How to Use Hashtags on Instagram

By Max. D Gray. Updated: May 7, 2018
How to Use Hashtags on Instagram

Hashtags are a powerful tool in creating more reach on social media. While the use of hashtags may have initially risen on Twitter, it is equally useful in connecting users on Instagram. Hashtags are a type of communication between users outside of your follower network (i.e. those you follow and those who follow you). If you use hashtags on a post, you may receive likes from people with whom you would otherwise have no connection.

By bringing attention to your post with hashtags, other users are more likely to follow you or comment on your images and videos. This boosts your popularity and can even start you on your way to being an influencer. Hashtags also allow you to follow trending topics and provide your own input into a wider discussion. To know the ins and outs of how hashtags can benefit your social media presence, oneHOWTO explains how to best use hashtags on Instagram.

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How do hashtags work?

Hashtags are a type of descriptive metadata which means they provide context for the information present in your post. As Instagram is essentially a giant database of images, the way it can be searched depends on the information provided. If you post a picture without any description, tagged persons or hashtags, then it will essentially be cast adrift into the database with little way to find it (unless you know specifically what you are looking for).

Hashtags are one way to connect your images with other related images. They also allow the image to be linked to trends and searches. Instagram's complicated algorithms are always storing metadata on your account activity. If you look at, like or share images with certain keywords related to it, you are more likely to see these types of images in the explore section of Instagram. This is the part which is open up to all types of posts, not just those you already follow. For example, if you follow a lot of people with tattoos and the hashtag #tattoos is present on their posts, it is more likely these images will appear in explore.

If you want other people to see your images, then you can do the same. By adding hashtags to your posts, you will be creating more opportunities for other people to find your images in explore. This is done by thinking of keywords related to your post and then adding them to the image description with the pound sign (or hash sign) in front of them. You don't put spaces between words if you are using a phrase for your hashtag. For example ‘#sunnyday’ not ‘#sunny day’.

Hashtags should be relevant to the post you are creating. Hashtags don't work the same on all social media platforms. For example, on Twitter hashtags are related to a general discussion whereas those on Instagram are more related to the content of the image. Choosing these keywords or hashtags involves being creative, but also relevant.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram - How do hashtags work?

Do popular hashtags make your post popular?

If we are to create hashtags for our post, we need to find the balance between relevant and creative. Popular hashtags will mean you will be linked to trending topics. For example, if Miley Cyrus has just done something newsworthy, adding the hashtag #MileyCyrus might link you to this ongoing multilogue Instagram conversation. However, if you share a picture with this hashtag, but it has no relevance to Miley Cyrus, then Instagram isn't likely going to reward you by pushing it up the feed.

There is another downfall with popular hashtags. If a hashtag is popular, then adding it to your post will mean you are competing against all the other posts with this hashtag. If you don't have many followers, the likelihood of being seen by a lot of people is slim. A picture of your friend and their partner might be given the hashtag #love. However, this is going to be a very competitive hashtag. Perhaps a similar hashtag #lovethesetwo will give you slightly more reach (although even the latter example is very popular and hard to place).

This is where the creativity comes in. You can create hashtags which are fun, but also relevant to the picture. If you are a brand, then you don't need to put your brand name as a hashtag. Your username will already make this searchable. Instead, you should use a hashtag relevant to your brand, but which creates something new. You may be a cocktail drink company, but instead of using your brand name you could add something like #masterofmixes.

How to search hashtags on Instagram

There are two main ways to search hashtags on Instagram. When a hashtag is published on a post it will appear in blue. This means it is a link which can be clicked. When you click it, it will bring you to every other post with this hashtag. If you have created an obscure hashtag, then there will be little other posts. If you have chosen a popular one, you can see just how popular by the number of posts it generates.

The other way to search a hashtag is to simply type the words in the search bar of the explore section of Instagram (in both the browser and app versions). This search bar will search for both hashtags and users concurrently. However, if it is just the hashtag you're looking for, then put the pound sign before the text.

Hashtags on Instagram may be included in both the general text you write to accompany the image and in the comments. There is a small distinction, though: the hashtags you add in the comments of your own photos will bring up the image in searches for that hashtag. However, if you add hashtags in the comments on other users' photos, it will not have the same effect.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram - How to search hashtags on Instagram

How to choose your hashtags

As we have said, you need to choose hashtags which are both creative and relevant. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. When you look at your post, try to think of all the keywords relevant to it. Take a look and see which keywords are popular and discard the unpopular ones. You can create a list of different popular hashtags, but this is not likely to get you much traction.

Instead, you can take a look at these hashtags and see which ones you can combine. Similarly you can look for a way to combine it with another word. This can create a hashtag which is not quite as popular, but is still searched for and relevant to your post. For example, if you have a picture of a recipe you made, adding the hashtag #foodporn will mean you will struggle to compete with all the other posts using this hashtag. However, if you have used a slow-cooker to prepare the meal, you might want to use #crockpot in the description. However, #crockpot is still very popular. Instead, you might want to use #crockpotmeals. This hashtag is relevant, but not so popular that you can't compete for visibility.

You shouldn't use too long a hashtag or something too obscure. If you do, it means you won't be adding anything which people will search for.

How many hashtags do you use?

How many hashtags you use per post is a question asked by many marketers and individuals alike. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to know the answer. Like all social media platforms, the exact details of the algorithms are not widely known. This is because if everyone knew exactly how they worked, there would be no real competition. Plus, these algorithms are relatively fluid and subject to constant updates. What may have worked well before, may not work well now.

In terms of hashtags on Instagram, you need to find a balance. If you put a lot of hashtags on all of your posts, you are going to be seen as spamming instead of linking. This is especially the case if you use the same hashtags repeatedly. If you look at the big hitters on Instagram, like Kim Kardashian, they will have no need to put hashtags on their posts. They are popular enough to place well without them. If you start to get some traction in terms of followers and posts, you will want to reduce the amount of hashtags you use. Also, you don't have to use them for every post. You can see which posts work better than others and which ones do and don't use different hashtags.

If you have a picture with a lot going on in it, you can use more hashtags. If it is a straight forward picture which needs little explanation, then you may want to use only one. If a picture speaks a thousand words, you don't always need to add more to get your point across.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram - How many hashtags do you use?

How to follow hashtags

While you have always been able to follow individual accounts on Instagram, up until recently it was harder to keep up to date with trends. Now the Instagram app affords you the ability to select the hashtags you are most interested in. This means posts from people you don't follow will appear when you scroll down your feed if they have shared a hashtag you follow.

This is such a recent development it still remains to be seen how successful it will be. However, what might help its success with Instagram users is the ability to downvote the images from hashtags you have grown bored of (or if there are hashtags which have a double meaning). You do this by clicking on the dots at the top right of the image in the feed. This will take you to a menu with the option to select ‘Don't Show for This Hashtag’. This will provide the algorithm with the information that you want to see less of these. If you want to unfollow the hashtag completely just search it again, tap the ‘following’ button to toggle it off and you will no longer have these images in your feed.

If you forget the hashtags you follow, you just have to tap on the ‘Followers’ on your homepage. This will take you to both the accounts you follow on the left and the hashtags you follow on the right. This option is only available in app and cannot be done in the browser version.

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