Love them or hate them – and there is a lot of ill-feeling towards hashtags, trust me! – you need to be using hashtags if you want to grow your audience, and therefore your business, on Instagram. If you’ve been wondering how to use hashtags on Instagram to expand your reach, I’m here to demystify some of the process.

There’s lots more to it than bunging a few up there, so here’s my 10-point guide to hashtag strategy.

FYI I’m assuming everyone knows about hashtags and their purpose so if you’re a total beginner, let me know and I can walk you through it some more!

All hashtags are not the same

Unlike some areas of life, bigger isn’t always better. When it comes to hashtags, you should be looking at the size of them – that is, how many posts come under that #. The bigger it is, the less chance of your posts being seen, and as the purpose of a hashtag is to get your business in front of a new audience, putting something with millions of tags is a waste. Going small is they key if you want to use better hashtags to grow your business

It’s worth mentioning that spammers target some of the big, generic hashtags so they can fall into the banned category. Again, this means no one will see your post via this # so it’s pointless to use them.

Ideally you want to be aiming at around 100K for accounts with less than 5k followers – a few bigger but most much smaller. This is the sweet spot for getting noticed.

If your audience is searching via hashtags, they want to find relevant content. That means relevant to each post, rather than your general business. If your post was to appear on the coveted Explore page, would your chosen hashtags make sense?

I always advise a mix of general and niche tags. So if you’re posting about a beauty product, best practice would be some more general industry tags eg #CleanBeautyProducts // #VeganBeauty // #GreenBeautyCommunity as well as ones specific to the product #VeganMmascara // #NaturalCleanser and maybe even the style of post (is it a how-to or a hack for example).

Where to find them

There are tools that can help you with hashtags, but a quick poll of my fellow social media experts revealed that we feel there is no substitute for some native research.

Instagram makes this really easy these days. Put in a relevant tag to the search function and when you click through, a list of other related tags will pop up along the top. You can dive in and see which are good for you and have smaller followings.

Using the beauty example, #CleanBeauty has 2.5M posts, but a little scroll reveals #CleanBeautyProducts is a much more manageable 44.9K

Have a look at the tags your competitors are using, but don’t assume they’ve done the legwork on whether the tags are useful and appropriately sized. They are a good jumping off point for your research though.

You could also investigate the posts that are making it into the top 9 on explore pages for each hashtag. And what the industry influencers are using.

Tips and Tricks

Yes, you can use up to 30 but the general consensus is that this looks a bit spammy. Instagram never really comments on the best number or whether you are penalised for using too many, but if the platform allows multiple # make the most of it. It’s more from an audience point of view – the full 30 can look pretty full on (maybe even a bit, dare I say, desperate?).

You can put them in the first comment, and many scheduling tools help you do this. There’s no concrete evidence on whether this affects reach and engagement, I think it’s just about looks. You can also use apps like Instaspacer to add line breaks so you can separate your hashtags from the main post. This is an easy way to make the captions easier on the eye.

I create groups of hashtags that are relevant to my content buckets and save them into notes. It’s then a quick cut and paste job to add them into posts and allows me to mix things up – using the same hashtags on every post makes IG think you’reHa a bot. I always add a couple of different ones on the hop too, just to be safe (and super-relevant of course!).

Hashtags have a part to play in Stories too. You can use up to 11 here (10 in a caption and one using the # sticker).

Sometimes it’s useful to have them all visible, but if you’re worried about aesthetics, there are a couple of tricks to make your Stories look cleaner. I’m a fan of using the dropper tool to make them the same colour as the background. Another option is to pinch them down (not too small as some report IG won’t pick up on them) and hide them behind a GIF.

Again, there’s a mix of views on this. Some say IG penalises you, others (like Later) still advocate for hiding. Experiment

Having a brand hashtag is great for social listening. Instagram’s 2018 update that provided the function to follow hashtags is such a useful tool. I use it for keeping track of trends, finding relevant content and social listening. If you encourage people to use your branded hashtag, you may appear in followers’ feeds twice if they follow you and your hashtag. You can follow it to collect user generated content too, which is super useful.

Use your branded one to encourage others to use or follow it. Plus – think about it – encouraging people to click on a generic hashtag could mean you are sending customers to your competitors.

While I stand by the fact that your own personal research is your most powerful tool, you can find ways to give yourself a helping hand. The hashtag features on Later’s paid-for plans are really useful. You can pinpoint exactly which # are driving your traffic. I do monthly blogs on hashtags, offering lists of small tags that may bring big traction. Find them here or sign up to my mailing list to get them straight to your inbox. 

Believe it or not, that’s not even all I could say on hashtags, but it’s a good start.  Social media isn’t an exact science so keep researching, keep experimenting and, as hashtag trends change regularly, keep changing what you’re doing. Let me know how you get on, my inbox is always open.

Thanks for watching this video/reading this blog, if you gained value please make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel so that you don’t miss out on future videos. And be sure to download my 3 free Instagram grids to help you create 15 super stylish and stand out posts really quickly in Canva. See you next time.