What is a hashtag?
A hashtag, symbolised by the ‘pound’ sign or ‘#’ is a way of organising meta-data within an information system. There’s a technical description for you. Another way to look at hashtags is to see them as 'labels' that enable the same type of information to be grouped together. When it comes to Instagram, hashtags are terms you can apply to your image to make them searchable across the platform. By posting hashtags in the comment or caption section of your image, you allow other people to see the image when they search for that term.
Without the use of hashtags, your images will only ever reach your current followers. If, for example, you have 500 followers and you don't use any hashtags, your image reaches 500 people at most. Given that many of your followers will miss a post of two from you, that number is vastly diminished. When you use relevant hashtags, however, you're putting your image in front of a vastly larger audience than just your followers.
How to use a hashtag
When you're ready to post your image, add a hashtag by inserting the symbol ‘#’ followed by the term you want to use - #friday for example - either in the caption itself, or in the comment box following your caption. It’s that simple. Numbers are allowed in hashtags. However, spaces and special characters, like $ or %, won't work. You can only tag your own posts, and you can't tag other people's photos/videos.
How many hashtags can I use?
Instagram allows you a maximum of 30 hashtags per image.
Emoticons as hashtags
More recently, emoticons are now as searchable terms. If, for example, you post an image of a yellow taxi cab, you could include the yellow car emoticon in the caption. Similarly, you can search Instagram using an emoticon.
What hashtags should I use?
1. Be specific
What elements occur in your image? If it’s a yellow taxi in New York, use that as a starting point - #taxi and #newyork. Be specific regarding place, content of your image, colours and brands represented.
2. Be Relevant
Just because a hashtag is trending, it doesn’t mean it’s relevant for your image. Using hugely populated tags like #selfie, #photo or #me only means your images get lost in a sea of other images. Try to narrow down your target to something more relevant like #zerowaste or #johannesburg.
3. Be Observant
Notice what tags others in your field, or with your interests are using. If you’re an avid hiker, and you usually tag your outdoor images with #hike or #hiking, try to do some investigation to see what others who are using #hike use in addition. You may notice that #getoutside is regularly used alongside hiking tags. Follow the hashtag trails until you develop a set of tags that work for you.
Save time by using 'Note'
Rather than laboriously typing out your hashtags every time you post a picture, make a list of them in the ‘Note’ App on your phone, then copy and paste into the comment section under your caption.
What hashtag related questions would you like answered? What gets you flustered when it comes to hashtags? Let me know and I'll try to answer your questions in my next hashtag post.
This material was taken from my ebook - Instagram: The Nuts & Bolts which is available for purchase on Gumroad.