Many small businesses may be wondering if hashtags are still relevant in the year 2021. It was very apparent they were trending at one point (remember #nofilter or #tbt) but do they have staying power? And are they worth the effort? Social media is hard enough to maintain as a small business, so it’s a question worth asking. The quick, simple, non-fussy answer is yes.
To further back this “yes,” take a peek at this statistic.
“A post with at least one Instagram hashtag averages 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag.” —Later
Even in 2021, using targeted, relevant hashtags on your posts, whether Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or even TikTok, is one of the most foolproof ways to gain exposure with new audiences.
Bonus? It’s completely free marketing that you can easily master.
Intrigued? Read on.
What Is a Hashtag?
Hashtags are short, one to three words or phrases preceded by a pound (#) sign or the number sign used to catalog content. They are labels that make similar information easier to find. Hashtags were introduced in 2007 by Chris Messina on Twitter and remain a powerful tool in social media that can help skyrocket a small business. But, (yes, there is a but) when misused, used too frequently, or used without some clearly defined strategy in place, they can become worthless. Or even worse, harmful to your overall social media presence.
Hashtags are vital because they simplify the process of finding information. And as we all know, saving users, consumers, prospective clients time is essential. The social media platforms catalog information that is similar so that it all goes to one accessible place. One of the most popular social media apps, Instagram, averages about 95 million photos posted every single day. Hashtags help sort and ensure these photos and the right content reach the right audience.
For example, say you are an interior design firm. Your ideal client, someone who just purchased a fixer-upper, is searching on Instagram for interior design inspiration and design firms. Instead of trying to find feeds that fit their wants manually and navigating blindly, they can easily research a hashtag (maybe #interiordesign, #newhomeideas, or #interiordesignfirms) and have any and everything associated with that topic lumped together. They come across one of your photos. They follow you, interact with your posts, share them with friends, and realize what great work you do. A few months later, they hire you.
One of these hashtags above has just landed you an ideal client, or at minimum, increasing your following by one, and that one just happens to be your target audience. Ultimately, your brand has grown, and you have more eyes on your business. If this becomes a regular occurrence, then you’ll start to see gains overall.
Now that you know a little bit more about hashtags and how they can help, it’s time to figure out which ones to use. There are endless opportunities out there as there is an infinite combination of words but let’s pause for a second. You can’t just use anything.
You can use up to 30 hashtags on your posts, but the consensus is that 11 is the magic number. You are welcome to use more or less but stick to a mid-level amount to get your bearings if just beginning. How you display those hashtags is up to you. You can either add them as part of your caption or, you can post the content and then add them as a comment on the post. The latter is for people who want to hide hashtags and whose emphasis on their business is more aesthetic.
While general hashtags may seem like the best fit for your business (“weddings” for a wedding photographer, “food” for a new restaurant, or “dogs” for a canine boarding facility), this is not always the case. These hashtags are what you call high-density as they have a high search volume and most likely more than one million associated posts. And what comes along with that is, you guessed it, increased competition. If you are just beginning on your hashtag journey and your accounts don’t quite have that large following you are after, your posts will likely get lost among the multitude of other posts with these same hashtags.
Side note: If you are curious as to what the density is of a specific hashtag, all you have to do is type it into the search bar, and the hashtag, its density, and related umbrella hashtags will populate. See below. The most straightforward research you will ever do!
On the other side of the spectrum, there are niche, community, or brand hashtags. These are low-density, low competition hashtags that give you a better chance of being seen and are highly specific to the target audience that you are trying to capture. They usually are hashtags with 500,000 posts associated or less.
Our suggestion? Use a mixture of both! If you plan to shoot for 11 hashtags, split it up, use five high-density and six low-density, and research what generates the best response.
Just for some insight, here is a list of the most popular Instagram hashtags of 2021 to date (even if we don’t recommend a few of them!):
- #like4like (this reads like spam . . . keep reading to find out what we mean)
- #followme (this reads like spam . . . keep reading to find out what we mean)
Before you go out on your own and include hashtags as part of your overarching strategy, read through a few of these rules and tips. They are best practices that will help you become the hashtag hero you always knew you could be.
1.Do not copy and paste the same hashtags for each post: While it is okay to repeat hashtags occasionally, we do not recommend using the same hashtags for every post. When you copy and paste the same hashtags, the algorithm will penalize you and make your posts even less visible than before using hashtags. New hashtags equal new audiences, which equal new followers, so it’s a solid idea to keep things fresh. A good rule of thumb is to research and jot down a list of your top 100 hashtags associated with your business before embarking so you will always have options to use.
2. Avoid spammy hashtags: To generate business, you have to be authentic. Using spammy hashtags like #follow or #likeforlike will ensure you end up with a bunch of bogus comments from bots on your posts. Be true to your brand.
3. Go public: Hashtags will not affect your account if it is private. If you want to increase exposure and be seen by the public, make sure your account is public as well.
4. Use hashtags on stories: For social apps with “story” capabilities, include hashtags on there.
5. Don’t Use: Hashtags always begin with the # symbol but will not work if you add numbers, punctuation, or spaces.
There is tons of research out there on this topic, but after reading this handy little guide on using hashtags, we hope your small business moves the needle and then some.