The world of social media is a competitive place. Standing out online, especially on visual-based platforms like Instagram, requires businesses and brands to reach their target audiences as strategically as possible.
We explored ways to optimize your Instagram Business profile in last week’s blog post. Now, we’ll look closer at one essential method to increase your brand’s exposure and drive follower growth: Hashtags.
With the right Instagram hashtag strategy, your posts can help a new audience of target users discover your business.
Read to discover what hashtags are, why they matter for brands like yours, and how to use them effectively.
Instagram Hashtags: 3 Considerations for Businesses and Brands
What is a #Hashtag?
In the most basic sense, a hashtag is simply a word or phrase preceded by a pound sign (#) that classifies or categorizes the associated content, often by topic. For example, a photo of a kitten might be accompanied by the hashtag “#kitten,’ allowing anyone searching for kitten pictures to find them by looking only at content with that tag. Like traditional SEO strategies, hashtags essentially act as keywords, grouping and threading together related content.
As The New York Times noted in an older but still relevant 2012 article, “#InPraiseOfTheHashtag,” the hashtag has grown beyond its primarily functional origins to “a form that allows for humor, darkness, wordplay, and, yes, even poetry.”
For brands, that means hashtags can be a place to express personality. But it’s important, first, to understand the basics.
Hashtags are one of the most powerful tools in your marketing toolbox and a critical part of the social media landscape. On Instagram, where users largely consume visual content, they are a necessary component of any good strategy.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. To add a hashtag to your Feed post, begin with a ‘#’ sign. Do not include spaces or punctuation. Make sure your hashtag appears blue in color or is clickable. If it’s not, go back and double-check to ensure it is correct.
You can also add hashtags to your Stories posts using either the text entry icon or the hashtag sticker. Either method will result in a tappable, searchable hashtag, but they will look and function a little differently. If you want to add multiple hashtags, you may also consider using both the sticker and text entry. We’ll dive deeper into other best practices for using hashtags in Stories further down.
Finally, although capitalization doesn’t technically matter in terms of categorization, at S2 we strongly recommend using capital letters. Notice how the ‘B’ in ‘Basics’ is capitalized in #HashtagBasics above. ‘CamelCase,’ as that style is known, helps with readability. It is also an accessibility best practice. CamelCase helps screen readers understand where each tag’s word begins and ends. (For more information on web accessibility, click here.)
There are three types of hashtags to use:
- Primary Brand: Your name or the name of your company (for example, #SocialitySquared). Use these frequently on all posts, and include them in all marketing materials.
- Custom: Created for specific events (#MetGala2022). These should be short, unique, obvious…and used sparingly, unless there is a strong reason.
- Search: Relevant, searchable hashtags that are popular on Instagram and related to the image shared. If, for example, you are a health food restaurant located in Cincinnati (like Conscious Kitchen, whose Founder, Andre Hopwood, was our co-Founder and CEO Helen’s Fellow Scholar at this year’s GS10KSB Program), you should look for relevant hashtags that can help you be discovered. Some may be specific and similar to long tail SEO keywords, like #CincinnatiRestaurants, while others may be more broad, like #OhioGram or #CincyUSA. Use “Search” tags based on popularity and relevance.
Always make sure you understand the meaning of every hashtag you use — you don’t want to accidentally use an offensive tag!
When it comes to maximizing the effectiveness of your hashtags, there are some important considerations to keep in mind.
#1: Mix Up Your Hashtag Frequency
In choosing the right hashtags to post with your content, you should also factor in the tag’s frequency of use — the more posts using a given tag, the higher that tag’s popularity.
On the surface, it makes sense to think you should just use the highest-frequency hashtags possible. But that can be counterproductive. Using a tag with millions of other uses will cause your post to drown in all the competing content quickly.
That’s why it’s best to use a mix of low, medium, and high-frequency tags and avoid very high-frequency tags with millions of uses altogether.
Start with this mix of frequencies, then make adjustments as you discover what works and what doesn’t:
- Ten low-volume tags (under 50K uses)
- Fifteen medium volume tags (50K-250K uses)
- Five high volume tags (250K-1M uses)
#2: Go Ahead, Use 20-30 Hashtags!
Instagram allows up to thirty hashtags per post. Conventional wisdom has previously held that creators should use far fewer, with different marketers claiming anywhere from three to eighteen as the optimal amount.
However, a recent analysis of over 18M Instagram feeds has found that “using more hashtags typically yields the best results.” Posts with twenty hashtags performed best on average in the study, but posts with the full thirty tags were only slightly behind.
That means you shouldn’t be afraid of maxing out your allotted thirty tags. That said, it is a common practice to place most or all of your hashtags in a comment rather than in the caption section of the post, where so many tags can look cluttered and spammy. Additionally, don’t incorporate too many tags directly into your caption copy, as too many #hashtags in the #post #copy is #distracting for the #reader.
Don’t forget about Stories! We recommend including between five and ten text-based tags at the most in Stories posts, but not more — they can look especially spammy in this context, so in this case, feel free to use fewer. For a pro-tip, hide your hashtags on Stories behind an image or match the color of the font to the background color, so they’re there but not visible.
#3: Change Up Your Hashtags In Each Post
Copying and pasting the same thirty tags for every single post is a surefire way to let the Instagram algorithm know it should down-rank your content.
You should use some hashtags consistently in most or all of your posts, like your Primary Brand Hashtag. Furthermore, Instagram now has keyword search, so using a specific tag in many of your posts will help surface content from your account by keyword even when you don’t use that tag.
However, beyond those two exceptions, you should change up the rest of your tags for each post. By searching for relevant keywords and looking at your competitors’ tags, you can organically build out a list of hashtags divided up by frequency. Then, pull different tags from your frequency categories to keep things fresh.
Lastly, to manually monitor tag performance, you can click on tags and check your post’s “hang time,” or the time that it appears near the top of recent post results for that tag.
For more sophisticated and actionable performance insights, we always recommend using Sprout Social to see month-to-month content performance and adjust strategies accordingly.
The Bottom Line
Hashtags are a crucial and powerful tool for brands, but they are not all created equal, and not all brands use them with the same level of effectiveness. However, with the right hashtag strategy, your branded posts can reach an entirely new audience that might never have discovered you otherwise.