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Complete Guide for How to Use Instagram Hashtags Like a Boss

What Is a Hashtag Anyway?

As a social media marketer (and likely user) you’ve definitely seen the famous pound symbol used in combination of words #LikeThis. Hashtags have become the north star of some of the biggest social media platforms, directing users to topics that they want to learn more about. You’ll often see hashtags within or following the caption of an Instagram post.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram

Each platform uses hashtags differently. Hashtags on Instagram primarily serve as a content discovery tool. It works in two different ways. Perhaps followers that have seen a specific post find a hashtag that interests them and they want to find out more about that topic. By clicking on that hashtag, they would see top posts that have used that exact tag, along with a selection of related keywords at the top of the search bar. This discovery approach is more coincidental.

On the other hand, users can actively conduct an Instagram hashtags search by entering text into the query bar. Sound familiar? If you think about it hashtags are actually no different than search engines! Don’t overcomplicate your hashtag approach- simply think in terms of SEO and you’ll be fine. Since you’re already optimizing content for the web, now you just need to optimize for social.

Let’s say someone is interested in finding luxury hotels. By typing in #luxuryhotels into the bar, they’d be able to explore different posts using said Instagram hashtag.

Therefore, if you happen to be a 5-star hotel, you should be using that hashtag in your posts to increase your odds of being discovered. The key is to write about topics that people are actively searching for. It’s even better if you can motivate guests to start using these unbranded hashtags. By using hashtags, your audiences are exposed through other sources of content, therefore increasing your chances of being found. Guess you could call it HEO? 

Instagram Hashtags + Influencers = Discovery

Also, keep in mind that buying intent will vary depending on the hashtag. For example, people searching for a specific hashtag such as #maxidress or other product tags are potential buyers. With features such as shoppable tags, swipe-up, and clickable ads, it’s clear that Instagram is moving closer to becoming an e-commerce platform. As a result, marketers need to strategically position their content so that it can be easily found - by the right buyers.

Influencers are a great resource when it comes to getting more visibility out of Instagram hashtags. Why? Because their content is authentic and they already have a loyal following. Users are more likely to trust content from an influencer because they feel that they are able to see what a product looks like in real-life- without studio lights and professional photographers. Authenticity goes a long way.

Take a look at the image above. A wide range of purchasable maxi dresses appeared simply by searching for #maxidress in the explore tab. The interesting part is that all of the top posts were influencers wearing this style of dress. None of the posts were from fashion brands advertising their product.

Want to find the right influencer for your audience? We’ve got you covered. Get your free AI-powered influencer recommendations in seconds - you can try for free here. If you already have a special someone in mind, visit our blog How to Build Relationships with Social Media Influencers to kickstart your advocacy marketing the right way.

The Power Instagram Influencers

Leveraging influencers earn your brand visibility and engagement. According to Socialbakers data, influencers bring in far more engagement than companies when using the exact same branded hashtag on Instagram.

In fact, even influencers with a smaller audience relative to brands receive more engagement on a branded hashtag post. Just take a look at the engagement breakdown by influencer audience size below.

How to Find the Right Instagram Hashtags for Your Brand

Many marketers are searching for the most popular Instagram hashtags in hopes of getting more engagement with their posts. If this is also your approach, you’re doing it all wrong. The most popular hashtags are often generic, meaning even if you are found, the audience you draw in may not fit your buyer persona. We’ve put together a list of the most commonly used Instagram hashtags brands use to demonstrate this.

Though #fashion comes out on top, the competition is fierce because it’s so commonly used. With hundreds of millions of posts featuring this Instagram hashtag, brands only represent a tiny percentage. While the largest brands on Instagram use this hashtag the most, not one brand surfaces to the top when searching #fashion.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use generic hashtags. Just make sure that you’re using them in combination with hashtags that are more niche. Instagram allows you to include up to 30 hashtags in your description text, so take advantage of that and spice it up a bit.

7 Tips for How to Hashtag on Instagram

  1. Think of Instagram hashtags as keywords. Choose ones that are specific to your brand and content. Make sure overly generic keywords are used alongside with specific keywords to increase your odds of being discovered. Think SEO!

  2. Get inspired by trending hashtags in your industry. Explore influencers and competitor profiles to keep up with trends. 

  3. Make sure your post is #relevant to the Instagram hashtag you are using. 

  4. Keep it classy. It’s easy to exaggerate once you start adding hashtags to your post. Including too many hashtags can look spammy and turn potential customers off. 

  5. To keep your description text clean and spam-free, leave a comment underneath followed by a series of vertical periods. Type your hashtags at the end of the trail to hide your hashtags within this comment. This way you’ll get the same visibility without the walk of hashtag shame. 

  6. Know what’s trending and when to jump on board. Don’t crowbar yourself into a conversation that isn’t relevant to your brand. Instead keep your ear close to the ground and mindfully decide which hashtag you want your content to be associated with. 

  7. Not sure how many hashtags to use on Instagram? You’re not alone. There’s no magic hashtag number, meaning to find what works, you need to constantly test your posts. 

Take a look at one of our Instagram posts promoting our blog. We use a hashtag within the paragraph to accentuate the main topic- which in this case is #socialmediaoptimization. At the end of the text, we use supporting hashtags that are still relevant to our blog and business such as #socialmediatip, #socialmediastrategy etc. You’ll notice that #fashion is nowhere to be found. ;)

Types of Instagram Hashtags

Community Hashtags

Community Hashtags are rather generic but are the most commonly used on Instagram. These are ones you probably run into a lot such as #Instagood or #picoftheday. If you are posting content that falls in line with one of these widely used Instagram hashtags, it doesn’t hurt to include it in your post. If your post pops up while people are browsing on Instagram you will get tons of exposure because the audience using and following these tags is so large. However, don’t get too excited. Keep in mind that you’re competing with hundreds of millions of other posts out there, so using a community hashtag alone isn’t going to result in #instamagic.

Trending Instagram Hashtags

Trending Instagram hashtags are a great resource because they are very popular (for a very short time). The key to getting in on the conversation here is to only use trending Instagram hashtags that are relevant to your brand and industry.

Cosmetics brand Lush is at the forefront of raising awareness about environmental preservation. Their Instagram page not only shows colorful bath bombs and facial masks, but also includes educational posts about nature, pollution, and endangered species. As a result, they jump on hashtags that align with their brand’s mission - and it works!

In this example, you can see that they leveraged the hashtag #WorldOceanDay to raise awareness of a new documentary about the extinction of sharks in Colombia. While this hashtag won’t work for everyone, it’s a perfect fit for Lush.

Branded Instagram Hashtags

So far, we’ve covered how to use general Instagram hashtags. The game changes a bit when you start to dive into branded hashtags. The difference here is that branded hashtags are tied directly to your brand - rather than by general topic. You can have more than one brand hashtag serving different objectives.

When Best to Use a Branded Instagram Hashtag:

  • Social media campaigns

  • Contests 

  • Events 

  • Employer branding 

  • Product launch

Inspiring Instagram Hashtags Examples

Employer Branding Hashtag

An example of this is #Insidebakers, one of our branded hashtags that gives our audience insight into what’s happening at HQ. This hashtag specifically promotes our brand and helps paint a picture of what it’s like to work here. Obviously, a buffet pancake bar is a great way to attract talent.

But we can’t ignore the even greater purpose that this Instagram hashtag serves, which is user-generated content. While we use this hashtag in our own Instagram posts, what’s amazing is not what we post - but what other people choose to share. #insidebakers has become a commonly used hashtag amongst Socialbakers employees which helps spread the word about what it’s like to be apart of our team in a natural and authentic way. Hashtags don’t only apply to marketing. You may want to share this piece with your HR team, as social media teams can’t be everywhere at once.

Encouraging User Generated Content Through Instagram Hashtags

Airbnb, a hospitality share site, is a master of social media campaigns and Instagram hashtags. In 2016, Airbnb expanded their service, offering not just accommodation, but experiences which include everything from tours to meet-ups with the locals. What better way to gain exposure for their fairly new offerings than creating a hashtag for their unique and immersive travel experiences.

#AirbnbExperiences is used to connect Airbnb guests with activities and people in a city. By creating this Instagram hashtag, Airbnb smartly raises awareness of this ability. Giving rise to the hashtag also encourages their community to create content that can easily be found just by entering the hashtag in the search bar.

Seeing that Airbnb’s content strategy is primarily based on user-generated content, they can search through Instagram using their branded hashtag to find users that are getting their experiences on. And the best part? They can ask their customers for permission to repurpose the content on their own channels.

Tip: Did you know you can also stumble upon influencers by seeing who’s using your hashtag? That’s right! Be sure to keep an eye out for who is decorating their posts with your hashtag - you may be surprised at what you’ll find. Try out our influencer hashtag search feature if you’re ready to see if you have any secret admirers out there.

Hashtagging to Support Global Campaigns

Adidas’s #HeretoCreate is a great example of incorporating an Instagram hashtag to support a global integrated marketing campaign. The athletic shoe brand came up with a unique campaign that utilized outdoor advertising, television, and, of course, social media. The theme of the campaign was to highlight progressive creators.

By teaming up with the biggest names in the sports culture world, Adidas was able to amplify the reach of their hashtag and, ultimately, their campaign.

If you’re launching a campaign, don’t forget to create a short and easy-to-remember hashtag to help the concept catch on with your audiences. Use audience research to fuel your hashtag contenders to make sure it revolves around something they care enough about to share with their community. It’s not enough to dream up a hashtag - you also need to make sure the concept and imagery itself have a theme that can help distinguish campaign content from your regular content.

Sparking Content Creation with Instagram Hashtag Contests

Contests on social media are a great way to amp up engagement. Creating a hashtag for your contest while encouraging your audience to participate helps you reach new audiences. Once your community starts sharing posts with your hashtag, their followers are likely to investigate, ultimately learning more about your brand and event.

As an added bonus, your brand will be able to easily track participation. Simply use a social media listening tool to keep tabs on conversations happening around the hashtag or use the Instagram search bar.

Diet Coke cooperated with Taylor Swift on Instagram by hosting a contest to give away free concert tickets. They asked their fans to post selfies with a Diet Coke and something that they love followed by the hashtag #ShareATaste. Asking their audience to post pictures with their product was a great way to spread brand awareness. The description text in this post also checks all boxes, even providing fans with a link to full contest details.

Don’t Forget to Check-In

Hashtags are useful because they help audiences discover your content. Instagram check-ins are no different! While check-ins aren’t hashtags perse, they serve the same purpose. Simply by tagging where a photo was taken in your post, you can increase your chances of being found by people that are searching for content in that location. The name of the location will appear under your profile picture and above your description text in the post.

Camera brand GoPro are masters of hashtags and check-ins. They make sure to optimize their content through the use of tagging. As a result, if any explorers are searching by location and come across a beautiful picture - they will know exactly which camera brand was responsible.

The #Takeaway

There are many different ways you can utilize Instagram hashtags depending on your goals. If you want to join in on the conversation be sure to jump on trending hashtags that are relevant to your brand and community. If you’re looking to increase engagement, don’t shy away from creating your own hashtag. Once you’ve learned the theory behind how to use hashtags on Instagram, you can start putting them into practice to get even more out of your content.

Now that you’ve mastered Instagram hashtags you’re ready for the next step! Head to our next blog to learn how to use hashtags on Twitter.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on socialbakers.com. Any statistics or statements included in this article were current at the time of original publication.

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