While the specifics of Instagram’s algorithm are kept top-secret, we know that posts and accounts with more engagement are prioritized in users’ feeds. While it can feel like a catch-22, user engagement is imperative to insta-growth. Engagement affecting your reach includes post views, likes, comments, DMs, and time spent on the post. What that means is you don’t just want any eyeballs on your posts, you want users who are interested in your topic as they are more likely to engage with your posts and follow your account. In short—quality is more important than quantity when it comes to your Instagram post views.
So how are you supposed to find loyal and engaged followers in the crowded world of Instagram? Enter hashtags. Instagram hashtags are important because they allow people who aren’t otherwise connected to you to discover your account. When used correctly, hashtags can target users who are already interested in what you have to offer.
Discovering Content with Hashtags
There are two ways users discover content through hashtags.
Navigating to the hashtag page by tapping on a hashtag or searching for it. A hashtag’s page will include a few ways for users to browse content.
- Top posts feed
- Related posts feed
- Related tags list
- Tagged videos
- Follow button
- Hashtag story
Discovering posts in your feed by following hashtags. When a user taps the follow button on a hashtag’s landing page, popular posts tagged with that hashtag will appear on their feed. Outside of paid ads, this is the only way for your posts to show up on someone’s feed if they aren’t already following you.
Researching Instagram Hashtags
Before tagging, you want to do a little bit of research to determine the best hashtags for your content. While there are tools like Hashtagify that can help out with research, you can get pretty far on the app itself.
Start by searching for your topic on the search page on Instagram and tapping “Tags.” Right off the bat, you’ll see search suggestions for related hashtags. Here you can also see how many posts are associated with the tag. While it’s good if people are searching for your topic, popular hashtags also have more competition, and your post might get lost.
Tap a hashtag to view its landing page. Browse the other tagged posts and make sure your content fits in. Always ask, “will someone searching this hashtag find what they are looking for in my post?”
If you haven’t already, make a list of similar accounts to yours and influencers in your space. See what hashtags they’re using, then go to those hashtag pages to determine if they are good fits for you. While you’re doing your research, make a list of hashtags you want to try. It’s important to make sure your hashtags are relevant because users can choose the “Don’t Show for This Hashtag” option when they follow a hashtag—this can result in your posts showing up less often if you’re frequently getting flagged.
How Many Hashtags is Too Many?
Instagram allows you to add up to 30 hashtags to a post. While there isn’t really a magic number, using too many can come across as spammy or cumbersome. You can definitely include a few hashtags within the caption itself as long as you’re not tagging #every #single #word. Some hashtags offer important information—letting your users know, for example, if your image is a #TBT or if you’re currently in Hawaii.
If you want to use more hashtags—it’s especially helpful if you’re just starting out—you can bury some or all at the bottom of your caption by inserting line breaks and punctuation. The hashtags will not be visible unless the user taps “more.”
To do this, tap the 123 key, then Return, then a punctuation mark or emoji, then return again. Repeat a few times and then add your hashtags. If you find yourself using the same hashtags frequently, type them out in your notes app so you can copy and paste them when you post. Make sure the hashtags stay relevant, however, to each post.
Unique Instagram Hashtags
Instagram hashtags can do more than lead people to you. Creating your own unique hashtag can really level up your engagement by giving you another way to interact with your followers. For example, you can encourage users to use your hashtag for a chance to be featured on your page—just make sure to credit the photographer! Follow your own hashtag to keep up with conversations around your brand, and then participate. You might even discover new accounts that you want to follow.
To create a custom hashtag, brainstorm a list of ideas. Keep the hashtag as short and sweet as you can. Puns and wordplay can be fun for events like weddings, but for ongoing hashtags, it’s not necessary to get super creative. You don’t want people making mistakes when they try to use it. What is necessary, however, is that it’s unique. Search for your hashtag and check that it’s not being used. Next, do a cross-check to ensure when you’ve mashed your words together, they don’t form any new, undesired words. Have some friends take a look as well for any flags.
Finally, if you’ve created your own hashtag, don’t forget to add it to your bio.
There are situations where hashtags are not used to filter content, but rather to indicate information about the post. For example, when influencers work with brands they must indicate that partnership, and a hashtag like #sponsored or #ad is a common way to disclose this. If you are planning branded content, check out the FTC guidelines for more information. #TBT is another example of an informational hashtag. Following #TBT will show you a bunch of mostly unrelated posts, so it’s pretty useless for discovering content. It does, however, indicate to the user that the photo was not taken that day, which is helpful information so you don’t have to feel jealous that Jessica is in Mexico AGAIN. #TakeMeBack
Don’t Forget Instagram Stories
To use a hashtag in your Story, you can either type it with the text tool and pound sign or use the hashtag sticker. Your post will be included in the story for that hashtag. If you’re worried about hashtags cramping your style, you can cover them up with other elements like emojis and gifs.
To keep track of how your hashtags are affecting your post engagement, create a spreadsheet. Track what hashtags you use for the post and how many likes and comments you get. Do some experimenting with different numbers of hashtags and see how you do. Finally, make sure you’ve switched to a business profile and tap “view insights” on the post. You can access the number of impressions acquired through hashtags.
There are users out there interested in every topic and there are Instagram accounts for every topic as well. Hashtags are a powerful tool used to help users discover the content that is relevant to them and to help brands reach their audiences. One interested post viewer is better than 5 uninterested post viewers. If you keep this in mind, you’ll be #blessed in no time.