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Answering the what, why and how of hashtags on Instagram

Final Instagram tutorial.

This is the final post on this topic, and I know it might be elementary for those who are regulars on Instagram. I dare you to take a look…you might just learn something.

Here are my planned posts/topics:

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag on Instagram (or on Twitter) is the ‘#’ symbol before a word or series of words (all run together without a space). The purpose of the hashtag is to categorize the images and make them searchable.

You will many times see hashtags in Instagram to show how an image was created (the apps or filters applied), the style applied (vintage, classic, etc), who the image is for (business, a certain purpose, etc), describe what is in the image, or to simply group with other similar images.

What is a hashtag on Instagram

You’ll notice within Instagram hashtags are clickable. This is what the screen will look like if you click on a hashtag.

what is a hashtag on Instagram

Why use a hashtag?

There are any number of reasons to use a hashtag in Instagram, but let me share 3 of the most common and useful.

1. Brand yourself.

Instagram, even more than other social media platforms, is not the place to openly sell you or your brand. I’ve only seen a few times where people have posted “sale” images. Every time they have come off in poor taste.

However, Instagram is a great way to brand yourself or your business using hashtags. The key is to show…not sell. Here are 2 photographers who have Instagram accounts and are furthering their senior photography brands.

Brand building on Instagram using hashtags featuring NWAPhoto

building brand awareness on Instagram by John Pyle

2. Gain more followers.

Since Instagram really doesn’t lend itself to selling or even pushing people out to your website, a large contingency of followers isn’t vital to market your business (this is why connecting to your other social media is so important). However, there is no real downside to growing your followers.

Over the last few months, I’ve been fascinated by a guy I know only online – Tim Landis (aka Curious2119). He started on Instagram around the same time as me, and as of 7-8 months ago had less followers than I did (around 200 or so). Since that time he has been able to grow his followers to over 39,000!

How? From my observations he has done 4 things with his Instagram account (which is also a great model to follow on any social media platform):

  1. Consistency. He posts regularly – at least once/day.
  2. Quality. Everything he posts is really good and interesting.
  3. Interaction. He interacts with those who comment, and he has built relationships and collaborations with other Instagram users.
  4. Hashtags. He has used hashtags on almost all images making them searchable.

Curious2119 uses hashtags in Instagram to grow his following

3. Pull into a feed.

In it’s most practical form, the hashtag is meant to be a search tool. This is applied directly within Instagram (as seen above in the image showing all the #ThePhotoCollective images) but also in other programs.

Instagram uses the practice of an open API (Application Programming Interface) which allows programs to talk with one another. Because of this, there are literally hundreds of software applications interacting with Instagram. One is the WordPress plugin InstaPress.

InstaPress is the plugin The Collective uses to displays Instagram images in its footer. There are 2 ways to set-up InstaPress. Either you can pull all images from one user, or pull images with a specific hashtag.

The Collective uses the 2nd way. Any image with the hashtag #ThePhotoCollective is randomly displayed in the footer.

Why use hashtags in Instagram

Why use an Instagram hashtag

There are 2 purposes for this.

  1. I didn’t really want each image from my feed to be displayed.
  2. I wanted to open up to anyone the opportunity for their images to be displayed on The Collective.

Note: if you use this method to post images to your website or elsewhere, make sure to create a VERY specific hashtag. If the hashtag is too general (such as #Senior 2013), it will pull images that may not be representative of your brand.

How to you create a hashtag?

Creating a hashtag is very simple, and there are 2 ways to do it.

The first way is to create the hashtag when you are initially posting an image.

How to create a hashtag into Instagram

The second way is helpful if you are planning to pull a hashtag feed into another website. You can go through and add hashtags to images after they have been created. Only images you are the creator of will be pulled into that feed (this stops you or someone else from hijacking an image).

Create a hashtag in Instagram after the original is posted

Want more?

Here are a few posts from both The Collective and elsewhere on Instagram:

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  • Elizabeth Simmons

    Thanks, Andy, for these great tutorials on social media! I’ve learned a ton and am slowly trying to implement them.

    • Andy Bondurant

      Elizabeth – great! Take your time…figure it out…work was works for you.

  • Cyndihernandez6

    Thank you for the post. I’m new to this and your post was the only one i found who really answered my questions on how to add hashtags and what they were for. I did’nt get it until now. Thank you.

    • Andy Bondurant

      Cyndi -

      You are welcome. I’m glad this was useful for you. Good luck on getting rolling with Instagram, hashtags and more!

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  • Linda

    Thank you for an informative article–just what I’ve been wanting. Is there any tips for making the hashtags (which words you put together to make the hashtags)?

    • Andy Bondurant

      Hi Linda – no real tips on what words to string together for hashtags. It depends on your purpose. If you want to link it to your website (pulling images hash tagged to your WP site), then you need to make sure the tag is pretty unique – i.e. #LindasPhotoSeniors2013 not #seniors2013 or you will get everyone who has tagged their image with that tag pulled to your site. Hope this helps…

      Thanks for reading!

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  • Susie

    Hi Andy, thanks so much for this post – it’s really useful for someone like me who’s just starting to use Instagram. I wondered if you could help me with a question – I’m planning to start a business and I just searched for my preferred business name and there’s a #name with it that’s quite sexual in nature, which is worlds away from the brand image I’m envisioning. I have reserved the @name, but if the #name is already in existence and not something I want my brand associated with, should I look at a different business name? It’s pretty easy for me to do that at this stage, but disappointing. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Andy Bondurant

      Susie – In general, it’s probably not a good decision to base your name around an Instagram (or any social media) hashtag. Especially since you can switch up how you tag something. For instance, if your studio name was Susie’s Photos, it might be too generic a tag, so you could begin tagging posts as #SPSeniorPhotos.

      I would first determine what your brand name will be, and then decide how you will actually brand that moving forward. Also know it will change over time…your brand name won’t.

  • guest

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  • Tom Robinson

    Once I have added the hashtag to my Instagram photo why does it not appear in the feed for that hashtag?

  • nureenelin

    what are the functions of instagram?