Holy guacamole, I am SO excited to bring you today’s brand new guest interview with Courtney Sjoberg, the Hashtag Queen!
Courtney helps creatives and entrepreneurs to grow their businesses through the power of organic social media and hashtag strategy, specialising in Instagram. She is the CEO of She Social and The Hashtag Files Society, a software designed to make hashtags super simple and super effective, so that literally anyone can use them.
Today, we talk all things Instagram, the algorithm, and of course – hashtags. When it comes to organic social media growth, Courtney is definitely the Queen! You are absolutely going to love her vibe and all the amazing knowledge she has to offer.
But wait, there’s more! At the end of this episode, Courtney is going to share with you an amazing free masterclass where you can learn even more about hashtags and how to use them in your business.
There is just so much value in this episode, so sit back, relax and get ready to have your mind BLOWN.
In this episode, we talk about:
- Building a 6-figure business without ever spending a dollar
- How the perfect hashtags can elevate your business
- The four types of hashtags and how to use (or avoid!) them
- What showing up means for your socials
Tune in to the episode here:
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🎙 Listen on iHeartRadio – elleymae.com/iheartradio
The Episode Breakdown:
Elley: Today, I have the amazing Courtney Sjoberg with me. Courtney, welcome to the podcast. I’m very excited to have you! You are one of the most amazing people on Instagram, but for the ladies listening that don’t know you, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Courtney: I help creatives grow their businesses and brands online through organic tactics. I specialise in Instagram and hashtags. It’s funny because a lot of people call me the Hashtag Queen, because I started calling myself the Hashtag Queen! I claimed it and it became what everybody started to call me. Essentially, I teach people how to grow their business without spending money on ads. I’m not against ads, but I built a 6-figure business without ever spending a dollar. My biggest thing is that if I can do that, you can too. A lot of people think ads are great, but they cost a lot of money and a lot of people don’t know how to use them, so they have to spend money either learning how to use them or paying someone to do it for them. Essentially I’m an organic marketing Hashtag Queen. That’s my elevator pitch.
Elley: I love that you just decided to name it and claim it. I’m the Hashtag Queen and everyone just goes – yes, bow down to Hashtag Queen Courtney!
Courtney: In the culture and society that we live in today, I think there’s a lot of shame for women around owning what you want to be, especially before you’re even there. Now that I have this big industry where I teach people hashtags, it makes sense to call myself the Hashtag Queen. It was a lot scarier to do before anybody had ever paid me to do hashtag research. I really believe in the law of attraction manifestation – if you want that, claim it, it’s yours.
Elley: I always talk to my clients about stepping into the CEO version of us. Stop operating as a side hustler or someone who’s just started their business. Start identifying as that boss bitch CEO who’s killing it, making the money she wants to make, living the life she wants to live. So I love that you were the Hashtag Queen before you were the Hashtag Queen.
How did you get into Instagram hashtags? What was that journey in your life and your business of finding them and making it your thing?
Courtney: I love when people ask me this question because thinking about it takes me back and just makes me so proud of myself for how far I’ve come.
I’ve had a lot of jobs. My dad is an entrepreneur and my mum worked in corporate. Growing up, even though my mum’s income looked a little more “steady” on paper, my dad was always happier. As a kid, I always saw that. I also have a lot of really wealthy family members who were entrepreneurs – they were happy and they were rich. So from a young age, I’ve had this obsession that I can have both.
I started by dabbling in the online space. I used to be a personal chef, my first dream was to have a restaurant and run a food truck. After doing some research, I realised not only how much capital it costs to start a food truck, or brick-and-mortars even more, but how much time it takes. I don’t really know how to put this any other way, but I’m a lazy entrepreneur, but in the best way! I’m very efficient and I know what I want. I knew very early on that I wanted a family – you can’t work in the restaurant industry and give your kid your full attention. Brick-and-mortars just take so much time and I realised I didn’t want to have to give that up, because another thing my dad had was freedom. He was a one-man show. That gave him a lot of flexibility with his time and how much money he made. He had so much control, which is why I think he was always so much happier than my mum, where she was always being told what to do.
Long story short, I used to post my recipes online all the time, and every time my family and friends would text me, what’s that recipe? It got really hard to email and text people so I started my first food blog, called Food Court. Really, really quickly I realised sometimes it’s not always good to do what you love as your job, because it really can take the fun out of it. I realised I didn’t want to do that, because it was just taking the joy out of the thing that I love the most, which was cooking.
It took a bit of a backburner. But every night I would stay up till 2am on my phone and read every Pinterest blog income report that I possibly could, and I would just get so excited. These people were making $10k a month. When you’re poor, $10k is like the be-all and end-all. The thing that was blowing my mind was they didn’t own brick-and-mortar stores, they were a one-woman show running a blog making $10k a month. I wanted to do that so bad.
Fast forward a year. My boyfriend started getting into coding and learning how to make WordPress and custom websites. One day he told me he thought I should try blogging again, but this time we should do it differently. I was like, what do you mean? That burnt me out, I don’t want to do it. But he told me no, he would build my blog on WordPress, which would make it a lot easier to monetise than the free platform I was using before. I decided that if we did this, I wanted to make a blog that was broad. I didn’t want to just blog about food because I do so many things. I cook, I bake, I throw parties, I DIY. I wanted to be able to talk about whatever I wanted. Then if I start to get burnt out on one thing, I can switch to another.
One thing led to another and we built a website called The Fancy Sister, because I’m one of four girls in my family. In today’s 2021 language, it would be ‘The Bougie Sister’. That’s me. I don’t do anything basic. I do everything extra. It’s just the way that I’m built!
I started thinking about how I could get sponsored. I joined programs that would connect influencers with brands and got reach out from companies like Neutrogena. I personally would never buy Neutrogena because to me, they care more about their bottom line than what’s actually helping people. I remember thinking, I can’t take the money even though I want it and we need it. I can’t do it.
I never wanted to be someone who was just doing something for the money, I wanted it to be super authentic. My integrity is everything. I realised pretty quickly that the natural brands I’m obsessed with weren’t investing in influencers at the time. I decided that if I wasn’t able to get the sponsorships I wanted, I was going to still focus on growing my following.
The moment that it all changed for me was very specific. I had maybe 2,000 followers on Instagram, I was in the thick of posting and sharing and trying to build an audience. I was in a Facebook group called The Blogettes and a woman posted that she got 100 page views the first month of launching her blog. To be honest, I didn’t even know that was a thing. Joe is the tech guy, so I asked him and he told me it was Google Analytics, he already had it set up and tracking.
This is the crazy thing. He logs in and we see that we got 14,000 page views. I just remember thinking, what in the world did I do? Because this was 100% organic. But obviously, I did something right, so I backtracked to work out what it was. I realised my hashtags looked completely different to other people’s and a light bulb went off. Hashtags are one of the only ways to get traction without paying for ads, so I realised pretty quickly that’s what I was doing.
I started reaching out to bloggers and offering them hashtag lists in exchange for testimonials. It led me to do a bit of social media management and making hashtag lists for clients. Shout out to Joe, he again stepped in and pointed out that I was doing all these hashtags for individual people, when others could also use them if they’re in a similar industry. So what if we made a membership site? A library of my hashtags where I research them, I upload them, and they pay to access them. Instead of doing hashtag research for one person, my hashtag research could help unlimited amounts of people. Joe built our first website, which has now manifested into us today building a web app and we help people with hashtags all the time.
So hashtags are amazing and they changed my life!
Elley: I love that you gave us the full look at the story. How amazing that you now get to help other entrepreneurs to create freedom through something that can make such a difference in your business.
Courtney: I’m so lucky. This is the coolest job and never in a million years would I have guessed that this was what I’d be doing now.
Elley: Let’s dive into hashtags. Using the wrong hashtag can affect your account and using the right ones can change your life and change your business. Give us the lowdown – when it comes to hashtags, what are your top 3-4 tips of what to do?
Courtney: I always say there are four types of hashtags. The first is what I call a Sahara Desert hashtag – nobody’s there. It’s deserted. It’s a small, new hashtag that nobody’s hanging out at now. I consider Sahara Desert hashtags to be anything 10,000 and less. The catch-22 is that they’re needed because hashtags are always growing. We always need new hashtags. So it’s okay to use some Sahara Desert hashtags, it’s not going to hurt your profile. All this means is that it hasn’t caught on yet. But it does mean that using these as the majority of your hashtags will make it a lot harder for people to find you, because not a lot of people are looking at it.
The second type of hashtag is the opposite of that. I call these Black Hole hashtags. It sounds really scary – because it is. Don’t use them. They’re hashtags that are so big, so many people are using them that the second that you post using one, you’re sucked into a black hole, you’re never going to be shown. One of the things that a lot of people hate about content on Instagram is it has such a short lifespan. Hashtags don’t live forever. Some of the hashtags that I used in the very beginning have long expired as helpful hashtags.
Black Hole hashtags are generally over 500,000 uses. The higher you get, the more of a black hole it becomes. A lot of people see these high numbers and think if they use it then heaps of people will see – wrong. When you use these big hashtags, you’re actually doing the opposite. You’re burying yourself. Using a black hole hashtag won’t kill your profile, it’ll just really limit how many people can see you.
The third type of hashtag will completely ruin your account. It’s called a banned hashtag. On the internet there’s spam, there’s scam, and there’s porn. It’s the internet – you can’t avoid those no matter what you put in place. There are around 1 billion users on Instagram, probably more. That’s a seventh of the world’s population. With that many people, Facebook (who owns Instagram), literally could not hire enough humans to go through and filter out all the scam, spam and porn. It’s just not humanly possible.
That’s where the algorithm comes in. A lot of people have come to hate it, but I’m here to tell them the algorithm is a good thing! It keeps spam, scam and porn out of Instagram, it keeps your content in the eyes of people who love it. Scammers, spammers and porn accounts use really big, large-and-in-charge hashtags. They’re constantly trying to get their scam, spam and porn out before it gets discovered and shut off. A banned hashtag is a hashtag that Instagram has turned off because their systems have detected that it’s had a lot of inappropriate stuff that they don’t want on their platform.
If you don’t do your hashtag research and accidentally use a banned hashtag, what happens is that Instagram will put a flag on your account. They will turn off that post and all hashtags on that post because it’s bots and it’s algorithms – it’s not humans who could give you a pass.
That’s where a shadow ban comes into play. If you use a banned hashtag too much, this is what happens. People don’t do the right research and if they use a banned hashtag enough times, the algorithm automatically assumes that you’re posting inappropriate content. They shadow ban you and hide your stuff because they don’t want anybody to see it. Sometimes these hashtags get turned back on, but I say if it’s ever been banned, don’t ever use it. Banned hashtags are THE most important thing I could tell you about, yet so many people don’t know about it.
The fourth type of hashtag is the good kind – it’s what I call good-for-growth hashtags or healthy hashtags. This is any hashtag that falls between the 10,000 Sahara Desert hashtag, but below the 500,000 Black Hole hashtag and it’s not banned. It’s the perfect sweet spot where people are going to discover you, but it’s not overly competitive. Your content could live there for 24 hours to 2 weeks, sometimes longer.
This is what I built my entire membership from, because a lot of people don’t have time or don’t want to constantly check their hashtags. When you log in to our membership, everything that you find is hashtags that are in that sweet spot so that you don’t have to do the research.
When I started teaching people how to do the research, a lot of people just looked at the fact that it’s going to take a long time. I’m not going to lie to you – it will. The biggest difference between organic marketing and paid marketing is that one is time and one is money.
A lot of people don’t have money, but can usually find the time. Hashtags take time to find but can be as powerful as ads. I’m not saying they’re going to be 100% as powerful, but you could use hashtags to build up enough money so that you can use that to do both hashtags and ads, and that’s such a powerful combo. You can’t be beat.
Elley: I love that there’s the four different types, thank you so much for going in-depth on those! It’s interesting to hear there are actually four different types of hashtags and it’s finding that sweet spot. That’s what your membership does, it just takes the guesswork out of it and you do it for them.
Courtney: Here’s the thing if you want to try it on your own, by all means do! I’ll teach my free hashtag masterclass and people will go try it on their own, and then they’ll always join because they realise how much time this actually takes. I actually like when people do it on their own before they join because it makes my membership that much more valuable when they realise how much work it is. We’re almost up to 40,000 hashtags and every single one of those hashtags has been hand-picked and hand-researched. We check them every single month so that we can make sure we’re giving the best of the best.
Elley: I’ve been following you for so long, I remember when you announced that you got to 10,000 hashtags. To hear you say 40,000 – that is so cool, you have come so far over the journey! And it’s all centred around hashtags, which is so cool.
Courtney: It’s really, really cool. I’m so excited to share the new stuff that we’re building with everybody because it’s just going to take hashtags to the next level.
Elley: I have a question that came up while you were talking about the strategy behind hashtags. Can people rely solely on hashtags to grow their business, or are there other things that they need to bring to Instagram?
Courtney: Great question. When I talk about Instagram, I talk about what I call the Seven Pillars to Instagram. Hashtags are huge and are one of the best ways to grow without paying for ads. I can give you the best of the best hashtags in the entire world, but if your content sucks, it doesn’t work.
And sucky is relative! Everything’s relative, because what my audience likes might be completely different to what your audience likes. I’ve always thought ‘quality over quantity’, but Gary Vee recently said that quality is relative, but quantity isn’t – 10 posts is 10 posts. The difference between posting 30 vs 8 posts a month, for example, is that you have 30 opportunities to hit a home run.
I would say hashtags are really, really important. But more than anything, it’s important to know who your ideal client is and what your message is. Even if you don’t know and you’re just showing up to grow, that’s okay too. There’s not a one-size-fits-all. Use your intuition. Trust yourself. I teach all these things, but you still know more about yourself and what’s good for you than I do. Having the ability to trust yourself and choose what your gut is telling you is so important.
Elley: It’s the same for me in business coaching. I can give people my experiences, I can share what’s worked for me and what hasn’t, but in the end you are the person who knows you best. You have to trust your intuition. It’s such a key piece of the puzzle.
Courtney: Everybody needs to hear that. But on the same token, anybody who’s listening to this who’s just getting started, it’s also okay to just show up a little bit if that’s all that you can handle. Your business is going to go in phases. I talk a lot on my profile about anxiety and depression. For the last 6 months, I disappeared because I wasn’t feeling like myself. That’s okay too. There’s so much pressure on social media to show up in business. It’s okay to take a moment.
I don’t want this podcast to become about the pressure to get it all right. As much as I want you to learn and try new things, I also don’t want you to put so much pressure on yourself that you give up on showing up because it feels like it’s too much.
Elley: There is so much pressure to show up in the online world. We have different seasons in our life. Sometimes there’s inward seasons where you take a step back, put yourself first and do what’s right for you. Sometimes there’s seasons where you’re showing up and getting it done. It’s okay to be both. People think that they have to be one or the other. It’s just trusting that where you’re at and what you’re doing is so perfect for you at that time.
Courtney: There is no one or the other. If you’re a human, you’re both by nature!
Elley: Now finally, I do have a question that I love asking all my guests on the show. In your personal experience and opinion, what would be 1-2 main characteristics or personality traits of an empowered CEO?
Courtney: Number one is having a crazy amount of belief in yourself. No matter what you’re trying to do, there’s going to be haters, there’s going to be people who don’t believe in you. It’s a hard pill to swallow because some of those people might be the people who you love the most. But if you have that self-belief and you feel good about it – honestly, even that by itself can take you anywhere.
The second thing is to just keep showing up. Just keep showing up in whatever capacity that looks like for you. It’s okay to go through those seasons. Right now I’m feeling good and showing up every day, but 6 months ago I was laying in bed not showing up at all. But I do think there’s no such thing to me as failure. Failure is giving up. Keep pushing forward and keep going. I look back at some of my “failures” and they are not failures. They led me exactly to where I’m at today.
Elley: You said that 6 months ago you couldn’t show up because you were in bed, but you actually were showing up – you were just showing up for yourself. It’s not just showing up for other people, it’s also showing up for yourself and doing what’s right for you in the moment.
Courtney, I’ve honestly loved this conversation so much. You keep it real and I think the world needs more of that realness from everyone. It’s been amazing and I’m just so excited for everyone to come follow you!
You can follow Courtney here:
WEBSITE – shesocial.co/
INSTAGRAM – instagram.com/thecourtneysjoberg/
FREEBIE – shesocial.co/freemasterclass
Hope you loved the episode and reach out to me on IG if you want to chat about the episode.
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