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How to Leverage Hashtags for Growth on Instagram

Hashtags on Instagram

If you’re looking to launch your Instagram game into the stratosphere, strap in tight and get ready to blast off with some hashtag how-tos!

When used strategically, hashtags can be rocket fuel for Instagram growth, but keeping up with best practices can be confusing when the app is always making updates to its algorithm. We’re here to help – like the booster engine that’ll take you to new heights of exposure and popularity.

These hashtag tips can help you launch your way to the top of the leaderboard and leave your competitors in the dust. Ready for liftoff?

What Is a Hashtag?

The hashtag is a metadata tag that’s prefaced with the hash symbol (#) to cross-reference content by a topic or theme. Hashtags go in the comments or captions of a social media post to make that post visible on a corresponding page.

Basically, hashtags are like search terms on social media platforms like Instagram. Each hashtag is relevant to a specific topic or theme, allowing users to find related content easily. It also allows Instagram to categorize your content and suggest it to users who are most likely to find it interesting or entertaining.

Why Use Hashtags?

Using relevant hashtags can give your brand the boost it needs for increased visibility on Instagram, which helps grow your audience and more importantly, target the correct demographic that is most likely to engage with your content. Hashtags are used as an optimization tool for community-building, discovering user-generated content, and organizing campaign- or event-related content in one place.

When users search for a hashtag on Instagram, or when they click on a hashtag in a user’s post, they are directed to a hashtag results page with three tabs: “Top,” “Recent” and “Reels”.

The “Top” tab displays the most popular posts using that hashtag. These posts have garnered the most engagement and are considered the most relevant to the hashtag. The “Recent” tab shows posts using that hashtag in chronological order. And the “Reels” tab shows the most popular reels – or short videos – using that hashtag.

image of Instagram showing Top, Recent, and Reels tabs

If your post makes it to the “Top” section of a hashtag results page, it’s more likely to receive additional views and engagement – follows, likes, comments, saves, and shares – especially if your post reaches the right people. So how do you do that with hashtags?

How to Use Hashtags For Growth (And How Not To)

Here are some proven best practices for using hashtags:

Use a Mix of Hashtags in Your Post

Every post you share should include at least one hashtag, typically a branded hashtag, even if it’s not part of a marketing campaign. Additionally, it’s best to use or create hashtags from these five main categories: location, brand, industry, community, description. For example, if you’re posting about an SEO optimization strategy, #SEO should be one of your hashtags as it helps provide a description about the content of your post.

Don’t Use Oversaturated Hashtags

Posts that include ultra-popular hashtags with millions of uses like #brunch, #happy, and #summer are less likely to be seen. You can check the hashtag use volume on Instagram by typing the hashtag in the search bar and clicking “Tags.” We believe it’s best to use hashtags with a frequency between 10k-500k posts.

how to find hashtag frequency

Remember that a hashtag that is trending on Instagram is not necessarily trending on other platforms, so be flexible and research before repurposing content on other platforms.

This best practice also includes refraining from using spammy hashtags or hashtag hijacking, which means including a hashtag in one of your posts that has no relevance to the topic. This is a popular method used by spam bots, internet trolls, and brands that are trying to “tag for exposure” with higher-credibility brands or trending topics.

For example, you may see a fast fashion brand using luxury brand hashtags like Gucci or Louis Vuitton in the caption or first comment to try to boost its reach and leverage some of the popularity of these well-established brands. Worse, if you use a hashtag for a trending topic related to a crisis or controversy, it can be a turnoff to customers and harm your reputation.

Use Hashtags to Share Relevant Content

If you use a hashtag, make sure the post picture, video, or link is relevant to the topic or theme. Social media platforms recognize if you’re using a hashtag incorrectly. Keeping it relevant ensures that your content reaches your target audience.

You can research which hashtags are most relevant to your post topic by using a third-party tracking tool, searching the explore page, or tracking what your competitors in the industry are doing.

Get Creative with Your Own Hashtags

Many successful brands create their own specific hashtags to curate user-generated content or promote a sponsored event, such as Google’s Keynote event with #MadebyGoogle or HBO Max’s #BadaBinge to promote the release of The Many Saints of Newark.

screen shot from TikTok showing use of HBO Max's BadaBinge hashtag

Source: TikTok

But you don’t need to be an enterprise brand to have your own branded hashtag and encourage user-generated content. A lot of brands and influencers create unique hashtags to attract users and encourage real-time engagement, such as the #AdWeek Twitter chat.

Keep It Short and Simple

You’ve likely seen hashtags that are simple acronyms of longer names or titles, such as #NYFW for New York Fashion Week. These are easier to type and remember, plus they use fewer characters within the already limited character count.

screen shot of Instagram post using hashtags relevant to New York Fashion Week

Source: Instagram

Mix It Up

Redundant hashtags, even competitive ones, won’t help your content stand out in the results. Avoid using the same terms or groups of terms for each post. It’s best to have a list of hashtags to ensure you’re varying your posts.

Think Like a Searcher

Hashtags are essentially search terms, but that doesn’t mean that any related word will be searched. For example, a sports car enthusiast probably won’t search for random car-related terms like #exhaust, but they will search for specific car makes and models or broad terms like #sportscar or #musclecar.

Track Your Hashtag Efforts

Track your analytics to see what hashtags are performing best and keep updating your strategy as you see fit. After some experimentation, you’ll unlock an easy way to boost your performance and achieve your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Still have questions? Learn more about using hashtags.

Are Hashtags Still Relevant?

Yes! Hashtags are still relevant on all applicable social media platforms. Though the algorithms have changed and will likely continue to evolve, the best practices still apply to help you get the most out of your hashtag strategy.

What Is an Instagram Hashtag Strategy?

A hashtag strategy, on Instagram or other social media platform, is an intentional and calculated plan to use hashtags, much like any other social media strategy. Hashtags are similar to keywords and organize your posts to help users find them more easily, so it’s important to plan your strategy around your audience and the topics and themes that are relevant to your brand.

How Many Hashtags Should I Use?

Instagram advised users on it’s @creators page to use 3-5 hashtags for maximum exposure, despite the platform’s 30 hashtag limit. We recommend using 5-20 as long as they are relevant to your content and not distracting to your followers. It’s also helpful to use hashtags throughout the copy of your caption instead of lumping them all together at the end of your post. Either way, focus on quality over quantity!

How Do You Rank High with Hashtags?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for ranking with hashtags. It’s important to know your audience and industry, conduct thorough hashtag research, and follow best practices to see success with hashtags.

Does the Sequence of Hashtags Matter?

From a technical perspective, there’s nothing to suggest that the sequence of hashtags matters. That said, you can add hashtags to the end of your caption as a cluster, incorporate them into your caption, or add them as a first comment under your post which doesn’t negatively affect engagement or reach.

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