instagram and I wanted to use the most conservative numbers possible.  I broke the the fifteen hashtags into three groups of five; Broad, Relative and Defined.  I also chose locations for many of the examples because businesses should be tagging their photos with their locations and many individuals do as well.  

Each photo below was the most recent pic posted using each of the hashtags.  The number in parenthesis was the number of times that hashtag had been used as of 6:00am when I started Wednesday morning.  


#sonyalpha (140,345,123) - By 7:00am, #sonyalpha had more than 600 additional postings.  By 12pm, over 4,000.  By 6pm, more that 6,000.  In 24 hours, more than 14,000.

#gameoftones (2,159,054) - Within an hour, this hashtag was used over 115 times and within 12 hours, 1,000 times. It was used almost 3,000 times in 24 hours. The show ended months ago.

#wanderlust (123,999,999) - There were more than 3,000 additional posts in an hour.  Over 35,000 in 12 hours.  On a Wednesday. 

#samsung (16,714,182) - #Samsung had over 600 additional posts in the first hour, slightly under 4,000 by Noon and over 6,000 by 6:00pm.  

#photographer (140,853,792) - Almost 7,000 additional posts added in an hour!  75,000+ in 12 hours. Well over 100,000 in 24 hours.  On a Wednesday.  Imagine how quickly photos using that hashtag get buried on a Saturday.


#goldcountry (64,392) - In 24 hours, this hashtag was used less than 100 times.  This surprised me as Gold Country represents a large area in Northern California and is an often marketed as such. 

#bayarea (9,917,259) - #bayarea covers a large area and quite a few people so it's no surprise that while it is more defined than say, #california, it still saw over 6,000 additional posts in a 24-hour period.

#northerncalifornia (789,957) -  This hashtag was used in 24 additional posts in an hour, 402 in 12 hours and less than 800 in 24 hours.  

#laketahoe (2,142,007) - Within an hour, #laketahoe has been used 24 times.  In 12 hours, less than 1,000 and in 24 hours, just over 1,000.

#humboldt (702,162) - In 24 hours, less than 500 additional posts using #humboldt had been published. 

One note about #humboldt - the photo (above) for this post is for a place in Mexico, advertising a date that had already passed.  There are going to be times where a hashtag can represent two or more people, places or things.  #fortbragg (CA and NC), #whiskeytown (the lake and the liquor) and #crescentcity (CA and New Orleans) are three related to Northern California that I see often.  In these cases, it may be better to go with a more defined hashtag unless you have the room and desire to use both; i.e. #fortbraggca, #whiskeytownlake, #crescentcityca.


#emeraldbay (135,043) - Emerald Bay is one of the most photographed areas at Lake Tahoe and yet less than 80 additional posts were made in 24-hours using this hashtag. 

#lakeberryessa  (44,538) -  #lakeberresa was used only once in the first hour, 11 times by 6pm and less than 25 times in a 24-hour period.  

#moonstonebeach (29,640) - It took 12-hours before this hashtag saw an additional 12 uses.  In 24-hours, it was used less than 25 times. 

#sundialbridge (22,229) - The most popular tourist destination in Redding and #sundialbridge was used less than 20 times in a 24-hour period on a sunny day.  

#craterlake (307,420) -  #craterlake saw the most action in this category, recording just over 200 uses in 24-hours.  Many of these were from the same person and as you can see from the photo above, was also used to promote a photo that wasn't even related to Crater Lake.  

If you want your photo viewed by people who are specifically looking for photos like yours, make an effort to include the relative and defined hashtags with your post.  They're not as flashy and impressive as the popular hashtags with lots of uses but when it comes to quality leads, they'll treat you right.   

Where do I Start? 

There are many variables to consider when putting together a strategic marketing plan for promoting your photos on Instagram.  A unique combination of the right hashtags for each of your posts can go a long way in helping you reach your goals and should be one of the things considered when posting in the future.   I suggest tracking your results but I understand you also have a life outside of Instagram that keeps you pretty busy.  If you can't track results, at least pay attention to the people liking and commenting on your posts and look for any new names that hadn't engaged with you before.  You should start seeing more engagement from people outside of your normal sphere of followers. 

Make a Hashtag List.  If you generally shoot in the same area or shoot the same types of subjects, this will be especially easy.  Keep a list of hashtags that you'll want to use with the types of photos you generally post.  This should be an evolving list that will help you increase your reach.  One photographer told me they keep a folded, written list tucked away so they can post on the go without missing any key tags. 

Hashtags as a Branding Tool 

Sometimes people/businesses use hashtags that are designed around promoting a brand identity.  In one of the examples above I used #sonyalpha.  Many photographers are proud of the brands they use, and should be, and like to include that in their posts.  #wanderlust and #gameoftones are two others.  

Another reason for using hashtags geared toward branding is for contests, promotions, new products, sales and other activities.  If a photographer from Napa who specializes in family photography was going to give away a session in a contest, they could use #napafamilyphotographer to promote the contest and as a way for people to enter-to-win.  As far as search results, it's unlikely that many people are searching #napafamilyphotographer but as a branding tool, something like this would be a great way to get people to identify you as a Napa family photographer and commit it to memory. 

You really can't make any mistakes when using hashtags on Instagram to increase your reach.  Some will work better than others, some may not work at all and some will be worth adding to your list and rotation.  It takes time to find the right combination and forever, it seems, to fine-tune that list but be patient and stay at it; it's worth the effort. 

 If you have questions, please leave a comment or send me an email. It would be great to hear from you.  And don't forget to subscribe!  

Have a wonderful day!

Your Groove Media

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Thursday, 02 April 2020