Hashtag — a definition: by placing the hash key in front of a word or phrase, you turn that particular term into a clickable link. When users click that link, they’ll be taken to a page that displays all posts that also use that hashtag
(the word “hashtag” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014)
The hashtag, or pound, symbol (#) itself had been used in various ways around the web before August of 2007.
At the time Chris Messina, a product designer from Silicon Valley, brought the hashtag to Twitter and was credited as the founder of the hashtag (no biggie).
“He got the idea of using a hashtag from Internet chat rooms that had a pound symbol in front of them,” says Erin Black from CNBC. “He decided to pitch the idea to Twitter, but the company told him it was ‘nerdy’ and that it would never catch on.”
I know right? I bet they’re biting their hands off.
Hashtags are key for discoverability online, especially on Instagram.
So, what do you need to know about Instagram hashtags and how to best leverage them for your own account? Let’s dive into the details.
After the shadowbanning frenzy of 2017, (which was quickly busted in 2018) hashtags are back in business full swing, and with Instagram hiding likes it’s time for you to step up and join the party.
Hashtags drive discoverability
Hashtags are still widely used to populate the explore section as well as Instagram recommendations for you (the ones you can see when you look at someone’s post from your saved collections).
One hashtag in your stories also boosts your visibility and views, so YAY!
Most people do not know that hashtags are still used to categorise posts and show you relevant suggestions, so they are VERY important.
Think about quotes for example, and how most people nowadays “follow” quotes on Instagram.
Following a hashtag is just like following a friend.
To get started, search for a topic you’re interested in or tap on a hashtag from any post — you can also do this from the “explore” tab.
You’ll see relevant hashtags displayed in your search results along with related accounts. When you find a hashtag you like, open the hashtag page and tap on the “follow” button.
You’ll begin seeing top posts from that hashtag in your feed and some of the latest stories in your stories bar.
You can always unfollow a hashtag at any time.
This is a great way to tailor your ‘explore’ functionality a bit more, and allow you to engage with different users and get out there more. We would recommend you to follow only 2/3 hashtags at a time.
Pro tip: follow hashtags that are relevant and quite specific, in order to avoid spammy pictures appearing on your feed. Dedicate some time each week to look at other posts that use the hashtags you frequently rely on, and leave comments or like those images.
Should I use hashtags on Instagram?
Here’s the short answer.
Absolutely, you should use hashtags with your Instagram content.
This is for a few different and compelling reasons:
- It’s easier for other people to find you
- Posts that use hashtags get far more engagement (there’s also a study backing us up on that, we are talking 12.6% more engagement).
- It’s time-effective and easy to action
How can you find hashtags that are impactful, yet pertinent to you? There are two key places to start:
- Companies you love: brands you worked with, or brands you think have very similar content to the one you promote yourself.
- Influential people you love: influencers within your field are another good resource to check out to get an idea of what hashtags are popular.
Even including just one hashtag with your posts can give your engagement a major boost.
While some experts like Alex Tooby recommend using the maximum number of hashtags allowed, because it gives you more opportunities to be discovered, others recommend using just 5–10.
We personally use around 20–30 per post.
Pro tip: save a list of your favourite hashtags in your notes for easy reference. I like to break mine into categories for different post purposes.
For Creative Impact, we format our hashtags as follows: we put our signature hashtags in the caption, and the rest in the first comment, rather than as part of the caption (hashtags within a caption are still searchable).
However, since Instagram’s algorithm starts working right away, you don’t want a huge delay between when your image is posted and when your hashtags are added. So, you’d want to post that comment immediately after your photo went live.
Pro tip: See what your competition is doing, as well as brands and accounts that your target audience is likely following. Getting inspiration from other accounts can be super helpful to gain an understanding of what hashtags are trending.
Should you create your own hashtags?
“We’ve noticed that the more niche the topic, the more conversations users are having around it, so it pays off to really hone in on a topic or theme,” — Benjamin Chacon, Later.com
We recently created a brand new hashtag for our monthly challenge #creativeimpactchallenge
It’s essential to make your hashtag quite recognisable, and new.
Take the unforgettable #IceBucketChallenge. The marketing team for the ALS Association was able to raise awareness with this hashtag campaign, but they also raised a substantial amount of money ($115 million to be exact!).
Make sure nobody else is using it already.
Again, when coming up with your own branded hashtag, research is important to confirm that your hashtag is unique and not associated with inappropriate content.
According to a study by Simply Measured, posts with at least one Instagram hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag.
Instagram hashtags easily amplify your message and help you reach a larger audience — so make sure you pick yours wisely.
You’ll also want to keep the basic best practices in mind — including keeping it short, simple, and free of special characters.
Pro Tip: Relevance is key when it comes to identifying hashtags for your own Instagram strategy. Check to ensure that a particular hashtag doesn’t have too much inappropriate content associated with it.
How to nail your branded Instagram hashtags
Hashtags don’t always have to be short-lived contests or campaigns. In fact, some of the most successful branded hashtags are the ones that apply to any post.
Take the hashtag created by the sneaker company, Allbirds.
Rather than using generic hashtags on every post, they use one very creative and catchy hashtag #weareallbirds.
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This proves that keeping your brand hashtag short, simple, and easy to allows your fans and customers can easily remember it.
You want to be specific and obviously you want to be effective. Take the example of theFeedFeed for example.
They use their branded hashtag for the community to share recipes, and them to feature top recipes on their account.
The more a branded hashtag catches on, the more it will get people to engage with it.
You should always make your hashtag a catchy phrase that rolls of the tongue, or make it something so simple that it’s a no-brainer for people to add to their Instagram photos.
Use familiar words and brand-centric phrases, and don’t be afraid of adding in some creativity!
Another simple example I personally love is from A Color Story — by looking at their branded hashtags (once again used to feature top posts) I also can see some related hashtags, which could help me as a brand with engaging with the right people for my profile.
Use your Instagram hashtags for giveaways and campaigns
Lastly, a great way to use branded hashtags is for competitions and campaigns.
A great example of this comes from Benefit Cosmetics, which turned to Instagram to find images of real people using Benefit’s “They’re Real!” mascara.
Fans submitted more than 11,000 selfies on Instagram using the #realsies hashtag, introducing the Benefit brand to their own followers and giving real examples of how to use the products.
Because Benefit reposts Instagram content from their community, fans of their brand jumped at the chance to include the #realsies hashtag for a chance at being featured.
As you can see, hashtags can truly bring a community together. Wellness brand Lululemon also harnessed the power of hashtags with #thesweatlife.
They engaged their community with a hashtag to inspire and motivate new followers to live a healthy lifestyle.
They also harness the power of ambassadors in a very similar way with a dedicated #lululemonambassador hashtag — which is great to spotlight how real people are using the brand and its products.
Hashtags are the gateway to a successful strategy
“Not only do hashtags help social media users organize and categorize content, but they’re also one of the driving forces behind some of today’s best marketing campaigns” — Maddy Osman on Sprout Social
Over the last six months, we studied far and wide how Instagram has changed in 2020. As well as running your very own Instagram audit, being able to tap into discoverability for your posts is key.
We realised that Instagram is more than follows and likes, is about connections, opportunities and conversions.
This is why we developed a formula devised to help you create a strategy that focuses on growth, engagement and overall success, this formula is called the 4Cs: consistency, content, connections and conversions.
This is what we base our own course on — why? Because it works.
“When used strategically, hashtags can provide you with a ton of benefits,” says Olivia Ryan “They can be used to get your content in front of a bigger audience, raise awareness about your brand, target a very specific group of people, boost your SEO, and use hot trends and topics to your advantage.”
As a marketer, I want people to find my content as I know it can add true value to other people’s lives. Without that, my content truly cannot shine.
“Our jobs as marketers are to understand how the customer wants to buy and help them to do so.” — Bryan Eisenberg
My name is Fab Giovanetti and I am a writer, author, marketing consultant, founder of the Creative Impact Group and professional troublemaker. I help people grow their online audience and monetise their content and unleash their potentials as creatives.