Remember when # was called a pound sign? I do.
But it was in 2007 that Chris Messina introduced the idea of a hashtag to Twitter. The purpose was to help us find more tweets based on a topic so that we could find conversations we wanted to be part of, and not completely at the mercy of our feed.
Just two days after Messina’s tweet, a man named Stowe Boyd suggested it be called a hashtag for some random reason and “because it was catchier,” it stuck.
Since then, the practice of hashtagging posts has been adopted by nearly every social media platform to help users find discussions. Except Facebook. It works there, but it’s kinda lame.
How Instagram Hashtags Work and their Purpose
Since Instagram is my Instajam, let’s talk hashagrams…nope. That doesn’t work. Let’s talk hashtags on Instagram. How these tips work in stories vs. feed may look a little different, but the principles are the same.
There are two main purposes of Instagram hashtags that you can take to the bank: 1) creating community and 2) being discovered. Well, any bank but Wells Fargo.
As a church using Instagram (which I know you are by now because it’s awesome), I hope you can see the power in both of those things. You can help build community around topics that are important to our faith and you can help those who are not connected with your church find you and see what you’re all about.
I suppose the third use of hashtags could be 3) eavesdropping. Since you can search and follow hashtags now, it’s a way you can see what people are saying about topics and do some culture research. Just be careful searching hashtags. You’ll have to think a little like a jr. high boy and if it would make him giggle, don’t search it.
How to Search for Relevant Hashtags
First, searching for relevant hashtags to be discovered is a bit of a tedious task. Look at other churches hashtags in their posts or popular pastors captions to find hashtags they are using. Then, go to your search icon (the magnifying glass) and type in the hashtag. Instagram will show you how many posts are out there that use that hashtag. It will also show you how many similar hashtags there are and their numbers.
Second, make sure you’re using relevant hashtags. If you use #starwars in your post because a lot of people use it, but the post has nothing remotely to do with Star Wars, it won’t matter if your post then shows up in #starwars discussions because they are there to discuss Star Wars and you are not, so they will ignore you. They may even force choke you for it. But this bickering is pointless…
When you find relevant and popular hashtags you want to use, save them in the notes app or the Later app’s “saved captions” feature. You can post up to 30 hashtags with each post. If you only have 21 relevant hashtags, then just use those.
Using these popular hashtags that are relevant will help you get discovered. Some of the best ones I use are city hashtags like #frisco #friscotx #friscotexas #mckinney #mckinneytx #plano #prosper #ilovefrisco and #ilovemckinney.
Creating a Branded Hashtag for Your Church
Could be church name. If too long, create something unique that isn’t used much elsewhere. Make sure it’s easy to remember. #heyhope
Branded hashtags help you create community and discussion around things that are important to you as a church, namely, the church! So these are specific to just your church that your people know to use for showing up in discussions around your church.
If you can use your church name as a hashtag, that’s the easiest. It’s almost like a signature of a letter. Our church is Hope Fellowship, so as you can imagine, using our name has been done. So we use the hashtag #heyhope on all our posts so that anyone can find our posts quickly. We haven’t launched these yet, but since all of our ministries are named Hope Kids, Hope Students, etc., we can easily specify ministry hashtags like #heyhopekids or #heyhopestudents.
The trick is finding something easy to use and remember that also represents your church well. Finding this hashtag and adopting it took about 8 months. Now the challenge is similar to a jr. high boy at camp and deodorant: we just have to get them to start using it.
What Hashtags to Follow and Why
Here are some of my lists of hashtags to help you get started.
For Creating Community
#heyhope #heyhopekids #heyhopestudents #heyhopeya #heyhopesingles #heyhopeproduction
For getting discovered
#frisco #friscotx #mckinney #mckinneytx #plano #DFW #northdallas #youmatterdfw #Scripture #Bible #Church #Jesus #God #Wisdom #prayer #prayerworks #iheartfrisco #ilovefrisco
Careful though. Some of these might have so many posts that you’ll just disappear in the sea of posts. It’s not quite an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade situation but choose wisely.
Find out about a fun run hashtag or local business hashtag and join the conversation there too. Always hashtag local businesses if you’re taking photos in or near their establishments (put in their location too).
Using hashtags takes time and is always changing, so make sure you’re looking at your list and cleaning it up every 3 months or so at least. But this is just the 101 course for hashtags. What else can you do to leverage hashtags on Instagram? I’d love to hear more thoughts in the comments!