Market Research - Hashtags on Instagram

Hashtags. They are crucial in reaching new followers on Instagram and there are millions of hashtags out there. How do you know which hashtags are good? How do you know if a hashtag is effective? 

Here are some tips on how to maximize your use of Hashtags on Instagram.

1 - 30 Hashtags

You can use UP TO 30 hashtags in your caption, but do not exceed 30 hashtags or Instagram will post your image without a caption at all. That's infuriating. I generally keep it between 10 (because I get tired of typing) and 25 or so. Whatever you do... DO NOT LOSE COUNT of the hashtags you've sat there and typed out. 

2 - Relevance

Make sure the hashtags you're using are relevant to your art and/or your subject matter. Users can report an image as not relevant to the hashtag they found it under, so you want to be careful not to abuse hashtags just because they're poppin'. The most relevant hashtags that are not directly art related will be individualized to your specific art. What works for my swooshy ladies with flowers won't work for Blake Edward Davis's orcs.  

I'll list some examples of hashtags relevant to this piece:

Relevant hashtags: #inkart #inkartist  #inkedart #inkdrawing   #artemis #greekgoddess   #mythicalart #greekmythology   #goddess #goddesses  #inkdoodle  #inkdoodle #sketcheveryday #inkartwork #finelinerart #sketchbookpage #inkedart #inkdrawings #inkdrawing #drawsketch #sketchbookartist #sketchart #inkyart #sketchbookdrawing #sketchbookart   

Generally, art related hashtags like #inkdrawing are going to attract mostly other artists, which is great! However, if you're looking to grow a following that will collect your work, you want to tap into the communities who aren't necessarily searching for the art you're creating, but who would be delighted to feel like they've discovered a magical art unicorn who makes things they like. 

As an example, Samuel Flegal creates amazing pieces both in ink and oils (and sometimes other mediums). Artists love his work, but more importantly, his art based on Norse Mythology has found a home in a pretty niche community that loves Norse and Viking art. That community gobbles up his art because they WANT more Norse and Viking stuff, and here he is providing amazing work they can decorate their homes with. 

Annabelle Lewis, one of the mentees on the show One Fantastic Week, creates simpler, less complicated ink wash pieces based on "witchy stuff." Artists love her work, but she has managed to tap into the Instagram witch community, and they love finding things related to what they are into! 

SO. That said, look at your art as though you are not an artist and evaluate what subject matters and what communities your work taps into. 

Now, go to Instagram and find a piece of art that has that same type of subject matter. 

For instance, I would first search #artemis ( 367,804 posts ). From there, I'd find a piece of art that shows up high in the ranking  and click that image. I'd see what other hashtags they're using. #greekmythology ( 348,922 posts ) 

If your current goal is growing a following, feel free to use and abuse those art related hashtags though. Growing an audience that engages is the most critical thing, and artists will engage with other artists.

You can go down a veritable rabbit hole finding hashtags related to your art. So how do you know which hashtags are worth jotting down for later use?

3 - Hashtag Popularity

Generally, it depends on your current followers count and engagement level. There are no hard and fast numbers for this, you have to kind of feel it out for yourself with trial and error. But here are some starting points.

  • 0-1000 followers, focus on hashtags with 5k-15k posts.
  • 1000-5000 - hashtags with 10k-200k posts.
  • 5000-10k - hashtags with 10k-1m posts.
  • 10k+ - hashtags with 20k-3m+ posts.

Sidebar: Use a variety of hashtags based on the above guidelines, and even if you only have 50 followers, sprinkle in hashtags with millions of posts here and there. You never know what can happen.

WHY should you pay attention to the number of posts a hashtag has? I'll tell ya!

Hashtags that have very few posts are not used by very many people.
Hashtags with millions of posts are oversaturated and hard to get featured in.

You're essentially competing with everyone else who uses those hashtags, and Instagram decides what to feature in the top posts based on engagement (likes and comments) and followers. So if you have 50 followers and they never really comment, you're competing with high follower accounts who have a lot of engagement. Your post will get pushed to the bottom quickly.

4 - Paying Attention

One of the biggest things I need to emphasize is that if you want to capitalize on your hashtag usage, you have to pay attention to which hashtags are working. Rumors abound that Instagram plans to implement a feature that SHOWS you which hashtags worked for you, but it hasn't been (widely) implemented yet, so we have to do some grunt work until it happens. Maybe this section will be irrelevant tomorrow... we can hope!

I had a piece hit pretty hot with over 400 likes and quite a number of comments back in 2017. I didn't know then that I had an opportunity to jump on that moment and make it work for my future pieces. So, I did some reading and watched a lot of YouTube videos about Instagram growth (organic - there are a LOT of BS videos out there that suggest follow for follow and buying followers etc) and I learned how to pay attention for when it happened again.

And then in December 2018, a work in progress hit the top 9 of a popular hashtag and everything started to snowball. 

HOW do you know when this happens and what do you do when it does? 

Check your notifications. At least once a day, check your notifications and when you notice a certain piece getting more likes and comments than normal, go through every single hashtag and see if your piece is being featured in the top 9, 12, 15, and 18 posts. If it shows up, mark that hashtag as one you should use as often as you can (remember relevance, don't use it if it's not relevant to your next piece). Do this for every hashtag you notice your work is showing up near the top. 


The ultimate goal is to see your video content featured on a hashtag that has a whole lot of posts, like what happened to me once LOL 

 Even further, as evidenced by the bottom of the image below which is the insights for the video above that was featured, you want to show up in people's EXPLORE, which is when you hit the lil magnifying glass and see what Instagram thinks you might be interested in. That's what happened with this video (see "FROM OTHER"): 


5 - Upward Slope vs Peaks and Valleys

In the beginning, you will see a lot of peaks and valleys. That's ok. As long as you're continuing to post content and paying attention to what works, you will eventually notice the valleys ironing themselves out until you start seeing a steady upward slope. 

The ultimate goal is to have such a steady upward slope that you no longer notice any lost followers. Once you start gaining more followers than you lose each day, that slope will happen and it's great!

Peaks and Valleys beginning to slope upward:

Dat Upward Slope doe:

I hope these tips help you in your market research!

What are your questions? What hashtags have you found worked well for you?

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