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Hashtag Strategy – Finding Customers instead of Peers

Digital Marketing

Sylvia Wong Director of Digital Marketing

You can probably relate — you’re trying to attract real, paying clients and customers but you seem to keep getting followers who do the same thing as you do! Why are you attracting peers instead of customers? That probably means it’s time to fix your Hashtag strategy (or maybe you haven’t even thought about one yet!)

So in this post I’ll be sharing some new ways of thinking about hashtags, specifcally for instagram, so you can attract a mix of followers and get your work in front of potential clients.

What’s a Hashtag Strategy?

hashtag portlandia

First of all, what’s up with hashtags? They’re a system to categorize your posts so that they’re more likely to be found. Posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement. With a maximum of 30 hashtags allowed on any instagram post, that’s 30 opportunities! (On twitter and facebook, we suggest sticking to one!)

The thing is, just because the most used popular hashtag is #love or #selfie, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get the most engagements for using it. In fact, quite the opposite will happen! When you use tags that are extremely popular, there’s so much content under that feed that your post will very quickly get buried. You need to be strategic with what hashtags you use and consider exactly who you want to be interacting with it! Let’s go back to basics for a bit…

Consider your Social Media goals

instagram likes

What is your brand doing on social? Maybe one of these are your goals:

  • Creating Brand Awareness
  • Sharing behind the scenes moments
  • Networking and relationship building
  • Generating new leads
  • Giving a new platform for users to contact you

No matter how you look at it, when a brand is using social media, all the above intentions should lead to increasing your sales.

“Go beyond measuring engagement, start measuring what directly impacts your bottom line” – Juntae Delane

But caution: one major thing you must never confuse is your Engagement vs. Conversion. While social media is a total numbers game (How many followers do I have? Is my engagement rate per post at least 10%?), these numbers don’t necessarily translate to sales. And that’s where your audience comes into play. Who is it that’s liking all your images and interacting with you? Is it your mom? Your peer group? People who offer the exact same services? Just because you get 100 followers, if they’re not properly targeted, you might as well have none…

Understand your Target Market

Marketing 101: You need to identify a target demographic. And make it as specific as possible.

“Everyone is not your customer” – Seth Godin

Think like your Ideal Client. If you already have an instagram business account, you can check your insights to see if your Instagram following matches who you think your target demographic is; at least by location, age and gender.

Think about what lead them to the point where they need your product or services? What else do they like to do and what do they usually post on social?

Implement a Hashtag Strategy

hashtag no filter

Researching Hashtags

Consider your ideal client’s user journey or their life stages. From your demographic targeting research, you should already have some guesses about what they do or how they shop.

Don’t use an app that suggests popular hashtags. If everyone on that app is being told to populate the same tags, it’s going to be over saturated with weak content and you won’t receive any worthwhile engagement. Look how basic these are:

hashtag strategy - do not use hashtag generating apps

Try to imagine what your target user would research or how they would phrase a hashtag if they were searching for something. Also consider what they hashtag their own images with. More on that soon!

Tagging your posts

For every post, use specific hashtags (up to 30) and try your best not to use the same set of tags every time. If you already have a hashtag strategy and have a bunch saved in your notes app, consider upgrading and using an app for Instagram that stores your hashtag groups. We suggest putting the tags in the first comment instead of the caption. This way it’s less visible and also doesn’t get copied over if anyone regrams your posts with an app.

Engaging with Hashtags

Using social media isn’t a one-way street. You have to participate and spend time engaging with others and providing value. Otherwise you’re just using it as a billboard and people are very sensitive to sales-y profiles. Hashtag strategy shouldn’t just involve your own post tagging, but how you interact with tags too.

Remember when I said to consider what tags your customer is using? You want to follow those tags and consistently interact with them. As a very specific example, if you were a wedding vendor, it doesn’t make sense to interact with posts tagged #wedding. Why? Well, if you’re trying to connect with people who are looking to book vendors for their wedding, you’re too late because they just posted wedding photos and they’re done. Consider their user journey prior to the wedding. Maybe they celebrated by posting photos of their engagement with #isaidyes or #engaged. Maybe they had an #engagementparty or #bridalshower. Consider what the equivalent is in your own demographic and avoid spending time getting followers who won’t be your clients.

Switch it up


jimmy fallon hashtags

Measure your results. Definitely keep track of your follower growth but as you build out more posts with a variety of tags, keep note of which ones get the most engagement. Which get the most like? Which get the most comments? Use the Instagram built-in Insights to sort and see if there’s any pattern in which posts perform best and then adjust accordingly. If you post frequently, test out re-posting the same image with different tags to see which were more effective.

Stay mindful of the Instagram Algorithm, which may penalize you by shadow banning if you repeatedly use the same tags for every post. Change up your hashtags every so often.

So start adjusting your Hashtag Strategy and watch your audience shift from peers to potential clients! Let us know in the comments what your current strategy is and how you’ll be adjusting for your future audience!


4 Replies to “Hashtag Strategy – Finding Customers instead of Peers”

  1. Thank you. Love your posts. They’re always so helpful and you mention so much that I’ve never even thought of!

  2. Loved reading this post! The part about the #wedding kinda blew my mind,so smart!

    I have one question, I have been questioning putting the hashtags as a comment or in the caption! Have you noticed a difference and which placement is more effective?

    I have heard Instagram finds hashtags in the comments spammy and is more likely to shadow ban you. Would love to hear your thoughts!

    1. Hi @disqus_ILMkCdkXFh:disqus, I’m so glad you enjoyed it and that my example resonated with you!

      I think a lot of rumours are spreading now about the instagram algorithm and a lot of them are speculations that are a bit baseless. See more about that here:

      I always put my hashtags into the first comment instead of the caption since it makes for a cleaner caption and it also doesn’t get copied over when another account regrams your post with an app. Consider this: If instagram didn’t want a specific behavior to continue, they could easily disable it. Hashtags in captions still work, so I say stick to it, but make sure to change it up so you aren’t always using the same tags 🙂


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