Instagram hashtags: How, when, where, & why to use them

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With 83% of users discovering new products and services on Instagram and another 80% using the platform to decide whether to buy a product or service, brands can’t afford not to supercharge their Instagram strategies right now.

Smart marketers know that success on Instagram (or social media in general) doesn’t mean scheduling posts, crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best. There’s a lot that goes into creating a thriving Instagram account—from crafting content that resonates with your audience to answering DMs and staying on top of trends.

But one of the underdogs of success on this platform is none other than (drumroll, please) Instagram hashtags.

I get it—hashtags aren’t exactly new to the social media landscape. In fact, hashtags are a significant feature of most popular social media channels.

The thing is, not everyone is using them correctly.

In this post, I’m sharing the what, why and how behind Instagram hashtags.

But, as they say, you gotta crawl before you can walk. Let’s cover the basics of hashtags first.

Types of instagram hashtags

What are Instagram hashtags, and why should brands use them?

Instagram hashtags are clickable tags that can be attached to posts to increase a brand’s discoverability, to connect with an audience, or to contribute to an existing conversation. Any word or phrase can become a hashtag as long as it has a # symbol in front of it.

Instagram hashtags are beneficial to brands for several reasons:

  • Boost your discoverability
  • Put you in front of the right customers without paying for advertising
  • Encourage users to engage with your brand, even if they have no prior engagement with you

When you tap on a hashtag, you’re taken to that hashtag’s discovery page. Take this very important hashtag #instadogs, for example:

Hashtags help group photos together based on topic. Image via Instagram
Hashtags help group photos together based on topic. Image via Instagram

Not only are you able to see other posts from users who have also used the #instadogs hashtag, but you can filter the results by the top and most recent posts. Users can also follow a hashtag they’re interested in and discover related hashtags as well.

Instagram hashtags aren’t just for photo posts—they can be used in Instagram Stories and bios, too.

Outside Magazine’s branded hashtag, #livebravely, is featured in their Instagram bio. (We’ll talk more about branded hashtags later in this post). Not only are users able to easily explore posts this way, but it helps them make the association between Outside Magazine and this hashtag, which is helpful for brand recognition.

You can put a hashtag into an Instagram bio. Image via Outside Magazine's Instagram
You can put a hashtag into an Instagram bio. Image via Outside Magazine's Instagram

For Instagram Stories, you can add the hashtag sticker to your story. Once users click on the hashtag, they’re taken to that hashtag’s discovery page, just as they would through a standard Instagram post or bio.

Take this Instagram Story from mid-century modern furniture company, Article:

You can create hashtags in Instagram stories with stickers. Image via Article's Instagram

You can create hashtags in Instagram stories with stickers. Image via Article's Instagram
You can create hashtags in Instagram stories with stickers. Image via Article's Instagram

Users can explore posts that use the #OurArticle hashtag to discover other Article products as well as home decor inspiration from other users.

How to add hashtags to your Instagram posts

Adding Instagram hashtags to your posts is easy. To add hashtags to a standard post (photo, video, and multi-asset), simply add them to the caption. Typically, hashtags are included after a caption, but they can be used in a sentence, too.

Kimberly Brooks, an artist and ConvertKit creator, uses hashtags to help users discover her posts and to contribute to the artist community on Instagram.

 

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I poured a lifetime of painting and research into this book which will be released by Chronicle Books in the Spring of 2021.With permission of the publisher, I am releasing it early here www.oilpaintingessentials.com So that people at home can discover the joy of oil painting anywhere anytime and in your home and without solvents. I believe painting is an unknown universe to anyone who wants to try it. Everyone has their own version of what that universe can look like, and once you decide to launch into it, the joy and the possibilities are endless. Let’s get through together. #oilpainting #stayathome #quarantine #homeprojects #landscape #portraiture #portraits #bobross #abstract #relax #inspiration #coronavirus #artsandcraft #artsupplies #opticalart #modernart #finearts #artofliving #contemporaryart #conceptart #visualarts #elementsofart #artstudios #artschools #schoolofvisualarts #artclasses #artandculture #art #calming

A post shared by Kimberly Brooks (@kimberlybrooksartist) on

You can add hashtags to your Instagram posts. Image via Kimberly Brooks' Instagram

To add hashtags to an Instagram Story, tap the sticker button in the upper right-hand corner of the Story creator and tap the #hashtag sticker.

instagram hashtags hashtag sticker

From there, you can add your hashtags and even see suggested hashtags others have used in their posts. Then, you can move the sticker where you want on your post and change the color of the text and the size.

instagram hashtags hashtag sticker

Lastly, adding a hashtag to your Instagram bio is as straightforward as editing your bio with the hashtags you want to use.

But how many hashtags are too many?

According to a report from Sprout Social, the optimal number of hashtags to use in a post is between two to five. The report also says that the optimal amount of hashtags to use depends on your brand.

The bottom line: Start with a few hashtags and experiment. See which hashtags perform the best and if you can find your optimal number.

How to use Instagram hashtags

Using Instagram hashtags is simple, but you want to be strategic about it. Because hashtags are a discovery tool, it’s best to use them frequently but in a way that makes sense for your brand.

Before you start adding hashtags to your posts, do some research beforehand to see what hashtags might work best for your brand, depending on your industry and what’s trending.

A few questions to consider when researching hashtags include:

  • Which hashtags are your audience using or following?
  • Which hashtags resonate or relate to your brand the best?
  • Which hashtags will help your brand get in front of the right audience?

Before we discuss ways you can research hashtags, let’s take a look at some of the different types.

Branded hashtags

Branded hashtags are associated with (you guessed it!) a brand. These hashtags are exclusive to your brand and can help your audience build an association. You can also encourage users to share their own content while using your branded hashtag, which you can then share on your own Instagram account.

For example, florist Farm Girl Flowers uses the branded hashtag #fgflove:

You can create hashtags that are specific to your brand. Image via Farm Girl Flowers' Instagram

Users can add the #fgflove hashtag to their posts, which makes it easy for Farm Girl Flowers to discover and share their posts.

Location-based hashtags

With more and more people turning to Instagram to discover new products and services—81%, to be specific—location-based hashtags can give you a discoverability boost. Plus, location-based hashtags help users find your brand, all without you having to spend money on ads.

Hashtags that include the name of the city or town where you’re based, coupled with what you offer customers, can be great for boosting your discoverability and the likelihood of customers purchasing from you.

For example, the #denvereats hashtag is used by many restaurants local to Denver. If you’re a restaurant, what better way to get people to try your menu than a drool-worthy Instagram photo?

You can be a part of a location-based hashtag. Image via Watercourse's Instagram

This post from the Denver restaurant, Watercourse, is an excellent example of location-based hashtag usage.

(Source: Watercourse)

Judging by the comments on this post, this type of hashtag is impactful.

Tone of voice hashtags

A carefully crafted, on-brand Instagram caption can go a long way, but adding hashtags that allude to your brand’s voice is also a great practice. These may not be the most highly searched hashtags, but they’re a great chance to let your brand voice shine.

This post from the clothing brand ASOS is an excellent example of using a tone-of-voice hashtag: #PyjamasEveryday.

You can create hashtags that promote your brand culture. Image via ASOS Marketplace's Instagram

General interest hashtags

These hashtags can be applied to almost any post due to their generic nature. Hashtags like #love, #ootd, and #happy are used often, which can lessen the impact they can have on your posts.

Trending hashtags

Jumping into conversions through trending hashtags—where it makes sense for your brand—is a great way to connect with your audience.

Ask yourself: What are people talking about on Instagram right now? Is there a way your brand could fit into the conversation?

The easiest way to view the most popular hashtags is to search for a hashtag and see which hashtags populate as well as how many posts use it. You can also tap the search icon at the bottom of the navigation bar and see what some of the most popular topics are, like style, TV and movies, travel, and more.

Niche hashtags

Instagram hashtags are meant to help users discover a variety of brands, products, and other content, but they’re also a great way to reach an audience with a specific interest. Vegan users, for example, are likely interested in hashtags like #vegan, #veganrecipes, or #cleaneating.

Tanya, a food blogger and ConvertKit creator, demonstrates how niche hashtag usage is done in the example below.

 

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Homemade 3 Ingredient Bagels Made in the Air Fryer. Click @myforkinglife for the link in bio. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ These bagels are so darn easy. I bake them in my air fryer because it takes less than 10 minutes! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ How have you all been? It's been pretty tough all around, and I tend to disappear in a corner when times get rough. I'm making a promise to do better, or at least try to. So I'll be sharing easy recipes here. Any other recipes, in particular, you'll be looking for in the upcoming months? Lemme know 🙂 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ https://www.myforkinglife.com/easy-homemade-bagel-recipe/ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #recipe #quickrecipeideas #myforkinglife #cltfood #charlottefood #charlottenc #pursuepretty #eatpretty #heresmyfood #whatimeating #blackgirlswhoblog #forkyeah #f52grams #foodblogeats #essenceeats #healthyeats #eatingfortheinsta #forkfeed #forkyeah #airfried #airfryerbagels #brownieslover #browniesviral #airfryerrecipes #airfryer #kindahealthy #thebestrecipes

A post shared by Tanya | My Forking Life® (@myforkinglife) on

Hashtags help your niche audience find you. Image via My Forking Life's Instagram

Niche hashtags are a great way to connect with a particular audience that’s already interested in a topic. Remember, only use niche hashtags that apply to your brand and your content. Otherwise, your posts may come off looking like spam.

Event hashtags

Are you having a giveaway or participating in an Instagram takeover? Hashtags that correlate with specific events—whether they take place entirely on Instagram or in-person—are a great way to promote the said event.

Hashtags like #giveaway and #igtakeover alert your audience that there’s something for them to tune into, while hashtags like #BOGO and #flashsale attract users who are interested in sales and discounts.

Banned hashtags

We know that hashtags are great for boosting brand discoverability, but not all hashtags are good for business. When conducting your hashtag research, make sure you pay attention to banned hashtags—or the hashtags Instagram has blocked or suspended—because they violate Instagram’s terms and conditions.

To find a banned hashtag, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to Instagram’s Explore page
  2. Search for the hashtag you want to use
  3. If the hashtag doesn’t appear under the “Tags” section of the search results, it’s banned, and all recent posts that use that hashtag will not appear

For example, #workflow is currently banned:

Make sure you aren’t using a banned hashtag. Image via Instagram
Make sure you aren’t using a banned hashtag. Image via Instagram

Last, when researching Instagram hashtags, it’s essential to switch up which ones you use to avoid coming across as spam. Though it may be tempting to copy and paste the same hashtags for every post, that could harm your engagement rates.

Instead, focus on the hashtags that your audience is most likely searching and that align with the content of your post. If you do that each time, your posts will always be relevant to your audience.

Tracking hashtags to optimize your Instagram posts

As with any online marketing effort, tracking the performance of your hashtags will give you the most insight into what is working well and what hashtags you should try.

Several tools make tracking hashtag performance not only easy but can help you make sense of how hashtags are impacting your overall marketing strategy.

Here are a few notable tools that are great for Instagram:

  • Later: Quickly and easily plan your Instagram posts all from one dashboard, plus get the most ROI on your hashtag research with Later’s collection of tools.
  • Sprout Social: Comprehensive reporting and planning for all your Instagram content
  • Tailwind: Schedule photos and videos, and boost your engagement with hashtag suggestions
  • Iconosquare: Analytics that are easy to understand coupled with mighty a scheduler and suite of monitoring tools

Start using Instagram hashtags today

Instagram hashtags do a lot of good for brand awareness and discoverability. But because every brand is unique, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all protocol when it comes to using Instagram hashtags.

The best way to get the most from them is just to start and see what works best. Take a look at the examples we included throughout this post and take some inspiration from those brands.

The bottom line: What works for others when it comes to Instagram hashtags might not work for you. Experimenting, tracking performance, and revising as needed will help you get the most from these helpful tags.

Want to build a cohesive funnel from your Instagram page?

If you’re looking to take all that good promotion from your hashtags to another level, you can build landing pages to promote your products or services. When readers click that landing page link in your bio, you can give even more information to help them make that decision to opt-in.

And did you know you can put your Instagram photos right on landing pages in ConvertKit? Yep, that means you can create a cohesive flow for your readers to go from seeing your images in Instagram to seeing them on your landing page. Check out this direct integration and build a landing page today.

 

Build a free ConvertKit landing page

Kaleigh Moore

Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer who works closely with SaaS companies and marketing teams for content creation.

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