As literally billions of us make our presence known on the internet, the masses look to social media platforms to be the world’s connectors – grouping people you know along with those you would probably like to know. The instrument for making these connections and discoveries is simple and small, yet immensely powerful.

The hashtag, as we all know it by today, connects topics, discussions, and people from all corners of the globe. It is not only a connector, but also a vehicle for creating viral trends, cultural changes, and topics of discussion.

For brands, it is a means for new growth and engagement.

Once you begin to really understand the ebb and flow of how hashtags really work, you can start to do some incredible things for your profile’s social media status – resulting in rapid growth and engagement. Companies that leverage hashtags well are able to build brand loyalty, capitalize on trending topics, and stay connected to their newest audience members.

While it is surely not rocket science, there are a few tricks that can put you ahead of the game. Here are 5 tips for growing your audience with hashtags on Instagram:

  1. Use Trending Hashtags

A low hanging viral hack is to catch onto trending hashtags right as they are about to go viral. Anything that hits a virality threshold will be seen by millions of people across the social media community. This is a great way to get discovered by new people, and all you really have to do is get your timing right (easier said than done of course).

Once you’ve spotted what you believe to be the next big cultural trend, invest time/resources in building the right content that has the potential to catch fire. This happens all the time with memes and gifs of big events.

After nearly every instance of a big ceremony or show (Olympics, Grammy’s, etc.), there is at least one trending moment. Brands that are really on top of their game are aware of this and sit patiently to spot the uptick in usage. Once they see the right time to act, they invest their resources efficiently and accordingly, create the perfect post, and voila, capitalize on the moment.

  1. Find Appropriate and Relevant Hashtags

You want to be sure to pick out hashtags that are relevant and appropriate for your content. Often times, brands that are first getting into Instagram will just add random hashtags to their posts. This is bad for two reasons: 1) it can confuse your audience and 2) it is a completely missed opportunity to get your content in front of some new and relevant eyeballs.

If you are really on top of and confident with your game, you should try and use trending/relevant hashtags in all of your posts. As I mentioned above, this will help more of your content get discovered and grouped in with “what is hot” on the internet.

  1. Give Shout-Outs

One of the best ways to grow on Social Media is to partner with other profiles who share a common goal. Most people are trying to increase their following. Knowing that, you can engage in follow for follow, simpoly by using hashtags like #s4s, #freeshoutouts, #shoutoutforshoutout and #shoutout4shoutout. Once you post with those in the caption, you will find new people engaging in your profile.

You should find plenty of accounts out there who share a common goal, more than willing to engage in a trade for some attention. And if it is not a direct 1:1 trade, you may still be able to find other offers. For example, some accounts will actually let you pay them for a shoutout. Others ask that you gift them some other service.

There is nothing wrong with doing collabs with other Instagram influencers / brands. This is actually a great way to get your content in front of new people. You will want to be careful (read below) as to avoid spamming the system, as there are often severe consequences to your account.

  1. Avoid Shadow-Bans

Instagram’s intelligent spam detection algorithm finds content that it believes to be abusing hashtags and institutes what they call a “shadowban” on the post (sometimes also to the user).

A shadowban can do lots of bad things for your brand – starting from as little as hiding one of your posts from the discovery section to as grave as banning your entire profile from sharing content. Misusing hashtags repeatedly is the most common cause for a shadowban – so you should avoid using bots / machine systems to share and automate your content. In this case, the human touch goes a long way in protecting your account.

  1. Develop Your Own, Unique Hashtag

A good way to establish your brand on Instagram is to create a unique hashtag that represents something about your profile. It can be as abstract as you like – but it should encompass your brand or perhaps a campaign you are trying to get attention for.

Once you’ve started using the hashtag in your marketing material, see if your audience catches on. If a lot of them start to spread it, you will see an uptick in people talking about your social media profile online. If enough people catch on, it could go viral and bring in tons of new followers.