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How to Create Your Instagram Hashtag Strategy

by Kavya Sebastian

If there’s one thing any social media savvy person knows, it’s how to use #hashtags. For a while there, we were so obsessed with them that people actually said “hashtag” before words when speaking. Like, “hashtag cringe”. 

And while we’re a lot cooler than that now, the importance of hashtags on social media has not changed. If anything, it has become a larger part of social media strategy for small businesses, influencers, and even personal accounts.

From TikTok and Instagram to Twitter and LinkedIn, using relevant, targeted hashtags on your posts and stories is one of the best ways to get discovered by new audiences. New eyes means more engagement, more followers, and more customers for your business. In fact, according to Later, an Instagram post with at least one hashtag averages approximately 12.6% more engagement than a post without hashtags. 

However, Instagram has gone through many changes since its inception in 2010. It is constantly releasing new programs and testing new features; it’s downright overwhelming. With these updates come changes in social media best practices, and when it comes to hashtag strategy, it’s no different. 

What are the recent changes to Instagram hashtags?

Should you add hashtags at the bottom of your caption or as the first comment? Do you need 30 hashtags every time or should you aim for something in the middle? Can you copy-paste the same hashtags on every post or will you seem like a bot if you do that? 

These are common questions around Instagram hashtag strategy and the worst part is the answers to these questions have changed more than once in just the past couple of years. In 2021, it’s even changed more than once in a matter of months! 

For instance, earlier this year many users saw more success with their hashtag strategy when adding it to the comments. This was also seen as more accessible since it would prevent a slew of words being read aloud for users with screen readers. 

However, in a recent post by Instagram breaking down how their search feature works they claimed that it is a good idea to: “Use relevant keywords and hashtags in captions. For a post to be found in Search, put keywords and hashtags in the caption, not the comments.”

Moreover, in the same way world events impact Google’s top searches, trends on social media or real-life circumstances can impact which hashtags are best suited for your business and your audience. 

For example, in recent years, the term “girlboss” has become increasingly outdated. Many refuse to use the word or have negative connotations associated with it. So while a couple of years ago #girlboss would have been great for that post about women empowerment, that may not be the case now. 

And it doesn’t end there. 

In its latest 2021 updates, Instagram has been rolling out new policies and practices to help keep the app a safe space. Privacy settings, shadowbanning, you name it. They’re leaving no stone unturned. 

Since the 2020 U.S. elections, Instagram has been banning a number of hashtags. It started as a move to help stop the spread of false information or inflammatory content and has now become a controversial, frustrating obstacle for content creators and small businesses.

Hashtags as generic and seemingly harmless as #snapchat or even #valentinesday are hidden, restricted, or banned completely from the app. And it’s negatively impacting creators.

Let’s say you unknowingly use a banned hashtag in your post.  

If you use those hashtags in a caption for a post, Instagram will not only restrict that post from being shown to your followers and other app users, but it may also internally flag your account for its content. In combination with its newer features, like Sensitive Content Controls, one wrong hashtag could make it a lot harder than it already is to gain traction online. 

How can you tell which hashtags are banned?

There are a few ways to identify banned Instagram hashtags. The first thing to know is what a non-banned or active hashtag looks like. 

When you search a safe, active hashtag in the app, the top of the search results will look like this:

If you see a warning, it is easy to identify that the hashtag is hidden or banned. However, more stealthy is when you see no warning. Hashtag results that do not let you “follow” the hashtag or show you the volume of posts under it are a red flag.

We recommend doing manual hashtag research regularly (about once every other month or more frequently) to ensure that the hashtags you use are not being banned without your knowledge. 

How do you create a hashtag strategy?

This is the obvious next question isn’t it? As with any of your marketing efforts, you want to be intentional about which hashtags you use and why. 

The goal of a good hashtag strategy is to gain exposure from high-quality users to create and grow an engaged audience for your brand. To implement, you have to build and use a set of hashtags between 20-25 that you rotate throughout your posts. The remaining 5-10 hashtags you add depending on what the post is about. 

We recommend that you conduct regular, manual research on hashtags that are best suited for your niche and use the research to build out your custom hashtag sets. 

When doing this research, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind: What kind of users are you targeting? What types of hashtags might you need to include regularly? What variations of hashtags are popular? 

Here are a set of best practices you should follow to get the most out of your hashtag strategy:

Hashtag Strategy Best Practices

  • As a rule of thumb, use hashtags that have 300K posts or less. This will ensure your posts get the recognition they deserve. Adding in a couple of high-post hashtags can also be helpful, but make sure not to rely on them for exposure. Depending on your follower count, you might want to go lower or higher than 300K. Try out different relevant hashtags across your posts and see what works for your audience and account. 
    • To see how many posts a hashtag has, either search a hashtag with the ‘#’ into the desktop version of Instagram or search hashtags under the Tags tab on mobile. 
  • Check what hashtags competitors and relevant accounts are using. For example, in the restaurant industry, this might mean a competing restaurant niche or another local food service place. This will help you get an idea of what types of hashtags you should be using.
  • Being as specific as possible with hashtags also narrows the pool of targeted consumers, which makes it easier to build a highly engaged audience.
  • Try not to use the same exact set of 30 hashtags for each post. Instagram’s algorithm may see this as automated behavior and limit the amount of exposure your post gets. Instead, mix it up. Try out different sets of hashtags and rotate between a few, adding more specific hashtags for each post. 

When we work with our social media clients, we take all of this off their plate by conducting this custom research for your brand. In fact, it’s one of the first steps we take to make sure that you are set up for success!

How do you measure success with a hashtag strategy?

As we mentioned before, Instagram can’t always make up its mind about how hashtags should work. In early 2021, they recommended using only 15 hashtags instead of the full 30, before switching it up again. 

To measure your success with your custom hashtag sets amidst all these changes, we recommend tracking your Post Insights regularly. When you are looking at your monthly analytics, go through all your individual posts and view their Post Insights. 

This will show you what percentage of your activity was from followers and non-followers as well as other more granular insights such as how many people discovered your post through hashtags. 

Ideally, you want to see “From Hashtags” as the first or second source. If it is lower, it’s a sign that you may need to mix up your sets or conduct more research. 

Summary

Overall, hashtags are not going anywhere anytime soon and it’s time to more deeply understand how they can be leveraged in your social media strategy. Gaining new followers and increasing visibility online is exactly what you need to help your brand thrive on Instagram. 

And there’s no shame in feeling overwhelmed by all this! That’s why professionals like us at Champ Internet spend our time keeping up with trends, changes, and best practices – so you can leave it all to us. Get started on a social media project with our team today

 

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