Welcome to The Social Smarty Show, your weekly podcast for social media marketing tips, tactics and practical digital marketing advice. Let's get you taking real action to grow your online audience, build connections and your business. I'm your host, Jodine McIntyre. Think of me as your digital marketing coach, cheerleader and wingwomen all rolled into one. Grab some of my social media marketing know how for free at www.socialsmarty.com/freebies. Now before we dive in, make sure you subscribe so you don't miss any future episodes.
Welcome to episode number seven of The Social Smarty Show. In this episode, I'm going to be tackling the question, are Instagram hashtags dead? Now, instagram hashtags, they're pretty 2019, aren't they? Or are they? Should we be using them on our Instagram posts?
You might have noticed some buzz around this conversation, this topic recently. So what has sparked that discussion? Well, we can blame the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri. So Adam has this habit of jumping on Instagram Stories for a chat, he does lots of Q and A sessions, and whether he means to or not, he'll sometimes make a comment, it might even be an off hand comment that sends social media professionals like me into a spin. And that is what he has done recently around Instagram hashtags.
So his first comment made in, I think, mid March of this year, 2022, and I'm going to read the comment to your word for word. So he was asked about hashtags and their impact on Instagram, and he said, "they do help us to understand what a post is about, which means it might be more likely to show up in a place like a hashtag page, for instance. But in general, no, I wouldn't try to think of hashtags as a way to get more distribution."
So straight away we get the answer from the horse's mouth, don't we? Hashtags aren't that important on Instagram. Well, hold your horses.
Because in his next Q and A session, which was at the end of March, maybe the start of April in 2022, Adam was asked to confirm that hashtags don't matter. So someone actually challenged him on his last response. This time he said, "I'm saying they're not going to meaningfully change the amount of reach you get when you post. So if you expect a night and day difference, you're going to be disappointed. But feel free to use them because they can help on the margin."
So what is a girl to do? On one hand, he's saying that they're pretty much useless. On the other hand, he's saying they might help a little bit. So I look to the data, Of course. Now I went in and analyzed my posts and had a look at the performance of my hashtags. But before I share with you the results of my analysis, I just want to have a wee chat about how hashtags actually work.
So when we add a hashtag to our content, to our post, whether it's an Instagram post, a video, a Reel what we're doing is we're adding a topic or a subject to our post. We're also grouping our post with all the other posts about that same subject. So all of the other posts that have that same hashtag on them or attached to them get grouped into the same bucket.
The other thing we are doing is adding keywords to our post. So let me give you an example. Say I was selling skincare and I had a particular cleanser, and I created a post about that cleanser. Now, my message might be about the ingredients in the cleanser, so I could be talking about how it uses all natural ingredients. Now that cleanser might be really good for eczema prone skin, sensitive skin - there might be a whole lot of other benefits to using that cleanser. Now, I'm not going to clog up my caption because I want to tell one story, one message, and I have one sort of concept for that caption. So instead, what I'm going to do is use hashtags to add on all of the other benefits to that product to that post sorry.
The other thing I could do is add hashtags relevant to the type of people who are likely to use that product. So I might #sustainableliving or #sustainability if my packaging is all glass and it's recyclable, there's lots of different themes or ideas or topics that I can add to that one post.
Now, what happens is when someone does a search on the hashtag, so they literally might type into the search bar on Instagram #sustainableliving my post could appear in those results, so that's how it helps increase our reach.
Now, the other way someone might search on Instagram is by actually just typing in the words and doing a more natural search. So rather than typing in #sustainableliving, they might just do a search of the words 'sustainable living'. Now, Instagram works like a search engine. So what Instagram will do is it will have a look at all of the captions on Instagram and look for the words sustainable living. So that's why it's important that we include the hashtags in the caption rather than in the first comment. So there was a whole period where I was adding my hashtags to the first comment, and it would still work to group my posts with everything else that had that hashtag on it. And it would still work to appear in searches, but only if someone searched using the hashtag. But what we're finding is that people are doing more sort of natural language searches. So they're not using the hashtag at the start. They're just typing in the keywords that they're interested in. Now, if I had used the #sustainableliving and someone did a search just for the word sustainable living, but I had put my hashtag in the comments, not in the caption, I'm not going to appear in those search results. So it's only the caption that Instagram is searching for keywords in.
Now, the other way that hashtags can help increase our reach is that people actually follow hashtags. So there's a whole range of subjects that I'm really interested in. And so I have chosen to follow those hashtags because I want to see any content that refers to that topic. I don't necessarily need to be following the business. I don't even need to know that they exist to find that content in my news feed.
And actually, I've noticed lately that when I open up Instagram in the morning and I have a look at my newsfeed, the post at the top for the last few days has actually been a post that is tagged with a hashtag that I follow. So I'm not talking about a post from an account that I follow. It's not even a post from an account that I know exists. It's literally a post that has used a hashtag that I am following. So yes, that post is relevant to me. It's something I'm interested in. But it's a brand new account. It's someone I didn't even know existed. So through hashtags, I'm being exposed to a brand new account. And for that business or that creator, they are reaching a potential client, customer or follower just by adding in that hashtag.
So when Adam comes out and says that hashtags don't increase your reach, then I choose to disagree. So let's get back to that cold, hard data. So what I did was I went back through my last ten posts where I had used hashtags. Now, for the record, I generally aim for 30 hashtags. That might seem like a lot, but I have done my research, I have some good sort of buckets of hashtags depending on what I'm talking about, I can tailor my hashtags, but I'm literally copying and pasting. Actually, I've got my hashtags saved into Business Suite, so they can just click on the relevant ones for that post.
So I went through my last ten posts. I had a look at my insights for each post, and what I was looking at specifically was the impressions from hashtags. So how many impressions did I get that were a direct result of the hashtags I had used on that post? And the magic number I came up with was 9%. So I had a 9% increase in impressions just from using hashtags. So I guess 9% could be on the margin, like Adam is saying, it's not an overnight success just by using hashtags. I'm not going to suddenly start reaching thousands of extra people because of those hashtags. But for me, a 9% increase in impressions is actually worthwhile.
Now, you can easily figure out this yourself. So literally grab your phone Now, open up Instagram and have a look at your posts that you have used hashtags on. When you open up your post, so when you click on a post, you'll see a wee blue link at the bottom there that says View Insights. So when you click on that, I want you to scroll right down until you see the heading Impressions. Now, under Impressions, you'll see a few different options, but you're looking at from hashtags. So you want to see how many impressions you generated on that piece of content from your hashtags.
Now, as I said, 9% to me is worthwhile. Now, it kind of depends on your size of your account. Like 9% for a small business like me that doesn't have a lot of followers, that is quite an increase. I'm happy with that. But if you've got a lot of followers, you've got a good size account, you're generating pretty good reach, You're happy with your reach. I probably wouldn't bother with hashtags if I'm honest. But have a look at the data. I think that there's real clarity in that data there. Have a look and see what you think about using hashtags and what impact they're having on your own content.
I also just want to briefly mention Hashtags in Instagram stories. So when we share a Story, a piece of content that disappears after 24 hours, adding a hashtag to that story is not going to increase our reach. So Stories are no longer appearing on hashtag pages. So that's how they previously did increase our reach. But it's absolutely pointless now to add a hashtag to your Instagram Stories.
So that leads me on to answering the question that you really want answered, should you bother using hashtags on Instagram posts? And I think you'll agree it's pretty clear the answer is it depends. It really depends if you want to get that little extra bit of reach that they will help you achieve, or if your time is better spent creating really great, engaging content that your audience wants to engage with and that's how you're going to increase your reach instead.
So I'm sorry that it's not a definitive answer. It's not a hard yes or a hard no from me. I'm sitting on the fence. It really does depend on your goals, the size of your account, your time, your resources, all these different factors there. But come and find me on Instagram if you want to continue this conversation. I can be found @socialsmarty.co and if you've enjoyed this episode, I would love it. If you could please share it with a friend. I really love reaching new people through this podcast, but otherwise hit that subscribe button if you haven't or that follow button and I'll see you in the next episode.