6 Hashtag Strategies to Grow Social Media Engagement

Likes, comments, clicks, shares – engagement rate is still one of the main measures of success in social media marketing. While every social media marketer aims to increase a brand’s follower count across their various platforms, it’s now common knowledge that a large following doesn’t always translate into high engagement. In this article, we’re going to focus on how to use hashtag strategies to increase engagement on your posts, bringing in new audiences, boosting traffic and growing your brand.

Hashtag strategies social media engagement

Common social media marketing goals involve improving brand awareness and building loyal communities who want to keep up with relevant news and offers. Ideally, you want people who interact with your content, not just follow you and never view your content again.

Increasing engagement on social media also impacts success in a different way. Other than the numbers you see on your regular performance reports, engagement is a major factor in nearly every social media network’s feed algorithm.

Instagram’s algorithm, for example, takes interest into account when deciding which photos and videos to show in a user’s feed.

Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behaviour on similar content and potentially machine vision analysing the actual content of the post.

The more people like and comment on your content, the more social networks will be willing to show it to a wider audience, whether they follow you or not. 

So you need to draw eyes to whatever you post. Using hashtags is one of the best ways of doing it. A post using at least one hashtag brings an average of 12.6% more engagement than a post that doesn’t—and you don’t need any additional bells or whistles to insert hashtags into a caption or comment.  But just using them without a clear idea of when, where, and how won’t unleash their full potential.

We’ve rounded up some deceptively simple, yet effective, strategies you can build around using hashtags for social media success.

The Foundations of Hashtag Strategies

Let’s start with the basics. Before moving onto individual strategies or methods for hashtag use, you need to know the standards for using them.

The first order of business: where to put them. Hashtags need to be visible. It can be tempting to hide them under a “read more” on Facebook, or put a bulk of them into the first comment on Instagram, but data shows this can actually do more harm than good. A recent study that examined over 600,000 Instagram posts from over 6,700 accounts found 93.8% of brands preferred having hashtags in the caption instead of the first comment. Additionally, the study found that the less followers you have, the higher the reach rate per post if you keep hashtags in your caption as opposed to the first comment. 

Graph showing the average reach rate per post for hashtags in captions vs. in the first comment by profile size.

Equally as important is how many hashtags you place into a post. It can be tempting to cram as many as you can in there for maximum reach but going overboard can compromise engagement on your post and lower the quality of your visuals. On platforms like Twitter and Facebook where users have different conventions for hashtag use, that can look outright spammy and bot-like.

Nine is the optimum number of hashtags for Instagram. However, this varies, and just like with other platforms, you should continue to test and experiment before finding out what brings the best results for your brand.

Now that that’s established, let’s dive into each of the hashtag strategies and how they help boost engagement. 

1. Create a Branded Hashtag

If you don’t have a branded hashtag yet, what are you waiting for?

While you can use your plain brand name as a hashtag, we also recommend avoiding that. Instead, use a short phrase or slogan associated with you to not only invoke your brand, but its image and spirit too. Having this type of hashtag associated with your brand can reinforce your messaging in each post as you append it to each one of your captions and photos. You can also seamlessly incorporate it into sentences in your captions for better copy flow.

Hashtag strategies social media engagement

A general branded hashtag is also useful for finding user-generated content. Encourage customers who like your products and services to post about them online using your branded hashtag. This makes conversations about you easier to track, and from there you can select your favourite user posts to share on your official accounts to act as a testimonial. User-generated content excels at expressing authenticity, and scheduling those in between your normal promotional posts is a humanising factor. 

2. Keep Track of Trends

Using the most popular hashtags is one way to get more followers on social media, especially on hashtag-heavy platforms like Instagram. These hashtags are more likely to be used and searched for, and easily slip into interest topics. All that works together to increase the chances you get into Explore sections and follow suggestions.

The easiest way to do this is to simply use the search tool of your chosen social network. They usually display the total number of posts using the given hashtag. This enables you to choose the better of two similar hashtags to use.

Hashtag strategies social media engagement

Keep up to date on the latest events, too. There are usually several big events throughout the year that everyone tunes in to, so using the hashtag and creating related content can net you an audience from that segment. Always keep an eye out for unexpected trends, hot topics, and memes as well. Jumping onto what’s relevant can always give you the chance of having a post go viral.

Just remember to be conscious about what you post. Think about whether you should or shouldn’t join a conversation. You don’t want to end up making a mistake that can cost you your online reputation. 

3. Embrace Seasonal Changes

Hashtag strategies social media engagement

Every brand knows to take advantage of the seasons, and you can use this opportunity to switch up your branded hashtags to match. When doing social media scheduling, take note of important dates in advance—these include any holidays, special brand milestones, and months suitable for planning seasonal-exclusive campaigns.

What’s important to remember for seasonal content is that you need to update what you post to match. Using Christmas or New Year related hashtags, for example, alongside posts that don’t mention anything about these holidays can make your brand seem disconnected. Your audience notices when a hashtag seems off, so remember which ones go where.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Have a seasonally adjusted version of your branded hashtag, but use it yearly to reinforce the connection and increase brand recall
  • Use one-off hashtags for special, one-day holiday posts to emphasise the uniqueness of the event
  • Create unique seasonal hashtags every year to use alongside new campaigns
  • Create Seasonal Categories when scheduling social with SmarterQueue, so your posts will automatically turn on and off dependant on the time of year.

You can also choose to keep your regular branded hashtag in the posts together with any temporary ones you cook up. 

4. Customise for Campaigns 

Hashtags are useful for categorising your content, and that’s what makes them prime elements of any digital marketing campaign. Utilising hashtags and making them part of strategy for, let’s say, a product launch or special promotion, builds additional hype around the announcements and gets your audience involved. 

This increases engagement by starting the conversation around your campaign yourself: since you’ve given your audience the platform to talk about it (the hashtag), it’ll be easier for them to post and share it. Doubly so if you include hashtag use in any contest or promotional strategies’ rules. 

How do you reinforce the connection between the hashtags you use and the campaigns or social media contests you run? Add the text straight into your images.

Instagram Story

When announcing the beginning of a new campaign, incorporate the hashtag into your image collateral designs. Just open your application or program of choice, select your preferred font and design for the text, and go. Just make sure the text is clear and easily read on your background. Using a creative toolkit application like Instasize enables you to edit photos and videos quickly and seamlessly and adjust the filters on the photo as you go.

5. Tailor to Each Network

Hashtag strategies social media engagement

Just like you might tailor your images and captions to each social media website you’re uploading them on, the same holds true with hashtags. Different websites have different standards for hashtags—break an unspoken rule, and instead of bringing additional engagement to your posts, you may be flagged as spam. 

For Twitter, for example, the limited character count and lack of a clickable “read more” means every hashtag you use is visible in each tweet. That means you can’t use too many—not only will that use up your character count, but it’ll affect the balance of text and look unsightly. They’re also more integrated into the sentence construction or used at the beginning or end of a tweet for categorisation purposes. 

Contrast these practices to what goes on in Instagram, where users are almost encouraged to use a multitude of hashtags in every post for increased visibility. Facebook posts usually barely use hashtags at all despite the platform supporting the feature—and when they do, individuals rarely use more than one.

So, when sharing the same piece of content across different channels, take the time to create bespoke hashtag strategies and formatting for each platform. (Psst, you can do this easily in SmarterQueue.)

6. Examine Hashtags Yourself

Last but not least, one of the biggest ways hashtags can help increase social media may be one of their most indirect. Use hashtags just like any other person does: as a research tool.

People use hashtags and click on them because they want to find more content about what they’re interested in. Whether it’s looking for new people to follow, checking other accounts out for inspiration for their own aesthetic, or just idly browsing during free time, social media users click on hashtags for all these reasons and more.

Here are just a few ways using hashtags as intended can (directly or indirectly) improve your engagement rates:

  • Engage with accounts that post similar content to your brand, notifying them and prompting a visit back to your profile.
  • Check out the latest trends in the content posted in your brand’s industry and niche. This can give you fresh ideas if you want to switch up how you present your visuals or captions on social media.
  • Research any influencers that may make good potential partners. Influencer marketing is big on social media and leverages their own communities to improve yours.
  • Use hashtags as market research to find out what your target demographics are talking about, and include yourself in the conversation.

Final Thoughts

Surprised about how versatile hashtags really are? They may seem like simple additions in the form of text in a caption or image, but they can have a big impact on social media engagement when used the right way. Digital marketing has never been the same since the introduction of the humble hashtag—so ignoring its capabilities is just asking for unnecessary challenges.

Behind all these hashtag strategies though is one basic thought: every part of your social media marketing strategy needs to serve a purpose and bring your brand closer to its goals. 

Follow the SMART goal framework:

  • Specific: Make your goal as clear as possible, such as growing engagement by a percentage or increasing the number of your followers by several hundred.
  • Measurable: Know how to measure your social media success. In this case, have your analytics ready to compare your interactions and engagement rates pre and post hashtag strategy.
  • Attainable: Be realistic. You can’t get a huge boost overnight!
  • Relevant: Align your goals to your business objectives. If your goal is to increase engagement, what exactly do you want to engage them for? Is there a certain product you want to bring awareness to, or do you want to move them on the path towards sales? 
  • Time-specific: Give yourself a deadline.

Keeping your SMART goals behind your social media strategy—and your hashtag strategies—ensures that everything you’re doing benefits the growth of your brand and its community. 

If you don’t already have hashtags at the ready, create them today! Don’t be shy and brainstorm with the other members of your team. You might land on the perfect accompaniment before you know it.

Denise Langenegger

Denise Langenegger is part of the team at Instasize – a content creating tool kit for anyone editing photos and online content on mobile.