When it comes to hashtags, there’s no definitive guide from the powers that be at Instagram, but with a little (okay a lot) of trial and error, you can find out what works for you or your brand. We know Instagram wants the content to feel less planned, so your use of hashtags needs to feel organic, not just copied pasted in the same order from all your other posts. Relevance, order, size and more can affect how effectively you’re using hashtags. Here are a few tips to get you started:

How many?
There’s a division amongst users about how many hashtags to use. Some promote using all thirty as it’s thirty chances to be seen. Some worry this increases the chance of activity looking spam-like (both to the audience and to Instagram) and reach being penalised as a result. Using up to 15 highly relevant hashtags in your caption seems to work effectively at the moment for many of our clients, with any additional hashtags (up to 15 more) posted in the comments. But the important word here is relevant. There’s little point adding popular vegan hashtags to your post about beef burgers, or interiors hashtags to your fashion post. Will the people searching that hashtag want to see your content? If the answer isn’t yes, get rid of it for a more useful option.

How big?
In terms of sizes, look at using hashtags across a range, of sizes from 1k to 1million. Monitoring the use of the hashtags and getting rid of or minimising use of ones when they get too big will help you get seen. If a hashtag has millions of images already posted on it, with many more being added every day, your chance of getting discovered there is tiny. Plus your image won’t be around for long before a hundred more images push it out of the recently posted section. Lots of brands and content creators have made their own hashtags and started up communities relevant to their niche, and finding these can be a really useful tool for your brand. Find ones that share your brand values and interests, then become active within them. It’s a great way to build up return engagement and grow your audience within the right demographic.

What hashtags?
Lots of people post on generic hashtags but never actually look at them. The best way to pick new hashtags to post is to think about how they are used by Instagram users. There are three core ways people use hashtags:

Like Pinterest – as a visual search engine. Think of this from a short-tail SEO perspective. People are looking for ideas, aesthetics and inspiration. For a food and drink brand like our client Silver Bay Point, this might be things like #girlsnightin #cheapdatenight #nightinideas

Like Trip Advisor – what to do in which city, where to go to take the best photos. For travel brands. like our client Inspirit, this might be things like #GoSeePeru #PostcardPlaces #TakeMeBackpacking, as well as geotagged cities.

Like Twitter Chats – to create communities that people can belong to. This ties back into the idea of hashtag communities. For a food and drink brand like our client Very Lazy, this could be cooking communities within the target audiences, maybe busy parents or students looking for simple recipes like #cantcookbook.

People start new hashtags every day so there are plenty of relevant ones to choose from, and if you’re really struggling within your niche, create your own. Depending on how engaged your audience is, they might not pick it up right away, but persevere, support it with a campaign and reward your loyal fans with return interactions or even gifted products. If you’re struggling to find more to use, Instagram will do half the work for you, by giving you a list of suggested hashtags with similar content on. All you need to do is scroll through and find the ones that work for you.

Using lists
It’s helpful to have a list of hashtags for various topics. It’s not just about having one generic list, it’s about having lots to choose from, to mix and match with. For a food brand, look at the content you’re sharing. One list could be generic foodie themed, one could be recipe based, one could be stockist and product based. The list goes on! It’s important to mix up the hashtags used in every post, so combining relevant hashtags from various lists is the most effective way to do this efficiently, as you tend to get a somewhat unique mix – mixing up the order is also important. If we post the same hashtags in the same order on every post, Instagram doesn’t see that as organic use of the platform and starts to question the activity.

The key takeaways here are: be relevant, mix it up and get social on the hashtags you use. Happy hashtagging!