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June 15, 2016

Instagram Part II — Gain Followers and Attract New Business Utilizing Hashtags

In the first part of this Instagram series, I shared five apps you should download (all free, too!) to help grow your business. Here in Part II, I’ll discuss hashtag best practices that are proven to help you gain followers and, thus, build value in your brand.

#Hashtag Basics

#Hashtags should be something you’re familiar with if you’ve spent any time on Twitter or Facebook. They can be so powerful that some have become a rallying point for events such as political movements and trending news. For you, the firearms retailer, their true functionality lies in the ability for you to add searchable keywords to social media posts. For example, if you tag a photo #guns #firstshots, then whenever someone enters either of those phrases, your post will appear.

The only drawback I’ve found in using more popular hashtags like #guns, for example, is that everyone uses them. When such a general hashtag is used, then, your post will appear in a search feed for only a short amount of time before it starts falling out of view due to newer posts taking over that particular search. I’m not saying to not use more generalized or popular hashtags — indeed, you should add them to the mix — but if you’re looking to draw positive attention to your store, you also need to use hashtags unique to your business.

Keep one thing in mind for hashtags: They can help brand your business. For instance, if you have a unique product, service or catchphrase, then you can create a unique hashtag around it to brand your posts. This, in turn, creates a hashtag hub for your business. How well does this work? Colion Noir, NRA’s online video personality, pretty much created the #pewpewlife hashtag; he now has a clothing line and other merchandise bearing that hashtag. I’m sure when he started that hardly anyone was using that phrase, but the more he used it in every post, the more it became popular.

#Hashtag Overkill?

How many hashtags should you use? I’ve heard anything from unlimited to no more than 30. Personally, I think typing in 30 hashtags is much too time consuming. I usually stick to using somewhere between five and 10.

How do you determine the best tags to use for your store and business brand? Think of ways to make the following unique:

  • Use popular firearm and firearm-related tags such as #guns, #2A, #firearms, #gunsdaily, #gunsofinstagram and variations of each.
  • Use product hashtags. Not only should you tag @Beretta_USA or @Nosler in the post if you are showing their product, but also use hashtags #beretta and #nosler. Fans of those products will find your business with the goal of having them first follow your Instagram feed and then hopefully you convert them into buyers.
  • Since Instagram is such a visual medium, use hashtags to emphasize what the picture is portraying. For instance, use #gunrange or #rangetime if you are showing customers on the range or #firearmstraining #firearmsinstructor when promoting that side of your business. You really can’t go wrong with hashtags that are both this simple and this direct. Even better, and one of the best parts of Instagram, is that once you start typing in your hashtag, Instagram will pop up suggestions of other popular hashtags and the number of times they’ve been used.

#Hashtag Placement

One question I’m often asked is how someone should place their hashtags? Again, there are multiple schools of thought here, but the following tend to be the most popular:

  • Posting tags only in your comments, not in the actual post — I don’t necessarily agree with this method. Those who practice this claim it keeps your original post ”clean,” and if you need to edit a hashtag because you spelled it wrong (happens to the best of us), it won’t mess up the original post. Think of your fans who repost your content, they won’t have the misspelled tag included. But that also means they’ll have zero tags included in their repost (unless they take the time to add their own hashtags, which may or may not jibe with your brand.)
  • Leaving lots of space between your post copy and your hashtags — I think this is silly, but the thought behind the practice is that your current followers won’t need to see all the hashtags in your post, which are, actually, unnecessary to them. Remember, a large part of the functionality of using hashtags and Instagram for you, a firearms retailer, is so people who don’t know about you can find you and follow you. Like I said, I think that extra space between your post and the hashtags (some also add ellipsis at the end of a post or end a post with a line of emojis and then a half-dozen hard line returns of empty space before they insert their hashtags) is unnecessary and time consuming, but do what works for you.
  • Mix hashtags directly into your post copy — I tend to do this as well as adding hashtags at the end of my copy. For example: “Hunting in #alaska today for #brownbear! Have my trusty @winchester with me and hoping I can find a monster bruin! #huntingbruins #winchester #womenwhohunt.” How clean and simple was that?

You Can’t Use That

A note on banned or restricted hashtags. It surprised me to learn recently that Instagram has a list of hashtags it either outright bans (meaning your post won’t show up in anyone’s news feed) or restricts (meaning it shows up only in a small number of news feeds). This article on HuffPost tells more about this censoring (though I’d strongly advise you read at your own risk, as some may find some of these terms offensive). I immediately looked for #guns or #2A and didn’t find anything related to firearms listed, though #bang and #bangbang are off limits. At the same time #happythanksgiving and #valentinesday are restricted, so the rhyme or reasoning behind some of it is a mystery. Regardless, it’s good to check the list and make sure the hashtag you’re about to use won’t result in a “page not found” pop-up when someone clicks on it.

There’s Competition

One last note about hashtags and Instagram. It would behoove you to take some time to search competitors’ Instagram feeds and make a list (or at least a mental note) of the hashtags they’re using. Check out, too, the big retailers like Sportsman’s Warehouse or media powerhouses such as Sportsman Channel, as well as noted personalities in the firearm industry such as Julie Golob, as you may discover new hashtag trends that will help your business.

Read the next article in this Instagram series, where I’ll cover running contests that can help turn your followers into actual customers.

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