Let’s start off the new year with some good, practical, social media stuff. Yay!
You can refer back to my Instagram For Authors post if you want to refresh yourself on the basics. For now, I’m going to assume that you’ve at least clicked around on some social media and have seen hashtags, even if you don’t use them yourself much.
So; hashtags. They’re not just a fun Deadpool punchline (yes, I snort-laughed at that part of the movie) or a millennial trend. By now, hashtags are everywhere and they’re a really good way to extend your reach and attract a few extra eyeballs. Think of them as tiny little lights, getting attention for you.
The bad news first: Instagram is packed full of users. Your chances of getting what’s called “organic reach” are now pretty low, what with hundreds of millions of other users and a new algorithm and sponsored posts. Ugh, I know, damn those crafty algorithms.
You’re basically adrift in a sea of other posts, so much so that your posts will never be noticed by the average user just clicking around. Sometimes even your followers (who know you exist) will have trouble seeing your posts, especially if they follow upwards of 500 other Instagram accounts.
The good news: hashtags help even those odds by giving your posts a teeny flag to wave above that bobbing sea and go “look! I’m here! I’m so interesting!”
Above is a regular post from my own account, with hashtags. First of all as part of my caption are the Bookstagram challenges I was participating in. Basically, these are daily prompts (for instance; blue) for you to theme your pictures around. HUGELY helpful, at least for me. In this case, the challenges were #ampersanddec17 and #frenchiefantasydecember. You could get on Instagram right now, find those two challenges in a search, and my photos would still be there.
That’s how hashtags help your exposure.
Say a few thousand people participated in the FrenchieFantasy challenge every month. Those few thousand people will be connected to your post through that hashtag. All they have to do is click on the tag and they are taken to the Instagram page with those specific photos. Much less jam-packed than the regular ocean of daily posts, no?
At the bottom of the above photo is what you will soon get used to seeing finishing up every single Instagram post, and that is the lines and lines of hashtags. You are allowed to use up to thirty hashtags on each post.
Every single one of those is a chance for someone to find your post, and I’ll show you how.
Up above, one of the tags I used was #bookdragons. Let’s see what happens when I click on that particular hashtag.
I can now see that there are 6,433 public posts with the hashtag #bookdragons. The top nine posts are at the very top of the page.
So, say you write paranormal romance. You make a gorgeous Instagram picture of your latest book. The first thing you’ll want to do after writing a cute caption is hashtag the hell out of it so users can find you. #paranormalromance #shapeshifter #werewolf #romance #shapeshifterlove #moonlight With enough likes, your picture will be one of those top posts and anyone who clicks on that hashtag will find you. The more hashtags, the more chance that someone will be clicking around and find it.
- Don’t use all thirty hashtags you’re allowed on every single post. It starts to look a bit desperate.
- Instagram now lets you follow specific hashtags. See that big blue “follow” button in the picture above? If you click on it, you will see top posts with that tag in your feed even if you aren’t following the specific user who posted that photo. More possible exposure for you, if you create a hashtag and people follow it.
- A hashtag that has thousands/millions of posts (like #goals) is going to have pretty stiff competition. So actively look for the more specific, niche ones that have to do with your kind of writing. What genres do you list your books under? What keywords do you use when you list it on Amazon? Every single one of those can be a hashtag. Think tight, focused aim as opposed to a big old cannon blast.
- Use your author name as a hashtag in every post about you or your books. Make it easy for people to search for you and find some results.
- Even better, if you have a decent following you can start your own niche hashtag. If you’re doing a giveaway, for example, you can encourage your followers to spread the word by adding the specific hashtag you make up (yournameauthorgiveaway). You can create your own photo challenge with a prize for the people who participate and make up a hashtag for that (yournamechallengeJan18).
Going back to the #bookdragons example. Are the top posts the only photos you can see?
No. I wouldn’t have wasted your time by recommending that you enter what’s basically a lottery with 9 to 1,000 odds.
After the top posts anyone who clicks on the hashtag can see the most recent posts. If they feel like scrolling long enough (I suppose technically someone could be trapped on the toilet that long) they can see every post. If you have eye-catching photos, your chances of being found with that hashtag are pretty good. Especially if you use plenty of smaller, niche hashtags mixed with one or two of the big ones.
Hashtags are like flags or signposts that can direct people to you. It’s up to you to search and find the best ones for your own personal photos, then use them in your posts. And it’s up to you to make sure that your posts are interesting, attractive, and clickable.
Using hashtags is not a guarantee, it’s more like a gamble. People will click on what they want and they might, or might not, click on that hashtag and then, maybe, your photo. Still, using them is better than putting up a plain photo and just hoping people will find you. They create better odds for you. And, of course, the people with lots and lots of followers have much better odds when it comes to being found or having one of those top posts under a hashtag. Such is life.
Sprout Social has a great article about the basics of using hashtags, with some really good strategies for finding relevant ones and upping your engagement if you’re interested in some more reading. Find it here
Good luck with your Instagram! If you’ve got an account, throw it in the comments for me so I can follow you.