What is a Hashtag and how do they work?

Basically, any word or phrase can be turned into a working hashtag simply by placing the number sign or # in front of it.  Why is this important?  Because the phrase becomes clickable and when a user clicks on a hashtag they are directed to it’s feed which shows all the public content attached to it.  People use this to then find content they are interested in on Instagram.  Using the right hashtags puts you in front of your target audience, even if they haven’t connected with you before.

Types of Hashtags: There are many different types of hashtags and each have a particular purpose.  To maximize your reach and increase engagement, use a combination and make them an important part of your strategy. Branded Hashtags: These are specific to you and your brand and should be listed on your profile bio.  Use them to build brand awareness and encourage others to use them when sharing their own content.
Location based hashtags: Do you have a product or service that appeals to your local audience?  Use your location hashtag to your advantage.  It’s a great way to let your local community know you’re there.  

Entertainment Hashtags: While these won’t necessarily grow your audience they will expand on the audience that you already have.  Quite often these phrases are situational to the specific post, for example, #funinthesun on a sunny day activity post.

Mass appeal Hashtags: These are general hashtags that can be used for any post.  Typically they won’t do much to grow your account as they are very competitive., over a million followers.  Occasionally you may get a bump in reach but in the long run it’s not where you go to get followers. Trending Hashtags: When used correctly trending hashtags can give meaningful returns in terms of reach and interest.  Quite often they are just really popular hashtags that people are using at the time and have surged in popularity, usually having to do with current events.
Timely Hashtags: These are often specific  to a holiday or a day of the week.  Users love timely content and are likely to seek out more of the same.  #motivationmonday or #tbt are examples. Niche hashtags: Use niche specific hashtags to connect with your relevant audience.  For example, people interested in healthy eating will search for phrases like #organic or #greendrinks 
Special Event Hashtags: Are you hosting a contest?  Having a sale?  Hashtags like #flashsale or #contestalert can help you find bargain hunters and let your followers know you’ve got a deal happening.  

So which hashtags should you use? 

Growing your Instagram account takes work and requires a significant amount of research.  This is where the real work happens and it’ll take some time.  There are a few different strategies you can use depending on your goals.  Starting out you’ll use hashtags that are not very competitive to give you some traction and as your account grows you will start to move towards the more competitive ones.  Here are some ways to find hashtags that you can use.



This is a great platform to find trending hashtags or topics but remember that Twitter hashtags are more focused on news so it’s wise not to blindly copy them.

Your competition

Looks for trends in what your competitors hashtags are.   Who are their followers, what hashtags do they use regularly and check them out.  It might give you some ideas.


What are your influencers doing?  They already have an audience that actively engages with them for inspiration or expertise.  Don’t be afraid to use a few that you like.

Research tools

You’ll definitely want to use a tool for this job.  It’s time consuming and frustrating.  Use a tool that will give you specific feedback about certain hashtags.  At a minimum it should provide the following:

o   What’s the hashtag reach

o   How many users added it

o   What’s the number of impressions received

o   How many unique posts

o   Overall popularity

There are quite a few good ones available and many offer a free trial so again do your research and choose the one best suited to your need.

How many hashtags should I use?

The maximum number Instagram allows is 30.  Should you use 30?  Initially when starting out, yes you should use them all.  It’s important to switch them up regularly.  Using the same ones over and over will get you shadowbanned and limit your account growth.  At a minimum use 2, ideally between 6 and 15 and the max is 30.  Test a few options of your account, see what works best.

Should I hide my hashtags?

Hashtags are great but they are ugly.  No-one wants to read through 30 of them, some even struggle at 5.  Let’s face it, big blocks of hard-to-read text looks unappealing.  Because of this you’ll notice many brands hide the bulk of their hashtags by strategically phasing them below the “see more” tag.  Some even add the hashtags in a separate comment.  There are marketers that believe that placing them in a comment can reduce the effectiveness, others don’t.

The best option is to keep the focus on your caption and make sure your hashtags are separated by at least 1 line.  The exception to this would be when the hashtag itself is relevant to the caption, then by all means include it at the top.

Banned Hashtags

Believe it or not Instagram “bans” hashtags that they detect are often used alongside illicit content.  Instagram won’t post new content to a banned hashtag’s feed and may even remove the feed completely.  Hashtags can be banned permanently or temporarily and when you use them your posts could be shadow-banned.  This means that they likely won’t show up in your followers feeds, also other hashtags in your post may not appear when searched.

Try not to used banned hashtags as it can undo all the work you have done on a single post.

Measuring hashtag impact

So how do you know which hashtags are working and which are not?  And if you’re using 30 on every post it can become difficult to track.  Here are some ideas you can use:

  1. Use Instagram Analytics to look at your overall growth. Have impressions, reach and likes gone up for your profile and posts?  How many accounts have you reached through the Discovery channel?  If you don’t see month to month increases it’s time to adapt and update your strategy.
  2. Use hashtag research tools to monitor the ones you’re using regularly. You’ll want to see increasing popularity over time.
  3. 3rd party tools can provide data about your hashtag usage, showing which ones yielded the best engagement as well as how often you used them.


Instagram is an important marketing channel and requires a strategy to be successful.  To extend your reach and keep your audience engaged you need your own list of high performing hashtags.  This article is by no means a comprehensive guide, it’s a start, something to think about.  Measure your results often and switch them up regularly.

Have fun.