The Power of Using Hashtags in Business

Richard Branson Instagram Screen Shot 20160726

A month ago I set out to discover how businesses could tap into the startling Instagram reach:

500 million monthly active users. 300 million daily active users. 20% of Internet users that use Instagram. Average monthly Follower growth for Instagram users – 16%.

What was revealed was a world of hashtag power, the fallacy of followers and the lunacy of likes.

I was surprised by the real numbers. By ‘real’ I mean those that reflect the individual user and what they mean for the ‘average business’ Instagrammer when they start out.

To provide some context and so you can see how a small business owner (who was my inspiration) is benefiting quickly, easily and effectively from using Instagram, you can read the first instalment of my experiment here.

When I signed up to Instagram, I had no intention of using it for business. Running a services based business doesn’t present too many opportunities to generate breathtaking and inspiring images!

That was a terrible assumption, which I rectified after my interview in Forge Magazine was published in June, “Entrepreneurs on Vacation”. I wanted to share the article beyond my normal outlets (subscribers, blog, LinkedIn) and realised the combination of business owners and traveling is like Friday cocktails – they enhance each other!

StartUp KickStart Instagram - the beginning!
StartUp KickStart Instagram – the beginning! Click the image to see more

Over the past month, I’ve been tracking and testing different methods and tools, and these are my discoveries so far.

These serve as a reminder not to take all numbers at face value:

1. Hashtag Power – In four days I doubled my Followers (35 to 63) just by adding hashtags. Within two weeks that number was 91 and two days after that it was 100. I was feeling pretty good about this – I was obliterating the 16% average and watching the Follower number intently. The only thing I was varying was the number of hashtags (25-30) and changing approximately 5 of them to tailor the hashtag to the image.

This is my hashtag warning though – use them with discretion or they can repulse more than they attract. There is #nothing more #irritating than #reading a #sentence where #every #noun, #verb and #adjective is a #hashtag. If you are going to use hashtags this way, keep them to a minimum, or the better alternative is to place them at the end or insert them as a new Comment. You want to make sure your message or call to action isn’t lost under all the ##### noise.

2. ‘Likes’ are Fickle – During this test phase, my image ‘Likes’ have fluctuated between 40-100 per image. I’ve tested not using any hashtags, and received 4 ‘Likes’! In the past month, I haven’t found any correlation between image types and the number of “Likes”. Although it is early days, it seems the best days to post are the weekends. I’ll be keeping an eye on this over the next couple of months, as these might prove to be the best days to post if I have something very specific to share with a strong call to action. I would encourage everyone to do this assessment if you want to create an opportunity for good results. Depending on audience demographics and locations, time of day may also play an important factor.

But this isn’t all about Likes and Followers because of the reasons below.

3. Spam Reporting – For the first 3 weeks I received spam comments telling me to follow them and I would receive 2000+ Followers etc. I would report these as spam and delete the comment. I’ve read warnings against using these types of automation programs. Instagram doesn’t look on them favourably and can blacklist you. That’s good advice, however, what I would be more concerned about as a business owner is, who would these 2000+ Followers be?

If you are using this platform for business, what’s the point of having 2000+ Followers who have no interest in your brand or product? I could use automation to generate 2000+ email addresses, 2000+ instagram accounts and follow my own brand. All you are doing is generating numbers, which have no purpose apart from deceiving people, ourselves included. This really comes into play if you are paying someone else to promote your business or product to their 1m+ Followers. Are these genuine, engaged Followers and will your product or service help them with their pain points?

4. The Manipulated Numbers – I’ve spent some time looking at the profiles of those who have ‘Liked’ or ‘Followed’ my photos and these are some of the surprising things I’ve discovered:

  • If ‘someone’ with 3 posts and 3000+ Followers starts following you, it doesn’t add up…unless they’re Brad Pitt sharing 3 naked selfies!
  • Follower numbers fluctuate as a number of them (exactly how many is hard to pin down) are auto-generated and their purpose is to get you to follow them. If you want to build a genuine following I would caution against using software that does all your Liking, Following and Commenting for you. Really stop and think about what the benefits would be from applying the “Follow for Follow” methodology.
  • When you report the Spammers, they do stop and you’ll notice a dip in responses. This is a good thing, because those other numbers are just artificial and aren’t benefiting you or your business. You need to stop focusing on ‘Like’ and ‘Follower” numbers as they really don’t mean much.

5. Focus on the Engagement – We’ve all been hearing a lot about ‘engagement’. There is a good reason for this, and that engagement should be your focus. As I’ve said already, don’t focus on racking up the biggest numbers – unless those numbers are subscriber increases, new clients, climbing sales or whatever else your objective is. Look at the type of Comments you are receiving – emojis only (which are easily automated), short “love it” comments or longer more engaged comments, such as “Laughed through your travel quiz! Definitely realised I needed to take a vacation from my business.”

In my next article, I’ll be looking at how to choose hashtags, how to use your comment section to the best advantage and ways to automate your posts. Make sure you check it out so you aren’t sitting there everyday trying to come up with a new image and comment for that day.

Please let me know if you have any Instagram tips and insights, I would love to hear them, test them and share them!

Make sure you subscribe now so you don’t miss the next instalment of my Instagram experiment.

If you need any help with wrapping your head around using social media in your business, please contact me and I’m happy to share what I and other business owners have discovered.

Happy scrolling!


Rebecca Collett, owner of Snowed Under Solutions


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