Photographers Journal

Not another "Boost Your Instagram Following" Post!

So here you are, reading yet another blog post on “HOW TO BOOST INSTAGRAM FOLLOWERS!!!”  I know, it sucks. Instagram is an endless ocean of content that overwhelms its user base with content options. How can you get found? How can you get in front of your target audience and grow your base?  It’s hard, but it doesn’t have to be.   I’ve devised a viable approach to growing my IG base.  My main account, @maphoppingmac, grew by 5,000 followers in the past 60-ish days. I grew a back-up account (@mactakesallthephotos) from 0 to 10,000 followers in 4 months. So, it is possible to grow your account, you just need a plan and the discipline to execute it EVERY FREAKING DAY!

My Instagram growth since March

My Instagram growth strategy revolves around 3 key areas. One of which, hashtags, we’ll discuss today (the other two will be discussed in my workshop that can be found here).  Implementing the hashtag strategy below I was able to add an additional 500 followers per month.  Mixing it with my other two strategic focus areas I’m now adding 1,600-ish followers per month.


  1. I am not promoting this as THE way to execute YOUR hashtag strategy. This article is simply what I’m doing for my page.

  2. This is not a comprehensive overview of my Hashtag strategy. It is the first step.

  3. There are no guarantees any of this will work.  You still need great content, post at the right times, and not be an asshole (not mandatory, but probably helps).

  4. If you’re a person that thinks people using Instagram in any other way than what you think is artistically moral or against people having a strategic approach to growing their Instagram userbase, odds are you should stop reading now. There is enough hate in the world and your negativity isn’t productive.  The comments section of any online news website eagerly awaits your pessimism, sarcasm, and negative feedback. #meanPeopleSuck

Let’s Talk Hashtags


Yes, we all know hashtags are important.  They place your photo in a group to be presented to users looking for that exact keyword.  It is essential that you use them, no matter how trite or cheap you think they make your post look (post them in the first comment if you don’t want to muddy up your poetic captions). You only hurt yourself, and your potential reach, by not using them. You get a max of 30 hashtags. USE ALL 30!!!!

So, you may be asking, which hashtags do I use? Great question.  Let’s break hashtags into chunks and give them titles.  This will help us target certain size hashtags and determine how much we should invest in each type.

Hashtag Breakdown by Usage

1. Mega Tags

These are hashtags that have been used in more than 1.5 million posts. Using these “Mega Tags” throws you in the mix with a huge number of other posts and limits your ability to be found. Even though the numbers work against you, they are important as they are popular hashtags and provide what I call “perimeter coverage” meaning, you cover the edges of user search results by using these tags, but not necessarily show up near the top of the Mega Tag search results.  If you get lucky, and hit the top of the Mega Tag search results, you’ll have a great day and likely add a ton of followers!

I suggest not using Mega Tags with more than 5 million posts unless that Mega Tag is specific to your location.  I devote 4-5 of my 30 hashtags to Megatags.

2. Big Tags 

Big Tags are hashtags used in 650k to 1.5 million posts.  This is fertile ground. These are popular tags that could yield a decent return on your hashtag investment. I devote 8-12 of my 30 hashtag allotment to Big Tags.

3. Goldilocks Tags

Goldilocks Tags are just right, in my opinion. Goldilocks Tags are hashtags used in 100k to 650k posts. You could get lucky and show up quite often in the Goldilocks Tag search results.  It’s a steady and safe investment to which I devote 12-16 of my 30 hashtag allotment to.

4. Baby Tags 

Baby Tags are hashtags used in less 5,000 to 100k posts. These are less popular tags that aren’t as frequently searched, but provide you a very good chance of showing up in the top spot of the search driving followers to your page.  I devote 4-6 of my 30 hashtag allotment to Baby Tags.

Finding the Right Hashtags

Before we jump into research I would like to say, in addition to using the hashtags that show up in your research you should also:

  1. Use 1 or 2 brand specific hashtags. Something unique to you and your brand. Like #maphoppingmac.

  2. Use hashtags of the location you’re targeting. #atlanta

  3. Use hashtags unique to your area #atlantabeltline


Step 1: Research & Data Entry

You need to determine what other Instagram users are in your space that are targeting your ideal demographic. If you’re a wedding photographer, search for the top wedding photographers and start adding ALL of their hashtags in a spreadsheet (Sample spreadsheet can be found here - link expires 12/31/2017). I wouldn’t add more than 300 tags to the spreadsheet. You can also use numerous online tools to research hashtags to include in your spreadsheet, but that’s another blog post entirely.

See which hashtags other people in your space are using

When adding hashtags, be sure to categorize them into genres. Example: Fashion, Glamour, Portrait, Landscape, etc.  You’ll potentially want to target specific genres, or blend them, in your hashtag bundles.

Once you have all the hashtags in the hashtag column, and associated them with a genre, it’s time to open Instagram and search each hashtag and record the total post count for each one.  Add the total in the “Post Count” column.

I stack the windows on top of each other to make searching and data entry easier. 

Step 2: Label & Sort

Now that every hashtag has a total associated with it, it’s time to label them.  Type “Mega Tag, Big Tag, Goldilocks, or Baby Tag” in the “Tag Type” column. Use the range associated with each hashtag count to identify what label you should apply. (Example: If it has 550k posts, it’s a Big Tag!)

Step 3: Bundles

We’re almost done. You can need to bundle your hashtags in groups of 30 using the ratio outlined in each hashtag type outlined in the previous section of this article. Each bundle will have 30 hashtags. Identify which bundle it will go into by placing “x” in the Bundle 1, Bundle 2, Bundle 3, Bundle 4, Bundle 5, Bundle 6, etc column. This “x” will help with sorting later.

 Bundle your Instagram tags to make sorting easy

Bundle your Instagram tags to make sorting easy

Example: Bundle 1 will have 4 Mega Tags, 9 Big Tags, 13 Goldilocks Tags, and 4 Baby Tags.  Bundle 2 will have 5 Mega Tags, 10 Big Tags, 11 Goldilocks Tags, and 4 Baby Tags.

Create different bundles to enable a varied hashtag usage strategy!

Keep bundling hashtags until you’ve run out of hashtags. If you find you have just a few of one type of hashtag, Baby Tag, for example, go back to IG and find a few more. As stated earlier, you can use one tag in more than one bundle by adding an “x” in another Bundle column.

STEP 4: Use those bundles

Once you have your hashtags properly labeled, and bundled, start sorting each bundle column you added values to. If you have 3 bundles, start with Bundle 1 and sort the Bundle 1 column Ascending. This will group the tags you want to copy at the top of the list.

Be sure to try multiple combinations of hashtags on each post and closely track the results noting time of day and which bundle was used. This will help you determine what worked and what didn't!

There are a couple ways to store these sorted bundles.

1.    Copy and paste your bundles in a notes application on your phone. Then, when you want to use them simply retrieve the note containing the bundle you with to use and copy it into IG.

2.   Create a keyboard shortcut. Copy and paste all of one bundle’s
hashtags into a keyboard shortcut and type the name of the shortcut into the
comment box on IG and BOOM!  Hashtags populated without having to flip
between apps.

*To create a Text Replacment shortcut in iOS go to Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> Text Replacement -> "+" .  Then paste the hashtags into the "Phrase field" and give it a name in the "Shortcut" field. Once you save it simply type the shortcut in any text area and then tap the hashtags when they appear. INSTANT timesaver!

In Closing

We’ve covered a lot of ground. I certainly could have typed a bunch more words, but that isn’t necessary as the concept is pretty straight forward. You’re simply logically grouping tags that fit your target market and spreading the hashtag allotments across varying levels of popularity as to enable proper coverage and ensuring you don’t go to heavy on tags that are too popular or not popular enough.