Why It’s Time to Update Your Instagram Hashtag Strategy

Opinion: Marketers need to adjust their tactics for the new algorithm

Instagram posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6 percent more engagement than those without stevanovicigor/iStock
Headshot of Matt Smith

Trying to stand out on an application with more than 800 million monthly users is no easy task.

While the Instagram shadowban may have scared you away from using hashtags on the Facebook-owned photo- and video-sharing network last year, they’re still an effective way to get more Instagram followers and increase your engagement.

From following hashtags to adding them to your Instagram Stories, hashtags are an important tool to help you grow your brand this year.

Instagram’s algorithm favors posts with high engagement, meaning that the more likes and comments your post receives, the more people will see your post. Instagram posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6 percent more engagement than those without.

And although each Instagram post allows up to 30 hashtags, research on the topic suggests that the optimum number of hashtags is fewer than 10 per post.

Most often, the narrower the scope of the hashtag, the more engaged the users are. When Instagram hashtags are overused, they can be confusing and frustrating and take away from your story. However, when used properly, hashtags are a great way for individuals and brands to increase their posts visibility and engagement.

Now you can follow your favorite Instagram hashtags

Instagram rolled out the ability to follow hashtags last December, which means that instead of users having to scroll through a feed to discover your tagged content, your posts could show up automatically in the feeds of potential new followers.

On the flip side, users also have the power to mark your hashtagged content as something they don’t want to see.

Once users are following specific hashtags and suggested posts begin showing up in their feeds, they will have the ability to select a “Don’t Show for This Hashtag” option to mark content that is not interesting or relevant to them.

While this new feature was created to tell the Instagram algorithm what type of content users enjoy, having too many of your posts marked with Don’t Show for This Hashtag could potentially raise a red flag on your account and negatively impact your other content, as well. Make sure you’re only including relevant hashtags on your Instagram post, or you may run the risk of losing engagement.

Add hashtags to your Instagram Stories

By using hashtags within your Stories, you’re giving your content yet another way to be discovered by a new audience.

If you didn’t know, most Instagram geo-locations and hashtags have their own Stories attached to them. While this is an underutilized feature, you can expect it to gain popularity as users become more comfortable with creating Instagram Stories.

Instagram users can add hashtags to their Stories by using the hashtag sticker or typing them out with the text tool.

If an Instagram hashtag is popular enough, users will be able to view an active, real-time Instagram Story when searching for the hashtag. Hashtag stories show up across the top bar of the hashtag page along with the new “follow” button.

The different types of Instagram hashtags

It’s important to note that there are two main types of Instagram hashtags: branded and community hashtags. Understanding these differences will help you determine which hashtags you should be incorporating into your posting strategy.

Branded hashtags are specific to your business. They might contain your brand name, your products or a specific campaign. Creating a catchy and memorable branded hashtag will make users excited to share it.

REI created a community with its #optoutside hashtag, reaching more than 6 million posts and encouraging audiences to explore the great outdoors.

Branded hashtags are also a great way to start a conversation around your business or gather user-generated content to repost on your feed.

Community hashtags such as #dogsofinstagram or #livethelittlethings are created around specific topics. Using community hashtags in your posts is a great way to connect with like-minded users, gain followers and increase the search-engine optimization of your posts.

Finding the right Instagram hashtags for your account

One of the most difficult parts of marketing on Instagram is actually figuring out which hashtags you should be using. Here are a few ways you can start your search:

Quality vs. quantity: Finding hashtags with the greatest amount of posts won’t necessarily help you grow your reach. In fact, it may do just the opposite.

Broad hashtags such as #foodie are being posted nearly every few seconds, meaning that your post will quickly be pushed far down the hashtag stream and possibly never be seen. If you’re a vegetarian that loves posting food porn, using more specific hashtags like #vegetariansofig, with 157,000 posts, or #foragebyfolk, with 93,000, will help you connect with a more targeted food community and boost your engagement.

Check out what other successful users are doing: If Instagram users who aren’t otherwise connected to one another talk about the same topic using a specific hashtag, their posts will appear in the same stream. Using Instagram’s hashtag stream is a great way to find additional hashtags related to your post being used by audiences posting similar content.

Once you search for a specific hashtag, nine of the most popular posts containing the hashtag will appear. After clicking one of the posts, you can find other relevant hashtags in the user’s hashtag block.

For example, clicking on one of the top posts under #coffeeaddict brings up this post, which includes other relevant hashtags such as #blackcoffeeonly and #coffeeholic:

Click through these similar hashtags and decide if they are a good (relevant) fit for your photos. If so, make sure to jot them down somewhere to remember the next time you post.

Find related Instagram hashtags: When searching for a hashtag using Instagram’s search bar, it will provide you with top hashtags that are closely related to your search. Instagram will also show you the number of posts associated with each hashtag.

For example, if you type in #travel, other popular hashtags that are related to travel will appear below, listing the number of posts using the specific hashtag:

Organize your Instagram hashtags: As we learned from the shadowban scare, posting the same block of hashtags to your posts can negatively impact your engagement. Instead, it’s important to switch up your hashtag blocks and make sure each hashtag is a good fit for your post.

Once you start finding Instagram hashtags you’d like to incorporate into your social strategy, it’s time to organize and save them for later use. You can save them to a spreadsheet, note document or wherever you can easily find them for when you’re ready to post.

You may find that it’s easiest to sort your hashtags into different categories for the different types of content you most frequently post. Using popular hashtags that don’t necessarily relate to the photo tend to make posts look spammy. The key is to use hashtags sparingly and only when they add value.

Southern California photographer Arielle Vey makes sure to use different sets of hashtags for different images. You can see the difference in hashtags in her post with a photo of her apartment:

Now look at the hashtags in her dreamy travel photo:

Using the right hashtags helps put your content in front of people searching for keywords and phrases associated with your account or business.

Building a sold Instagram hashtag strategy is a great way to grow your reach, find content created about you by your followers and make sure your content is being seen by the right audiences.

Matt Smith is the founder of Instagram marketing platform Later.

@mattfromlater Matt Smith is the founder of Later.