Go get 'em. By Big Cartel.

Find Your Followers Using Hashtags on Instagram

Connecting with the right people is key to building your business and selling your work.

Recently we talked to a group of stores who are consistently selling a lot of products on Big Cartel. When we asked why, store owners said Instagram, and the use of hashtags on Instagram in particular, were key to growing their audience and getting their work in front of the right people. With that in mind, we’ve put together some tips to help you use hashtags, find your people, and hopefully sell more of your work.

Before we start, we know some people have some strong feelings about hashtags (in other words: they don’t like ‘em). We get it. But bear with us while we make a case for how they can be valuable. Ultimately, you should decide what works best for you.

What are hashtags and how do they work?

Hashtags are used to group social media posts. You can tap on them and they’ll show all recent and popular content associated with that hashtag on the platform. You’ve probably seen them used for events like weddings or concerts, but they’re also great for finding people with similar interests.

Using the right hashtags can expose your brand to both large and targeted audiences. The chances of gaining new followers, getting more likes and comments, and ultimately generating sales can all be increased by using hashtags.

Try searching for #shopsmall on Instagram. You’ll see a list of related tags, nine of the most popular posts tagged with #shopsmall, and a long list of every post tagged with #shopsmall, starting with the most recent.

While hashtags do also exist on Twitter, they tend to be more focused on current events. They also can be used on Facebook, but their platform offers even less by the way of robust searching and discoverability features and is dominated by the feed, its ads, and your pre-existing friends list and groups.

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How do I find the right hashtag for my post?

First, think about your potential customers and what makes you, your shop, and your products special. Why are they excited about your hand-dyed handkerchiefs? Well, maybe they love #naturaldyes or #shibori, and they’re looking around Instagram for people who share their interest. By including a few relevant hashtags, suddenly those people looking for a few new internet friends will find you.

Another approach is to think about the way people use your products. If you sell pins, tagging #jeanjacket or #denimjacket might help you connect with new fans who would love your pins for their denim jacket.

Similarly, think about the related interests of your current and potential followers. Let’s say you make wool beanies. By adding hashtags related to hiking, camping, fall, or winter, people browsing those topics will see your post, too.

Get creative!

OK, but how do I literally find the right hashtag?

Use the search function in Instagram to search by tags. As you begin to type, you’ll see results ranked by number of posts with that hashtag. As you get further down, the hashtags will become more and more niche. This’ll give you an idea of the topic’s popularity and how often people are sharing new posts.

Research similar products and companies. The goal here isn’t to copy exactly what someone else is doing, it’s to learn how your potential customers are finding the stuff they love. Only by searching for other pinmakers will you find out that #pingamestrong is a really popular hashtag on Instagram.

Learn from your audience. You may only have a handful of followers if you’re a new business, but your fans probably hold clues for how to find more people like them. Take a look at your followers’ posts and see what they’re sharing, tagging, and even who’s liking their photos and videos.

Consider the trade-offs of general and niche hashtags. Choosing a hashtag with fewer posts means you might not reach as many people, but you will stay at the top of the results for longer. On the other hand, super specific hashtags might also mean that no one’s really looking. Try a mix of broad and niche - or test them out on different posts - to see what works for you.

Create hashtags unique to your business. This is a bolder move, but many brands use hashtags to group their own posts and create a coversation around their posts. This is a great way to categorize your posts, start a contest, or invite your community to contribute. Just keep in mind that this tends to be more beneficial for fostering a sense of community among your existing followers than it is for branching out into new groups.

Start slow and grow over time. Test various hashtags and the time of day you share them. Keep track of what works as you hone your strategy.

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Tips for using hashtags

By browsing relevant hashtags, you can discover new brands and like-minded people. Following, liking, and commenting is a great way to gather inspiration and make new friends along the way. But there’s also a way to use hashtags responsibily and effectively to grow your following.

There are two places you can share hashtags on Instagram. This first is in the image caption itself. Do this if you want people to see and use the hashtag for themselves (like we often do with #shopindie). This is great if you’re doing a short-term giveaway that requires a hashtag, or if you’re encouraging customers to use that same tag when they post photos of their purchases.

You can also share hashtags in the first comment. If the content of your caption should stand on its own, go this route. Some think that your image gets a little less traction with this method, but it keeps your caption fun, clean, and easy to read.

This might seem obvious, but don’t spam or use low-value hashtags (like #dog or #art - as much as we love them both, there are nearly 300 million posts tagged with #art). Hashtags like that just add noise. While you’re using social media strategically to grow your business, your feed should still be enjoyable for your followers. Make sure they’re not getting burned out from seeing a ton of posts or a laundry list of keywords because you’re trying to gain a few more views.

Remember, as good as your hashtag game is, the only way you’ll really successfully make a connection with a new fan is with great images and great captions. And if you need some inspiration for promoting your shop with Instagram, pick up some tips from these artists using Instagram right.

And one final tip: Keep a list of hashtags in a note-taking app on your phone to easily reference for copying and pasting into Instagram.

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