To the newbie, Instagram can seem like a strange world of wannabe fashion models and dog-crazed fans, full of odd inclusions of the # and @ symbols. However, with a little interpretation, this idealized social fantasy can become both clear and useful, especially when you know how and when to use those symbols.
No symbol is more representative of current social media than the hashtag. It's such a part of contemporary culture that it found its way onto late night tv. But where did it come from?
The hashtag first appeared on Twitter in 2007 as a way for people to easily find related content and ideas. Its use quickly spread to other platforms, but nowhere is it more used than on Twitter and Instagram.
How does it work?
Let’s say you took a gorgeous picture of your golf course with a brilliantly blue sky above. Adding the hashtag #golfcourses would allow other Instagram users to find your photo when they searched the hashtag #golfcourses.
As you can see, there are over 101K posts with the hashtag #golfcourses, which means that it would be easy for your post to get lost in all the images. If you want people to find your post and follow you, a less specific hashtag would be useful.
Generally specific hashtags
People spend a huge amount of time on Instagram, and a fair amount of that is used in the “Explore” tab. This allows the user to both search for users and hashtags, but it also features a stream of auto-generated content based on posts that you’ve liked, accounts you follow, and hashtags you like.
Explore is becoming an increasingly important part of Instagram marketing strategies because it is essentially a free platform for people to get noticed. You can use it in the same way through the use of strategic and branded hashtags.
As we mentioned above, the more general a hashtag, the more posts you have to compete with. The trick is to find the balance between too specific and too general. For example, #golfcourses is too general, but #greenGrassAtCaliforniaGolfCourse is a bit too specific, because nobody is going to search for that OR see it on someone else’s post (and then click through to see others - like yours.)
Something like #BaileyCreekGolf, #CAgolf, or #BaileyCreekGolfCourse is more likely to be found, since its more focused on a specific audience but not so specific that the market is too small.
The best way to do this is to look at what hashtags other courses and golf companies are using who have a successful Instagram profile, and then to use those, or to modify them to fit your company.
Now that we’ve told you to not be too specific in your hashtags, we’re going to turn around and negate that, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. Branded hashtags are ones that specifically reference your company. You don’t want them to be too long, but you still want them to be unique. A good one for Bailey Creek Golf Course might be #baileycreekgolfcourse or #baileycreekgc.
You can use branded hashtags to get noticed on Instagram. For example, if a player took a picture at Bailey Creek, by using the hashtag #baileycreekgolfcourse, that picture would now be linked to the golf course. The people who follow the player could look at the picture and click on the hashtag, bringing up a whole page of beautiful pictures of your course, which might push them to book a round there the next weekend.
Branded hashtags can also be used in promotions. If you’re trying to get noticed more on Instagram, you could offer a discount on a tee time or tournament fee for anyone who uses your branded hashtag in a post from a picture on your course. This makes sure that people start using your hashtag, increasing your likeliness of getting noticed.
Using Hashtags Wisely
A few years ago, Instagram placed a limit of 30 hashtags for any post on the site, because some people were putting in a huge amount of completely irrelevant hashtags in the hope that they would get noticed (for example, putting #hockeyfans on a picture of an aspiring athlete at a baseball game).
Although some accounts still max out the 30 hashtag limit, its generally wise to use much fewer. Research shows that the posts that get the most interaction have between 4-8 hashtags, with interaction dropping off markedly after 10 hashtags. So take some time to decide which hashtags will be best for a post, and use them sparingly.
Handles work in much the same way as hashtags, but instead of being aimed at a type of content or an idea, these are aimed at accounts. For example, Raleigh Creek’s Instagram username is @raleighcreekgc. Every time that a player types that in a post (called “@mentioning” in Instagram parlance), Raleigh Creek will get a notification that they’ve been mentioned in a post, and people who click on the handle in the player’s post will be taken to Raleigh Creek’s profile.
This means that handles can be used in a similar way to hashtags to promote or get notoriety on Instagram. You can also use it to mention other courses and influencers. For example, foreUP’s account has @mentioned several large accounts, including Tony Finau and the PGA Show, in their posts, which resulted in the accounts giving us a shoutout, which raised the number of our followers.
Unlike a hashtag, using @mentions won't bring you up in such a broad array of search terms; your course only shows up when people search the specific handle. Still, this is a better way if only want people to follow your account, and both features, handles and hashtags, must be used in any complete marketing plan.
Much like Pinterest, Instagram easily lends itself to unique and holiday-themed posts. Users often engage more with posts relating to the holiday, and they present the perfect opportunity to add a little personality and relatability to your brand.
Take photos of happenings around the course: the ugliest Christmas sweaters your players are wearing, the most creative jack-o-lanterns carved by your pro shop staff, the results of your Thanksgiving food drive, the huge barbecue your grill puts on for the 4th of July. These kinds of posts result in huge engagement and let your followers know that you’re just people.
In addition to this kind of people- and activity-focused content, you can use Instagram to promote holiday-themed tournaments at your course or events in your clubhouse. And last of all, don’t forget to add a holiday-appropriate hashtag!