Instagram has emerged as another important social media platform for food bloggers who are trying to expand their sphere of influence and their number of readers. Unlike the kind of super-polished, well produced food photography typical to food blogs, Instagram offers food bloggers an opportunity to share quicker, on-the-fly moments from their lives as foodies that readers can relate to. But how can you make sure that people are actually seeing your Instagram creations?
The answer is simple: Hashtags.
How Hashtagging Works on Instagram
While Twitter may have invented the hashtag, the concept has spread to almost all major social media platforms. The concept is simple: Tag a piece of content with a descriptive hashtag, and readers can click the tag to read other content by other writers, who have tagged their content with the same hashtag. Hashtagging has been particularly explosive on Instagram, however, as content providers and bloggers have learned that exposure to readers, particularly on this network, is entirely dependent on hashtags.
The major way that Instagram users find content and new people to follow on the network, is by searching with hashtags. When you post a photo or video to Instagram, you can add a description to each piece of content (or post followup comments) containing a few descriptive hashtags. For example, Food Republic (@FoodRepublic) often tags the ingredients used or subject of the photo in a hashtag. A close-up of a particularly juicy cheeseburger may include the hashtags #burger and #cheese, when it’s added to Instagram.
Since Food Republic included these two hashtags, Instagram users who love looking at pictures of burgers (and honestly, who doesn’t?) can easily find the image, even if they may not happen to be followers of @FoodRepublic. Then, Instagram users who like the photo can add their own additional hashtags in the comments (like #mushrooms, in this case), which makes the potential audience for the photo even greater.
It gets better. Many Instagram users also push their updates out to Facebook or Twitter, where, you guessed it…the hashtags go along with it. This expands the potential of hashtags even further, into whole other networks. This makes the power of hashtags to get new users in front of your Instagram photo nearly limitless.
How Many Hashtags?
New Instagram users tend to make two mistakes, when getting started with hash tagging on Instagram: Using too many hashtags, and using irrelevant hashtags. While Instagram allows you to include up to 30 hashtags, this is generally viewed as way, way too many.
Think about it: If you’re describing a photo of food, whether it’s something you’ve cooked at home or enjoyed in a restaurant, if you run up against that 30 hashtag limit, chances are you’re including terms that aren’t as relevant to the photo as they should be. While many small businesses and brands use more (and we’re even guilty of this on the Instagram feed for our blog), four or five hashtags seems to be the right amount. Any more, and you just start to seem kind of needy, and maybe even overly aggressive in your self-promotional efforts.
At first, it may seem to make sense to use the most popular hashtags (like #food or #love) in an effort to reach more people on Instagram. There are two main problems with this. First, if you use a very popular term like #food to describe your photo, the potential reach is great, but the competition is fierce. With so many photos getting added with this term every minute, it takes only moments for your photo to get buried in potential search results. Second, using an irrelevant but popular term (like #fashion, on a photo of a bowl of clam chowder) is viewed by Instagram users as deliberate spamminess that’s damaging to the network and completely useless to users. Using these kinds of irrelevant terms is a great way to get your account ignored by users or even blacklisted.
How the Big Boss Hogs are Using Instagram
Major brands on Instagram seem to use hashtags sparingly, and certainly never add irrelevant tags to their photos and videos. Of course, for them, it’s easy: With millions of followers, you can create your own hashtags that will be adopted by tons of people, or can “take over” common language hashtags already in use.
Taco Bell (@TacoBell) has one of the most well-run fast food Instagram accounts out there, and with good reason. Their account is a perfect blend of tantalizing food photography, appropriately filtered lifestyle shots, and careful, conscious hashtagging that promotes Taco Bell products and keeps them constantly on the mind of customers.
For example, every Tuesday, Taco Bell posts a few beautiful taco photos, with the hashtag #TacoBellTuesday. It’s a made-up term that followers of the Taco Bell account have come to look forward to, and may even search for.
Why wouldn’t the company just use the hashtag #taco? Because they don’t need to. They’re successfully making #TacoBellTuesday happen, and they don’t need to throw their photos into the stream of thousands and thousands of other taco photos, where they could potentially get lost in the avalanche of other taco photos. Now, that’s some confident hashtagging.
Krispy Kreme (@KrispyKreme) uses two or three hashtags in order to show up often in search results, making great use of hashtags like #chocolate to perhaps appear in search results that may not be directly related to donuts, or #PumpkinSpice to describe upcoming flavor promotions.
Instagram is an important marketing and social promotion tool for any food blogger, and successful use of the platform requires the use of hashtags to organize content. If you’re not using hashtags to describe your photos and videos, that content becomes invisible to anyone outside the existing sphere of your readership, which means you may not be reaching new readers as effectively as you could. A few carefully chosen, well-crafted hashtag keywords puts your gorgeous photographs in front of people who are searching specifically for that content, and potentially turning them into followers and/or regular readers.
We want to hear from you! Do you use hashtags in your Instagram efforts, and if so, do you create your own, or try to capitalize on hashtags already in use? Let us know in the comments!