When it comes to building an organic following on social media, there is no better platform than Instagram.
Instagram is the place where a single viral post can drive you tens of thousands of new followers with $0 ad spend.
On December 12th, 2017, Instagram announced that you can now follow hashtags.
In this article I'll show you how the feature works and a few ways you can use it as part of your Instagram marketing strategy.
How to follow hashtags on Instagram
Just like you can follow a brand or friend on Instagram, you can now follow a hashtag too.
To follow a hashtag, simply type the hashtag you want to follow in the search, click on the TAGS tab, and you'll see a list of hashtags that match your search.
For example, if you want to follow the hashtag #Vegan, start by typing vegan into the search:
Then click on the TAGS heading:
Click the blue Follow button to follow the #vegan hasthag:
Now when you scroll down your Instagram feed you'll see posts from the #vegan hashtag:
You'll also be able to view the stories of anyone who has used the hashtag within stories:
Brands and regular accounts that are set to private and include the hashtag you followed will not be served on the news feed unless you're following the account that posted.
Instagram did not reveal too much on how they decide which posts or stories will appear on your news feed, but from my quick testing of this new feature it seems they will only serve the top posts and stories for that hashtag based on engagement (highest quality content).
How to leverage hashtag following
The ability to follow hashtags is huge.
You now have the ability to segment your Instagram account into many different funnels.
For example, let's say you sell apparel for men and women. Each time you upload content targeting women, you could create your own branded hashtag making it easier for women to find new products and offers relevant to them.
These are two hashtags that men and women can follow to avoid seeing irrelevant content. You cannot create private groups on Instagram like on Facebook, but your own branded hashtags to announce new products, flash sales, offers, and community news is a great way to serve the right content to the right people.
Hashtag piggy-backing – This is the process of leveraging popular hashtags within your posts in an attempt to find new audiences.
The #vegan hashtag has over 54 million public posts, with the top posts for that day being seen by any user who has followed that hashtag.
If you manage to create a viral piece of content that manages to make it into the top posts for your chosen hashtag, you can reach thousands of people organically to your brand.
You'll need to choose your hashtags carefully.
Generic hashtags are ideal for building awareness (think #vegan, #vegetarian) as you can reach a large number of people who may have an interest in your post.
If you want followers to make a specific call to action, such as a purchase, then long-tail hashtags will be the way to go to reach a more targeted audience (e.g. #KetoVeganMeals, #pregnantVeganMeals).
The ability to show up on the news feed for hashtags that are highly followed will depend on how much engagement your posts get from others.
Seasonal hashtags – Depending on what happens in the news, seasonal hashtags are created all the time and often have a short lifespan of one day to a few months.
#Bitcoin is probably the best example of a hashtag that e-commerce brands can use right now. If your store accepts Bitcoin, then create high-quality videos that link your brand with the online currency and get your products in the news feeds of people who have Bitcoin to spend.
Hashtags just got more important
As a marketer and active user of Instagram, I love this new feature.
Not only will it increase the amount of time users spend on Instagram (like I needed to spend more time on there!), but I also think that in the future Facebook will let you target interests based on the hashtags followed.
I'm a little surprised this has not gotten more news coverage as I think this feature can be huge for brands that have a large organic following on Instagram.
How are you going to use the hashtag following feature on Instagram?