If Instagram marketing is a medieval battlefield, you, the social media pro, are the gallant knight and the hashtag is your trusted sword. Wield it well and you will bring honor (brand awareness) to your noble kingdom (company).
This guide will teach you how to be as prolific with the Instagram hashtag as Sir Lancelot was said to be with his sword. Learn why you need to be using hashtags, how to use them, and which ones to use to conquer your social media goals.
If you need help with the photo- and video-sharing platform beyond the hashtag, discover all our Instagram marketing blog posts, guides, and resources here.
Ready to get started? Read through the guide from start to finish or click on a specific section in the table of contents to jump right to it.
Table of contents
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps an adventure photographer used to grow from 0 to 110,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear. And then learn how you can use Hootsuite to achieve similar results.
What is an Instagram hashtag?
An Instagram hashtag is a word or phrase comprised of letters, numbers, and/or emoji preceded by what was once referred to as the pound symbol (#).
Instagram hashtags categorize content. Click on a hashtag and you’ll be able to browse posts that have been tagged with it. Attach one to your own photo or video and it will be discoverable to anyone searching the hashtag. How likely it is to be seen by other users depends on how often the hashtag is used, how popular your post is (does it already have a lot of likes and comments?), and how strong your following is.
Why you should use Instagram hashtags
Hashtags help Instagram users discover content and accounts to follow. The right hashtag, or combination of hashtags, will expose your brand to large and targeted audiences. By making yourself more discoverable on Instagram, you have a better chance of attracting new followers, getting more likes, and increasing engagement. Indeed, posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6 percent more engagement than those without, according to a study by Simply Measured.
How to add a hashtag to an Instagram post
Hashtags can be added to your posts as captions or comments. Assuming your Instagram account is public, a hashtag will make your post discoverable on the corresponding hashtag page. To tag a post with a hashtag in the caption:
- Take or upload a photo or video
- Choose whether or not to add a filter (and/or use Instagram’s other editing options), then type # followed by text or emoji in the caption field
- Tap OK at the top of the screen
- Select SHARE
If you want to add hashtags to a post you’ve already uploaded, tap the three dots in the top right corner of your screen and select Edit. You can also add hashtags post-publishing by tapping the speech bubble under the photo and typing the hashtags in as a comment.
As mentioned, numbers and emojis are allowed in hashtags, but spaces and special characters, such as & or $, won’t work. Two other important things to remember:
- You can only tag your own posts, not other users’ photos or videos
- You can use up to 30 hashtags on a single post. If you try to use more, your comment won’t show up
How to choose the right Instagram hashtags for your brand
The hashtags you want to use will depend on what space your business operates in.
Let’s say you’re a social media manager for a travel agency. There are a ton of Instagram hashtags that are popular with jet-setters: #welltravelled, #justbackfrom, #whatsinmybag, and #passportexpress—to name a few. Tag your posts with any number of those and you will likely get a few extra likes. But if you really want to increase engagement and gain quality followers, include more specific hashtags. If you post a photo of a travel destination, tag it with relevant location hashtags and the resort’s branded hashtag, if there is one.
How do you discover hashtags that your target audience is searching? Try the following tactics.
4 tips to help you find the right hashtags
- Check out what hashtags your competitors are using. Maybe you’ll discover new hashtags to add to your repertoire. Or you could decide you don’t want to compete for the same eyeballs, in which case you can search for alternative hashtags to use.
- Use hashtags that influential people in your industry are using. These people are already well-established with your target audience, so why not learn from the best?
- Consider related hashtags. Browse through posts containing a hashtag you’re already having success with. Do you see a trend of any other common hashtags that could be included in future posts?
- Use Instagram’s search function. Type in a keyword that’s relevant to your brand into Instagram’s search bar then select the Tags tab. Instagram will give you a list of all the hashtags with that keyword as well as a number of posts that are tagged with it. Remember: a large number may mean a large number of people following that hashtag, but it also means there’s a ton of content your post could get buried in. Experiment with a combination of popular and niche hashtags.
When it comes to choosing Instagram hashtags, the golden rule is: use only hashtags that are relevant to your brand, industry, and target audience. #Love is one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram, tagged in over 893 million posts. But your company is not going to attract that hashtag audience if you put it on a photo of your boring boardroom. Continually tag your photos with popular but unrelated hashtags, and someone might flag you as a spammer.
How many Instagram hashtags should you use
Instagrammers aren’t as susceptible to hashtag fatigue as Facebook and Twitter users are. According to a TrackMaven study of Instagram accounts with 1,000 followers or fewer, posts containing four or five hashtags received an average of 22 interactions compared to 14 interactions on posts with zero hashtags. Even with posts containing 11 or more hashtags, engagement was still well-above what it was on posts without hashtags.
Still, that doesn’t mean you should tag every post with 30 hashtags (the maximum Instagram allows per post). Tagging your photos and videos with the most popular hashtags will probably gain you new followers, but they’ll likely be the wrong kind of followers—spammers or people only interested in being followed back. And using too many hashtags might dilute your message and make you seem desperate.
Using brand hashtags on Instagram
What is a brand hashtag?
A brand or branded hashtag is a hashtag that’s unique to your business or campaign. It could be as simple as your company name, tagline, or the name of one of your products. Or it could be the name of an Instagram contest you’re running.
Herschel Supply Co. uses a few branded hashtags, including #herschelsupply and #welltravelled. The latter was created for a campaign to encourage customers to share travel photos featuring Herschel products. Now tagged in more than 1.15 million posts, it is often cited as one of the most popular travel hashtags on Instagram.
How to use brand hashtags
Like Herschel, you can create a brand hashtag for a specific campaign or to simply showcase your company culture, products, or services.
If you’re running an Instagram campaign, having a brand hashtag will help drive participation and engagement. It will also organize all the posts that are tagged with it on a hashtag page. This is helpful if you’re using the hashtag to collect entries for a promotion or contest submissions.
Hootsuite did this for our #IWorkFromHere contest in which we asked participants to upload a photo of their workspace to Instagram (or Twitter) using the Hootsuite mobile app.
Because all submissions had to be tagged with #IWorkFromHere, they were automatically categorized and collected on a hashtag page. Beyond specific campaigns, Hootsuite also uses #HootsuiteLife to showcase our company culture.
Instagram hashtag tips and best practices
A review of what we’ve learned so far, plus a few more strategies to help you achieve your Instagram goals.
Don’t use too many or irrelevant hashtags. Instagram lets you work with up to 30 hashtags per post. But if your try to sneak a popular hashtag into your post that isn’t relevant to the content you will muddle your message—or worse, be exposed as a spammer. Tagging your post with a dozen hashtags is acceptable and may help drive engagement, but only if all 12 hashtags align with the content you’re sharing.
Use specific or niche hashtags. The more specific the hashtag, the more targeted your audience will be. And a targeted audience means a higher chance of quality engagement. As we explained in our previous post, The Do’s and Don’ts of How to Use Hashtags, if you’re after Volkswagen lovers the hashtag #vwvan will earn you a lot more of your desired followers than a broad hashtag like #van will.
Don’t forget about popular hashtags. As long as they’re relevant to the post and used sparingly, popular hashtags can help expand your reach without making your efforts look desperate.
Double check to make sure that hashtag means what you think it means. You could inadvertently associate your brand with a raunchy or nefarious campaign. When you combine two or three words together, that can spell out words you didn’t mean to. Before using any hashtag, be sure to browse through the hashtag page to ensure the associated content is what you think it would be.
Keep your brand hashtags short, simple, and easy to spell. That way your fans and customers can easily remember it. You want to be specific, but something like #SanFranciscoLuxuryCarEnthusiasts for a high-end auto show won’t catch on because it has too many characters. “#SFCarLovers” makes more sense in this case.
Hide your Instagram hashtags. If you don’t want to clutter your captions, there are two ways you can “hide” your hashtags.
- Include them in the comment section below your post. Once other people leave a few comments, the hashtags won’t be viewable unless the option to See all is selected.
- Alternatively you can separate your hashtags from the caption by burying them beneath dots and line breaks. In the caption or comment box tap the 123 key. Select return and then enter a period. Repeat those steps at least five times. Instagram caps off captions after three lines so the hashtags won’t be viewable to users unless they tap the more option.
Popular Instagram hashtags your brand should be using
No matter how popular they may be, you should avoid hashtags that desperately solicit Likes and followers—#followme, #like4like, #follow4follow, #tagsforlikes, etc. Using these will attract only bots, spammers, and others users who have no intention of engaging with your brand in any meaningful way.
But again, that doesn’t mean you should ignore every popular Instagram hashtag trend.
Tagged in over 330 million posts, #TBT (Throwback Thursday) is one of the most used hashtags on Instagram and a perfect nostalgia marketing opportunity. If your brand has a past, use #TBT to share it. If your brand is brand new, you can use the hashtag to dig into the history of your products or industry.
Here are a few more universal and universally popular hashtags your brand might want to consider using—again, sparingly:
#instagood: Use this on photos you’re particularly proud of.
#photooftheday: Also reserved for your best work. There’s an associated @photooftheday Instagram account that selects one “winning” photo with the hashtag each day and shares it with their more than 283,000 followers.
#picoftheday: Same concept as above.
#instagrammers: Proclaim yourself an instagrammer on Instagram! A self-evident, but popular hashtag.
#instamood: Intended to be used in photos that reflect the publisher’s mood. Typically #instamood posts are not of people, but scenery. So if your brand is celebrating a big win, then you could post a photo of a fireworks display. Like #photooftheday, this hashtag also has an associated Instagram account (@instamood) that shares photos tagged with the hashtag out to their more than 27,000 followers.
#tbt and #ThrowbackThursday: Explained above. #ThrowbackThursday is the longer and less common version of #tbt. More on how to make this trend work for you in our guide The Power of Nostalgia: Using #TBT for Marketing.
#ManicMonday: Use on posts that illustrate your busy week ahead or wacky company culture.
#WisdomWednesday: Post a quote or piece advice that your target audience will find helpful.
#FridayFunday: A chance to humanize your brand and entertain your audience with some lighter content.
#NoFilter: For photography purists. Use on posts that you haven’t applied a filter to.
#selfie: Self explanatory. As a social media marketer, you can use this hashtag when you’re representing your brand at an industry event.
#regram: Use this when reposting a photo from someone else’s account to your own. Make it a part of your user-generated content strategy with our guide How to Regram: Best Practices for Reposting Instagram Content.
There are of course popular Instagram hashtags specific to each industry. Real estate, for example, has: #realestate, #architecture, #realestateforsale, and #realestatephotograhpy. To surface the ones that are relevant to your business, refer back to our tips on how to find the right hashtags.
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