Every time I see another small business in my community shut its doors, I think about the 1998 modern classic, You’ve Got Mail.

you've got mail promo with tom hanks and meg ryan
Source: Warner Bros.

I’ve never owned a brick-and-mortar business of my own, but Meg Ryan’s character helps me empathize with small business owners. I mean, it hit me hard when Kathleen Kelly was forced to close The Shop Around the Corner.

meg ryan and kathleen kelly's shop around the corner from you've got mail
Source: Warner Bros.

Instagram and Your Ideal Customer

You’ve Got Mail’s digitally-inspired storyline was ahead of its time, but it still came out before social media. Unlike The Shop Around the Corner, small businesses today can market with Instagram.

I follow many local businesses on Instagram — businesses that I love and want to stick around. But after seeing one common mistake repeated on so many posts, I feel it is my civic duty to offer this somewhat counterintuitive advice:

Small businesses need to think small. 

I know, our whole lives we are told to think big, so what gives?

Well, your business needs to reach your target market to succeed — the smallest viable market. You can best accomplish this on Instagram via smaller, less competitive hashtags.


Why Your Hashtags Aren’t Working

If you’re a local business, your ideal customer is local, too. Your most qualified audience likely lives within a five to fifteen mile radius of your storefront. With this in mind, small businesses need to shift their hashtag strategy from a mass marketing approach to a hyperlocal one.

Here’s a statistic for you: an estimated 95 million images are added to Instagram every day.

Although hashtags help distribute your images to the right people, the sheer volume of posts makes this a challenge. And don’t even get me started on the algorithm… 

This is why small businesses need to stop competing for super broad hashtags in their business category. If you already have a low following, the likelihood that your post gets seen is even slimmer.


Localized Hashtags in Action

Let’s use a local bridal boutique in Fort Lauderdale, Florida as an example.

When posting a picture of a gorgeous dress on Instagram, you may feel compelled to include the hashtag, #wedding to get it in front of brides browsing for wedding inspiration. If you search this hashtag within Instagram, you’ll see it has 169 million posts. 

Competition aside, the main problem is that this hashtag has no local modifiers. This means you’re not putting your content in front of people in your area. Your post would get lost in the shuffle on Instagram feeds all over the world. Remember, your most qualified customers are right there in your community. 

A better approach would be to revise this hashtag to #fortlauderdalewedding. In comparison, this hashtag has only 5,000 posts and is likely being searched by your next potential client. 

Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post. This same bridal boutique could apply this hyperlocal logic with the remaining 29. Simply adding an “s” with #fortlauderdaleweddings is a start, as well as #southfloridaweddings, #fortlauderdalebride, etc.


Developing Hyperlocal Hashtags

If you want your small business to have big success on Instagram, include hashtags with your city and nearby cities on every post and build from there. Your ideal audience will now have a higher chance of finding you. 

But don’t forget, engaging on Instagram is also crucial. Like, comment, and be social!

LEARN MORE: Develop your small biz content plan with my course, Crush Your Content Calendar!