Instagram hashtag strategy case study

Instagram has been a black box for me for a long time as I’m sure it is for a lot of you. We all know there’s massive opportunity on Instagram for business and personal brand growth but so many of us, myself included, are struggling to get a foothold.

About a week ago I realized I wasn’t actually committing the effort to use Instagram effectively. I had no strategy, no consistency, no voice. I had to fix that.

Now, only a short week later, I’ve almost doubled my follower count and engagement is off the charts.

Here’s a snapshot of my account’s performance over the last 20 posts:

My instagram account performance

Yes, that is 367% engagement rate. That’s insane.

Granted though, my account is small, so you’ve gotta take that with a grain of salt I suppose. I’m not a guru and I’m not going to tell you this will work for your account that’s got thousands of followers. Results may vary, got it?


How did I do it?

I attribute this massive change in performance of my account to three things:

  • A solid, consistent brand
  • Joining comment pods
  • A bulletproof hashtag strategy

Due to a lot of interest in my hashtag strategy from an Instagram marketing mastermind group I’m a part of on Facebook, that’s what I’d like to cover in this post.

Let’s get to it. Be sure to stick around until the end to see how all the steps come together for a bulletproof Instagram hashtag strategy!

Step 1: Hashtag brainstorm session

This is where most of the work happens, so hold onto your butts.

My brand on Instagram is all about encouraging business owners, entrepreneurs, and side-hustlers to really hone in on their passions and pursue them. I love to see businesses grow and entrepreneurs blossom.

So I spent about 30-45 minutes staring at my stupid phone and wracking my brain for every possible hashtag that could even be remotely related to that audience I’m trying to reach. What did that look like?

It started with the obvious ones:

  • #entrepreneur
  • #smallbusiness
  • #businessowner
  • #hustle
  • and so forth

But each of those has millions of uses already across Instagram. Using the obvious hashtags will instantly get me lost in the sea of other posts doing the same thing. Don’t worry, they come in handy, as I’ll show later.

For now, what I did was explore hashtags related to those obvious ones, and then explore hashtags related to those, and so on.

Here’s some related to #businessowner:

Business related hashtags

Just keep following the hashtag trails, clicking into related images and looking at what hashtags they’re using, which will eventually spark some hashtag ideas that you hadn’t seen yet that are related to your niche.

I spent 30-45 minutes finding about 150 relevant hashtags. What do you do with all these hashtags? This leads to the next step.

Step 2: Organize and segment hashtags

I created a Google sheets spreadsheet to keep all my hashtags organized and segmented by number of times they’ve been used on Instagram. This is what that looks like:

Hashtag spreadsheet

Ideally, you’ll want to be adding hashtags to this spreadsheet as you find them, which is what I did. I kept going until it was taking me about 3 minutes to find a relevant hashtag that I didn’t already have in the spreadsheet. At that point, I felt I was at the threshold of diminishing returns.

Cool, so now you’ve got a shitload of hashtags thrown into a spreadsheet. What do you do with them?

Step 3: Ninja implementation (putting it all together)

If you’ve spent ANY time on Instagram or ever Googled how to grow your account, you’ve seen how prolific Instagram automation tools are. You know, those apps that follow, like, and comment on other accounts from your account while you just stuff your face with Cheetos.

My opinion? Those tools are for suckers. Fight me. I want to connect with real people.

Fortunately for me, a lot of other people are happily using these tools like crazy.

Guess which hashtags the vast majority of them are targeting? The ones that are popular. In my case, they’re all blasting through hashtags like #entrepreneur, #hustle, #startup, etc. passing out likes and comments like candy from a shady van.

Now, where do you think the real human beings that I want to connect with and build a relationship are? They’re the ones that are so deep in their own world that they’re making up hashtags for themselves like #imgonnabeabillionairesomeday or #buildingmyempire.

So here’s the secret sauce:

Instagram allows you to use 30 hashtags for every post.

Take 15 of your lowest used hashtags from your spreadsheet (for me this turned out to be all of them below 250k uses) and add them to 15 of some of the most popular hashtags from your spreadsheet (I chose to target the ones from 1M-5M uses).

What this does is cash in on all the automated likes and comments (and follows) from the popular hashtags, which quickly catapults your post to the top 9 featured posts for the 15 smaller hashtags. This exposes your content and your profile to the real people actually paying attention to those more intimate hashtags.

Use Google keep or some other cloud-based note taking app to save different sets to test out. As soon as you post new content to Instagram, you can go right over to the note app, copy, and paste in the first comment on your post.

While I was writing this article, I was able to get my latest Instagram post (posted 1 hr ago, as of right now), to hit top 9 in at least two of my targeted hashtags:

top 9 onetop 9 two

Where do you go from here?

Keep scaling. If you’re finding that you’re consistently hitting top 9 for your targeted hashtags, consider moving up the scale a little bit. Instead of using 15 hashtags from below 250k, try targeting 15 that are between 250k and 500k uses.

I’m excited to see where this goes for my account. I hope you’ll see some great results from implementing this strategy with your own account as well.

I’d love to hear if you’ve done this for your account and what results you’ve experienced!


16 Replies to “Instagram hashtag strategy case study”

  1. I’ve also found that you can’t just use the targeted, niche tags. It’s sad that we need the automated engagement, but it seems necessary for that initial push in the algorithm.

    Nice post and congrats on the massive engagement!

    1. It is sort of a bummer. But we don’t write the rules, we just play by them! Things will change as the platform evolves, I’m sure. But for now, such is the way of things haha.

    1. Thanks so much! I’m really glad you took the time to read it. I hope you got some value out of it and have begun implementing a bit of it!

  2. This is a great post. I will try this out for my niche – beauty blogging – and hopefully, I will gain some traction with my blogging account.

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