Don’t you love it when a well-loved platform’s product strategy dovetails with your ongoing social media strategy so that you have even more tools for your PR toolbox? Last year, Instagram “shadow banned” certain hashtags on the platform, leaving comms folks to wonder if a hashtag strategy was moot. Turns out, it was part of a holistic strategy to make hashtags relevant again.

Now, it’s apparent that users that followed best practices with hashtags (tags) on Instagram have additional ways to extend their reach and increase the likelihood that their target audience engages with their photo stream.

By implementing these features, Instagram is wedding itself to a policy that supports high-quality hashtag usage for recommendations and sharing. So, if you’re using/creating high-quality hashtags, your organic traffic on the platform will increase.

Of course, this is why hashtag abuse via the shadowban was in place. It was a mechanism (an alleged mechanism) to ensure that high-quality content could rise above the cruft in the photostream.

Here Are 5 Ways to Use Hashtags on Instagram Right Now

1. Add clickable/searchable hashtags to your Instagram profile.

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2. Create a branded hashtag and encourage others to use it, when others use it with their images, repost it on your stream, add positive comments, tag the original poster, and add additional branded tags.

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3. Craft posts, tagging them with others’ branded hashtags (in addition to your own) to extend your reach to others using the hashtag or following it on a stream.

Welcome to the family, Sysomos! #OutsideInsight #SocialMedia #WatchThisSpace ?

A post shared by Meltwater (@meltwater) on

4. Use trending hashtags in your stories, and don’t forget to assign a geographical location (geo-tag) of both venue and city; that way when someone from within Instagram (who isn’t following you) clicks on the same tag from another story they will be served your hashtag as well. (Of course, thus introducing your content to more eyeballs!) This is most effective for time-based events.

5. Take this same story and add it to highlights (below your profile) and those people following the associated tags, geo-location, or @s will continue to have an opportunity to access your content.

Creating an Ecosystem of Tags

On the Instagram side, it seems like the algorithm is rewarding accounts (via views and suggesting the hashtags/accounts to those with similar interests), business or otherwise, that are adept at tag (hashtag) use. They are encouraging accounts to create an ecosystem, by:

  1. Suggesting relevant tags for users to follow based on what accounts and tags they currently follow.
  2. Searching for a tag within the platform, prompts users to follow the tag. And the search results show the volume of posts that use the tag, while also suggesting related tags.
  3. Allowing users that click on tags within stories to lead to additional stories that are using the same tag. (This functionality feels similar to the Facebook video next feature). Those interested in the same tags as your branded hashtags are put into a loop where they may have continued exposure to related content. If you create more than one piece of original (but related) content you’ll receive additional exposure to the same audience.

An example of how hashtags on Instagram work with stories might work for increasing reach is best illustrated in the case of a national political action. Say you recorded a relevant story and tagged it with #NationalWalkoutDay. During the time when that tag is trending, you’ll likely increase your reach and engagement in a few key ways. Other accounts that are following the tag, maybe from the recommended page or from someone else’s tagged IG story has an opportunity to see your content as they click-thru (tagged) story after (tagged) story will play. If you wanted to be strategic with this trend jack, you could introduce additional relevant tagged stories or you could use the trending tag while adding a brand-related tag. In this way, you’ll immediately increase your reach for people who are looking for the type of Instagram story you’re producing. And a small segment of this audience might even then follow your account or at least click-thru to your branded tag, placing themselves in a different tag echo chamber.

PR Takeaways

As other social media platforms face criticism for privacy-related concerns, Instagram is edging to the front of the pack with 500 million daily active users and a seemingly teflon reputation.

And while Facebook, Instagram’s parent company is in the midst of changing their UX strategy, the resources they’re investing in Instagram is appreciated by users who still flock to the platform to interact with their favorite brands, influencers, friends, and family. This makes Instagram one of the most important, if not the most important, social platform in the PR pros’ toolbox. To get the most out of the channel, make use of hashtag and baked-in engagement features so that you’ll get eyes on your photostream.

Here are actionable strategies:

  1. Find and follow tags that engage your target audience.
  2. Create a branded tag and regram good content that includes your tag. Give appropriate credit and include a positive comment when regramming with additional related tags.
  3. Craft stories that use your branded tag, associate those stories with other popular tags.
  4. Cultivate relationships with people who are leaders in your vertical, using their hashtag when you create your branded content. Associate their hashtag with your brand.
  5. Keep tags hyper-relevant and the # of tags you use to a minimum. (Even if Instagram allows 30 tags, best practices suggest 3-6 per post.)

Now that you’ve nailed your Instagram hashtag strategy, make sure the rest of your social media strategy is equally robust.