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By Jackie Prange
Hashtags can be #confusing. When do you use them? #What’s #the #wrong #way #to #use #them? How can you generate a larger following by using a simple #poundsign? How will effectively using hashtags fill more seats in your restaurant?
From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, hashtag usage varies. With Twitter, you only get 140 characters, so obviously, your hashtag strategy has to be specific, short and sweet. With Facebook, hashtags are still effective but relatively less searched. The money maker for hashtags is currently on Instagram.
With around 300 million daily active users, and an almost equal distribution of users among men and women, most of which reside within the 18-30 millennial age demographic, Instagram has thriving hashtag scene that links photos, digital communities and conversations to a larger community of posters. Your access to people who are interested and actively posting to specific special interests that involve you is limitless.
So, the question remains: how can you tap into the hashtag to not just join the digital conversation but to expand your following, and thus, fill your tables? This quick guide will provide you with how-tos and hot tips to maximize the reach of every post.
Every post you make should contain a sequence of hashtags that relate directly to the post. On Instagram, your hashtag allowance is 30 individual pound signs. That said, there’s a right way to use these hashtags… and there’s a wrong way.
What makes it awesome? First, there is a catchy caption. If you look closely, you’ll see that the hashtags are added to the post as a second comment, not included in the caption. This serves to separate the marketing aspect from the description of the photo. When a user first sees the picture on their phone, they only see the caption. This makes for a cleaner, less marketing-heavy post, while still adding the photo to a conversations associated with each hashtag.
The hashtags within the caption are too broad and over-obvious. Obvious hashtagging is less effective and can come across as a less genuine effort to contribute a meaningful image to a series of similar images.
The key to effective hashtagging is to use an array of specific hashtags in conjunction with a set of general hashtags that apply to your restaurant as a whole. For example, if you’re a New York based Cajun restaurant posting a photo of a jambalaya linguini, you could post a combination of the following hashtags:
Picture specific: #jambalaya #jambalayapasta #pasta #linguini
Restaurant specific for every photo: #cajuneats #cajun #cajunfood #thenameofyourrestaurant
General for every photo: #foodie #photooftheday #foodstagram #instafood #onthetable
Location specific: #newyorkeats #newyorkfood #nyceats #nycfood
The combination of the four different hashtag types allow you to touch on an array of hashtag feeds, so you’re reaching both a broad audience and a specific one.
To even further disguise your hashtags, add a series of periods or stars before your hashtags, so your comment appears like this:
#foodie #foodporn #foodoftheday #photooftheday #brunch #yougetthepicture #etc
The hashtag use is disguised as a comment which will appear as:
Of course, users are free to click into the ellipsis to view the hashtags, but they’re mostly hidden.
Your follower count does matter! Which is why tapping into a large audience is just as valuable as attracting a local one. While you might not make a regular guest out of someone in Virginia when you’re based out of Washington, the more followers and interactions you have, the more legitimate your page becomes and the more likely you’ll tap into Instagram’s featured search page which is amalgamated based on liked photos. This means more interactions and more followers for you, and a greater likelihood of increasing guests.
The hidden hashtag trick applies to all hashtags except ones exclusive to your restaurant, such as your restaurant’s name or a special event you’re hosting. Event and restaurant-specific hashtags can be included in your caption, just make sure they’re not excessive. A maximum of two or three is a good rule. You want followers to see these so that if they end up posting about the event or your restaurant, they can include the hashtag in their post as well.
You might have heard the phrase, “So we created a hashtag…” While that verbiage makes it sound like you need to download an app or otherwise orchestrate some special social media magic, the process is as simple as writing # and the tag you wish to connect to.
Using your restaurant’s unique hashtag on every post – even in the caption box – is encouraged. Just ensure that it is indeed unique, and that it isn’t being used by a subsequent restaurant or company. You can check this by simply searching the hashtag before you start using it. Having a hashtag unique to your own business ensures your restaurant won’t be confused with another, and that social-savvy patrons can also add it to their pictures when they post about their dining experience.
Have a special event coming up? A featured menu? A signature dish? Or maybe you’re running a campaign or contest? Create a unique hashtag that you include in all corresponding posts. As mentioned in Hot Tip #3, you can include these in your caption so that your following catches on.
Have participants add their photos to a contest. This is not only a great way to track entries, but also allows users to view the entire collection of entries, thus generating buzz.
We often think of hashtags in a “build it and they will come” sort of way. While this is in part true, it can be a slow grow. To increase your following rapidly, designate a certain time of day to pursue hashtags and contribute to them. Here are a few ways that this can be effective:
Go ahead and tap that little blank heart or double tap that image! Particularly on hashtags you’re actively using and ones that amass a large amount of contributions, liking other people’s photos will get you noticed… and followed.
Does one particular picture stand out to you? Comment on it! This is all part of relationship building in social media. Beware of stock comments, like putting an “awesome shot!” or a couple of thumbs-up emoticons as your comment. Take the time to craft an individual comment. Otherwise it just looks like you’ve copy and pasted.
(Just make sure that they are relevant to the image you are posting).
Jackie was a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro before moving into business development role. She covered the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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