Hashtags are a tricky subject. They can be a great tool if used correctly - but so often they are not.
Hashtags are often thought of as a search engine. This is technically correct, but Instagram is popular for its community, and isn't often used for searching out literal images.
Think about it, the last time you needed to find a photo of something, did you go to Instagram, Pinterest or Google? The two latter are most likely.
While hashtags are often used on Instagram, they are more of a "find your community" feature than a direct image search.
The purpose of hashtags is to help Instagram users find your posts. So, understandably, most people use hashtags only relating to their current photo.
This isn't always a bad strategy, especially if you are very consistent with the type of content that you post.
However, if you are the type of person who likes to mingle in lots of random personal posts, your hashtags won't always be representative of the type of person you are trying to attract to grow your art business.
For example, lets say one day you want to post a photo of your cat. #Cat would be an obvious choice for this post. However, someone searching though that hashtag might come across your post and click through to your account, hoping for more cats.
There, they would find art, your cat, your new blooming flowers, pictures of your child and maybe a food shot or two. They probably aren't going to stick around to like more photos or follow you, and they definitely aren't going to sign up for your art newsletter.
If you are trying to run your Instagram account to gain business, that would be a wasted hashtag.
On the flip side, if you bio says "cat lady" and you post lots of photos of your cat walking across your canvases and chewing on your paint brush, then #cat would be appropriate.
Now, I used #cat as an example, but that is a terrible hashtag to use in general. It has over 115 million posts. Within 30 seconds, your post will be so far at the bottom of the most recent #cat posts that no one will ever see it.
Instead, you could use #catofinstagram with 1.7 million posts. That is still a large number, but you at least stand a chance.
Similarly, #artist has 61 million and #art has 257 million, so steer clear!
When you have figured which huge hashtags you would be using if strategy were not an issue, you can type them into the search bar and click on "Tags". This will bring you down a rabbit hole of suggestions that you can use in its place. Warning: it's a pretty fun time-suck.
Like I mentioned before, the amount of posts a hashtag has makes a big difference whether or not your post will be seen. Too small a hashtag means people are rarely searching it, but you have a higher probability of ending up in its "top posts" section. The amount of time you will stay there varies, but it's a great way to be found.
On the other hand, a higher number of posts means it's more active. More people will see it within a shorter period of time, but you are less likely to end up in the top posts.
Balance is key. Shoot for 5-6 hashtags under 100,000, 5-6 hashtags over a million, and the rest in between. You probably won't get this exactly, but somewhere in this vicinity should serve you well.
Start with creating one set of 30 hashtags. This will probably take you several hours. When you have time, create two more sets of 30 hashtags and rotate them throughout your posts.
Yes, this is a lot of work. But it is also free advertising and only needs to be updated every few months, so you can use your sets over and over. Work harder once and let it pay off.
When you know who you want your customer to be, it is much easier to dive into their brains to figure out what they might be looking at.
Dig deep. Many of your hashtags might not even be art related. I've found these types of hashtags most effective:
Facts about your business (#painter or #artforsale) make for obvious search terms, but most often people leave that type of searching to Google and Pinterest. It's a good idea to add a mix of both for balance anyway.
Special event hashtags are some of the best ones to use. People like to reminisce through what the event was like at the end of it, and if you have a great post you'll be likely to see some traffic to your account.
If fellow artists are your target market, you should try using several of the community building hashtags. Some of the popular ones at the moment are #the100dayproject and #doitfortheprocess.
If creatives are your target market, some popular hashtags right now include #communityovercompetition, #calledtobecreative, #abmlifeiscolorful and #mybeautifulmess.
Look at what your community and your competition is using for hashtags. Do any of them fit your ideal customer?
Go through your list of hashtags and enter each one into the search bar. If you can see "top posts" but not "most recent posts", this hashtag will seriously derail your hashtag efforts according to this blog post by the Plann app.
It says that if you use just ONE of these banned hashtags, your post will not show up for any of the hashtags you use. That would be a major waste of your time, so don't skip this step.
Keep a list in an Evernote app or on your Notes app. Whenever you post, copy and paste your set of hashtags into the first comment to make it less visible. If you want to change any of the hashtags for that particular post, it is easy to do once you've pasted into Instagram. I use this method if I haven't pre-written my social posts.
If you are the type who likes to write several posts at once, I highly recommend paying for CoSchedule.
If you use CoSchedule, plug your hashtag sets into social helpers and you won't have to remember which set to use next.
The image below is part of a weekly social media template I created in CoSchedule. On the left, I put in "social helpers" that automatically populate the template of posts I created on the right.
I can create an image and text for my social for the day, then CoSchedule creates a post for each social media account I have added to my template. Posts automatically go at the best time for each platform. Because I am using social helpers, the posts going to Instagram automatically add one of the three sets of hashtags I uploaded in rotation, but they don't show up on the other platforms.
Lots of work = much easier!