January 13, 2016

Hashtag strategies on Instagram can be very confusing. When used correctly, though, they can get your content in front of more people and help you reach your goals with Instagram faster and more effectively. One of the best ways to do this is to have your posts showing up as an Instagram Top Post for your targeted hashtags.

Top posts are when you go to an Instagram search (for tags) or click on a hashtag and the top 9 images displayed are what Instagram has deemed the best content currently associated with this hashtag. Of course, these are the first posts someone will see associated with that hashtag. And if you can get your content displayed here, you drastically increase the exposure you have of your content.

Instagram top posts stay in that section longer. They aren’t based on chronological time, they’re based on value (as determined by Instagram). So your post could last hours, days, or weeks in that top post section, garnering you more exposure than you could normally find in a regular hashtag gallery.

So, how do you get your posts listed as an Instagram top post?

I’m going to share my strategy here. But, I want to give it the caveat that, yes, this is a way to “game” the system. This is a tactic that can be manipulated and used inappropriately if you choose. However, the directions I am giving you are meant to use this method in a strategic and relevant manner to best benefit your business.

Ok, let me show you how I have done this on multiple occasions.

The first time I did this, I had regrammed one of my friends Instagram posts.

Krista shares gorgeous and valuable content on her Instagram account. I loved this post and thought it would resonate well with my audience.

So I regrammed it and added some key hashtags (you can see the hashtags in the post above). And as you can see, I didn’t use a ton of hashtags.

I stayed true to my mantra of using relevant hashtags. Every one of the hashtags listed there is relevant to my industry, niche, and the content in the post. This is very important if you want to grow your audience the right way and reach the right people.

I mixed in some popular hashtags (#marketing #socialmedia and #entrepreneur) along with moderately popular hashtags and some less common ones. Now you’ll note that the not-so-popular hashtags are all key hashtags for my target niche: #instagrammarketing, #visualmarketing, #socialmediatips, #socialmediasuccess, etc. These are the places I want new followers and potential clients to find me.

So, when I posted this post to Instagram, I received over 60 likes in under 5 minutes. Not too shabby, right? But most of those likes came from those top 3 popular hashtags I just mentioned. These are highly active hashtags with a lot of interaction.

Yes, you’re probably thinking it, these are likely spam bot likes or likes from people who are not my ideal client or audience. I know. I’m ok with that. And here’s why: Instagram deems posts with high levels of engagement in a short period of time to be valuable. They assume that if a lot of people are liking your content, then you’re putting out good content, and this should be shared with others. Now, there is no numerical value or direct relationship to the number of likes to the number of followers – that I know of. There is obviously some fancy algorithm (yes, I used that word in relation to Instagram!) that determines this “value” but I don’t know what it is. Sometimes a top post can have 100 likes and sometimes a top post can have 10,000 likes. So, in this sense, I can’t tell you the magic formula.

The idea is to get rapid engagement on quality content quickly in order to show up as Instagram top post. But, you aren’t likely to show up as a top post on those popular hashtags. And you don’t want to. No, that rapid boost in engagement will allow you to stand out on those less popular hashtags – you know, the ones ideally targeted to your business and niche.

For example, when I used this tactic on the post above, that post became a top post on three of my target hashtags:

This is where I want to shine! This is where my ideal potential clients and blog readers can find me.

I’ve used this tactic multiple times, all with varied levels of engagement, but still resulting in a variety of top post placements. One post I ran generated 158 likes in under five minutes.

This post performed well using #business, #marketing, #socialmedia, and #entrepreneur. And I turned my post into an Instagram top post for all of the following hashtags: #socialmediastrategy, #socialmediasuccess, #visualmarketing, #instagrammarketing, #instagramsuccess, #instagramtraining, #instagramstrategy, and #instagramexpert – all places my target audience would be looking and could find me.

So, now you too can push your content, with the right hashtag strategy, to the top post section on Instagram for multiple hashtags relevant to your business and your target audience!

Determine which hashtags in your industry are the most popular. You can find this out by searching (the magnifying glass icon) for hashtags. The results show how much content is associated with each hashtag. Anything with millions of results is going to work well for this strategy.

Then include your moderately popular and less popular hashtags (again based on search result numbers) in your post. You can use up to 30 total hashtags but 10-15 will usually do the job sufficiently.

After you’ve generated rapid engagement from your popular hashtags, click on the other ones on your post to open those individual hashtag galleries and you’ll be able to see if your content is now ranking as a top post.

Good luck and have fun with this!

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. I learned something new today! I had no idea that you could search hashtag popularity with the magnifying glass. I knew that came up when you entered the tag on the post itself. Really helpful information there! I can be more strategic with my choices of the “smaller reaching” hashtags. (I already employ the same overarching hashtag strategy as you describe here.) This strategy, coupled with the Grama app (iOS), will be very fruitful!

    Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad you found out something new, Krista 🙂 And I hope you can put this strategy to good use for you. You already have all the great content!

  2. Hi Jenn!

    I am loving this post. So insightful. I’ve always wondered how to be featured on the TOP posts and I will definitely try out your proposed strategy. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Christelle! I’m so happy to hear you found this helpful 🙂 I hope the strategy works for you – please let me know after you’ve tried it a few times.

  3. Thank you Jenn! As always your Instagram Insider Tips always pay dividends right away. I can’t wait to try your hashtag strategy with my newly emerging account. This coupled with the intensive deep dive and strategy you created for my business has given me the roadmap I needed.

    1. It has been my pleasure to work with you Tracey, and I can’t wait to see how implementing this along with the strategy will help you grow 🙂

  4. Looking forward to incorporating your ideas into my IG strategy 🙂 would love to get listed in the top post 🙂 – A

  5. Thanks, Jen. Very insightful. Will definitely try this tactic. Do hashtags need to be in the caption or can you add them as a comment to be equally successful?

    1. Sue, the popular hashtags MUST be in the caption for this to work most effectively. If you want to put the other hashtags in a comment, that should be ok. But, I would recommend putting all of them in the caption more maximum engagement and results.

  6. Hi Jenn!

    ok here’s a question…you said “But most of those likes came from those top 3 popular hashtags I just mentioned. These are highly active hashtags with a lot of interaction.”
    How do you know that most of your likes came from those top 3 popular hashtags, and not from your follower base or otherwise?


    1. Great question, Jay! I know my followers and engagement behaviors really well. I monitor them very closely. So, I know who my regular followers are and when they like my posts (yes, they are in there in the notifications too). I also know the types of people and numbers of likes I tend to get from various hashtags since I use them so strategically. I know which times of the day also produce more results for certain hashtags. So, I can assume, based on the time of day, the hashtags I used, and the people appearing in my notifications, that the majority of those initial rapid likes were from those 3 hashtags. Now, the vast majority of the likes I receive after say the first 5 or 6 minutes, those all come from the other hashtags I use and my actual followers.

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