Instagram is a game of ‘reach’. All other things being equal; those who reach the furthest are usually the ones winning.

Reach is simply the number of unique people your image has been shown to. It’s partly in your control and partly not. Instagram handles reach for you with their algorithm and shows your image to people, but you have control over what types of people are shown.

You do this with hashtags, as I’m sure you already know. But most people don’t use them the right way.

#sunset was #lit today. #blessed.

Yeah, no.

How hashtags work

It’s pretty simple on the surface. Add a hashtag that describes your image, it gets placed on a feed, hopefully people searching that tag also see it and engage with it.

But there’s a problem of scale. If I look up #sunset, at the time of writing, it has 130,456,823 images attached to it. As I refresh this page, it’s getting new images added to it so fast every second that I can only ever see the images at the time of load. Literally 100’s of images every second.

This means that your image on #sunset doesn’t live very long in the chronological timeline before it gets buried underneath the thousands of other people posting at the same time with that tag.

There’s too much traffic.

Of course, there’s an exception – the goal. Every hashtag has ‘top posts’. Usually these are based on engagement. Likes, comments, and the rate at which your photo accumulates them gives Instagram a signal to ‘rank’ your image as engaging, and if it’s engaging enough, it will reward you by putting it on the top of that tag’s feed for everyone to see.

This is where you want to be.

The trick here is not just to be where all the eyeballs are. Yeah, that kind of seems counter-intuitive, but the way you do it is not by tagging #landscape, #icecream, and #dslr, but rather, using hashtags that regram accounts (feature accounts) or brand accounts are more likely to see you on and regram your work, using their exposure in your favour. #awesupply, #benandjerrys, #sonyaustralia.

The purest form of organic growth on Instagram

…is getting regrammed.

But before you go off and find the biggest feature accounts out there and hash them all, you probably want to take a step back and assess your situation first.

See, the problem of scale still happens here in regram land. #artofvisuals, the biggest photography feature account at the time of writing has almost 12 million images on it, so unless you have an insane engagement rate and 100,000+ followers (in which case, teach me pls), your image isn’t going to live very long on that tag’s feed.

So you have to be tactical.

At the beginning, it’s pretty much all about the smaller feature accounts. You get up to 30 hashtags per post (60 if you’re savvy 😉) and you can spend them either:

  1. Hashing big accounts, being at the mercy of the chronological feed, and hoping for a miracle that:
    1. Your image suits their feed.
    2. The person who runs that account looks at the feed at the exact same time you post.
    3. Your lucky underwear that day works and is actually lucky.
  2. Use mostly small feature account hashtags on your great image, and appear in the top posts for those tags (because there isn’t as much traffic on them) where they can see you and feature you, and then using their reach with your image, you get picked up again by a different feature account and on and on it goes.

Of course that’s the intention, the rest is up to you to and your image.

And now the work of researching the right hashtags begins

But it’s easier now. We have guidelines.

Our guidelines are:

And now, the work begins.

You know how sometimes when you’re watching YouTube, you watch a video, finish it, and something rad catches your eye and you start watching that? And then something else looks cool and you start watching that? And then that goes on and on and suddenly it’s 4am and you have to go to work in 2 hours and you haven’t slept yet?

Going through hashtags is kinda like that.

But the good news is you only have to do it once, and I can tell you exactly what to do.

Here’s what you do

Think about the categories of photos you usually shoot. Maybe it’s landscapes, portraits, urban, aerials and drone shots, whatever.

Let’s say it’s drone shots.

  1. Jump on a computer (this is important for speed sake) and load up Instagram. Find someone who does drone photography. Pick one of their drone photos and go into one of the drone hashtags.
  2. On the top posts of that hashtag, load up all 9 of the top posts in your browser. The fastest way to do this (on a mac) is to hold down command and click all the images.
  3. Go through the images
    1. If the image belongs to a person
      • Go to their drone tags and load up every tag on their picture
      • Repeat, or see the next point
    2. If the image belongs to a feature account
      • Find out how big the feature account is and if it’s one of a suitable level based on your own follower count and engagement rate, add it to a list and move on.
  4. Repeat for as many categories you can think of

Eventually, you’ll end up with a decent list of all the tags in that category that are suitable for your current follower count and engagement – a dozen will do.

Now, put all of those tags and categories into a list.

Whenever it comes time to post again, create a custom set of hashtags by deciding what categories that shot belongs in. If it’s a drone shot but it’s one of a landscape, includes a sunset, and is in your local city, you’ve got 3 categories to pull into a set of 30 hashtags (or 60) right there.

Remember to consider a ratio – if you have a smaller account, focus more on the smaller feature accounts, add a few large ones, and maybe 1 or 2 generic tags.

The larger you get, the more you can skew this ratio to the bigger feature accounts and really get the ball rolling!

And that’s it! An optimised, personalised set of hashtags for every photo you post that will maximise your chances of your work being seen. Neat, huh?

As a bonus, here’s how I list out my tag list. I also use iCloud so that I can access these anywhere I go. I’ve blurred out my hashtags because these sets are based on my current engagement level, and they probably won’t work well for you. But at least it gives you an idea of how I set them out.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a comment below!

Good luck!

tag list