Hashtag 101: How to Use Hashtags Effectively

Hashtags can be an effective way to amplify your brand but are often misused and abused to the point that they can become utterly useless - and sometimes even hurt your brand.

There are rules you should follow (and even etiquette to be respectful of) when using hashtags on your posts or in your stories to ensure that you’re optimizing your content, you are discoverable, and you’re not spamming other users.

We break down everything you need to know about using hashtags effectively.

Why are hashtags important?

Hashtags are a tool that makes your content discoverable and allows the platform to categorize posts.

With the right hashtags, your posts can be seen more often on the feed of your followers or potential followers, simply based on what that user interacts with the most. This is how Instagram’s algorithm knows what content to show to people, instead of bombarding them with the millions of posts that flood the platform every day. But that doesn’t mean you should jump on every single hashtag.

What types of hashtags should my company be using?

Hashtags are definitely encouraged for companies of all types to increase visibility on social media platforms.

Here’s a look at the many different types:

  • Product/service hashtags are useful to companies who sell anything, as long as the hashtag is relevant to the product or service you offer. It can lead to more discoverability and potential customers when they find your posts.

  • Industry niche hashtags should be specific to your company and industry, and not too broad. For example, "#Marketing" is a broad term and there could be millions of posts attached to it. Your brand will be competing with everyone else using that hashtag. But "#DigitalMarketing" is a little more specific and can provide more visitability. The more specific, the better chance you have of reaching your target audience.

  • Campaign hashtags are similar to branded hashtags but relate to a specific campaign you’re hosting. This is another way to encourage your followers to use the hashtag, especially if this campaign involves promotions that your followers will want to be part of. Incentivize them to use it by offering a giveaway or discount. (Example: “to enter our giveaway please share this post and use our campaign hashtag.”)

  • User-generated content hashtags are for your customers to use when they post photos of your products or brand. This is a great way to encourage your followers to share what they love about your company. It also helps you to see what others are posting about your brand. You can also incentivize them to use these hashtags, by offering a giveaway or discount.

  • Event hashtags get your followers involved in an active event you’re hosting or participating in. For example, if your company was attending a convention, you could ask your followers to share their posts regarding your brand’s participation at the event using a special hashtag to garner more awareness for people who are likely going to be searching for that event online.

  • Location hashtags are ideal for local businesses, especially with brick-and-mortar stores that are trying to attract more locals into their business.

  • Phrase hashtags can relate to your business and be a common phrase like "#GoodHairDay" or "#HairstylistLife" if you’re a salon owner because it clues people into what your business is about.

  • Daily hashtags have themes that correlate to certain days of the week like "#WineWednesday" or "#FlashbackFriday". You can incorporate these into your business with hashtags like "#WorkWednesday" and can showcase some behind-the-scenes content, your commute to work, or maybe a work luncheon. If you’re looking to post something inspirational related to your business "#ThursdayThoughts" is a great hashtag for that and could be used weekly as well.

  • Acronym hashtags are phrases that became condensed to free up character space, so they’re great to use on platforms like Twitter and TikTok. For example "#FTW" (for the win) or, "#WCM"or "#MCM" (Woman Crush Wednesday or Man Crush Monday) are fun to add to relevant posts. For businesses and brands on social media, some suggestions are "#UGC" (user-generated content), "#TGIF" (Thank God its’ Friday), "#TBT" (Throwback Thursday), "#WFH" (Work from home), "#FBF" (Flashback Friday), "#BTS" (Behind-the-scenes), and "#FOMO" (Fear of Missing Out) which can be useful in a marketing campaign. (Tip: Here's a list of 130 Instagram acronyms you should know!)

  • Holiday Hashtags are perfect for everyone. Businesses, brands, and influencers can all use them to bring more attention to their posts. Just make sure the hashtag you use is relevant to the content you are posting. To add some more relevance to your holiday hashtags, try using the year, as in "#Halloween2021" or "#Christmas2021". They will have fewer posts attached to them than just "#Halloween" or "#Christmas" which can work in your favor. Using tags like "#EasterLunch" or "#EasterEggs" rather than simply "#Easter" will be more interesting, too. Be sure to keep these aligned with your business and brand.

  • Branded hashtags are your own personal hashtags for your company that will encourage your followers to use and share your posts. The bigger the company grows, the more the hashtag can be used, and the more reach you will see with it. Create a short and concise hashtag that is easy to type and read so fans will recognize it quickly. Sometimes it is best to use the company name so that irrelevant posts are less likely to be attached to it. But a company like Apple would need "#AppleComputer" or "#ApplePhone" to break up their products into categories. This is something you might consider. Be sure to use them in your stories or on your website where you may invite visitors to tag you in their posts.

Here's an example of a larger brand using a branded hashtag:

Fenty Beauty is a big-name makeup brand that has a branded hashtag "#fentybeauty" with more than 5.1 million posts attached to it. This hashtag is used by professional models and makeup artists with large audiences. The hashtag is also used by smaller creators and influencers with less than 2K followers. Either way, it serves as a great boost to Fenty Beauty to be recognized in the makeup industry all across the platform, spreading awareness of their brand worldwide.

Here's an example of a smaller company using a branded hashtag:

If you look at a smaller company like Pat McGrath, you’ll see the associated hashtag "#patmcgrathreal" has 375K posts attached when you search, which is impressive for a smaller brand. Because they are consistently using this branded hashtag and encouraging their audience, there is a great mix of professional makeup artists and regular fans who buy the makeup.

How many hashtags should I use in a post?

The maximum number of hashtags Instagram allows is 30, but that doesn’t mean all 30 are going to work for you or that you should even use that many. You can use more or less, but somewhere in that halfway point is the sweet spot for boosting visibility and reachability on your posts without seeming spammy or obnoxious.

On Facebook, it’s recommended to use no more than five hashtags. On Twitter (because of the limited character count) try to keep it at two. On Instagram stories, you can use several but many accounts have found that more than two hashtags don’t add any value.

Should I use the same hashtags on every post?

Even if your content is all pretty similar, using the same hashtags every single time will start to look spammy and push you further down in the ranks. While it's good to have a niche of hashtags to use, try to break it up a little and throw some variety in there.

Having at least three separate lists of go-to hashtags on hand will help you remember them and also keep your links ever-changing so you’re not clogging up the same hashtag every time. It also will prevent your posts from getting flagged if Instagram feels your content isn’t relevant to the tag. For example, if you’re a seamstress and you’re using "#Dresses" in your post but the image shows a blouse, you may get flagged for that.

Flagged hashtags are when a hashtag is temporarily or permanently banned on Instagram. For example, if you were to search "#Boho" you would see posts come up, but couldn’t toggle between "Top" or "Recent" posts like you should be able to when searching for a hashtag. You also can’t follow a hashtag that’s been flagged. When a hashtag is permanently banned, you can’t search for it at all. Many of those tags usually include profanity, words associated with spam, crime, bullying, or harassment. Other reasons a tag may be flagged are due to the oversaturation of the tag or irrelevant use of the tag and the algorithm “flagging” it as spam.

How do I tell if a hashtag is shadowbanned?

Avoid using hashtags that are shadow-banned because these hashtags won’t help you in gaining any engagement or reach and can even hurt your chances more.

While there isn’t an official list (because the list of banned hashtags is always changing) here's a list of the most often banned hashtags.

Should I use trending hashtags on my posts or stories?

Hashtags that are trending can often be a great way to get a little more engagement, but that’s not always the case.

Trending hashtags will have tons of posts attached to them, and when a hashtag has millions of posts linked to it, it’s harder to get seen because your content is getting drowned out by the others. This is why it’s also recommended to use a variety of hashtags, with a variety of posts attached to them, and to aim for the middle-low range so that you stand out more.

Another reason a trending hashtag might not be useful to your brand is if its’ totally irrelevant to your content. Don’t simply jump on the hashtag bandwagon just because you think it might work for you. If your content is irrelevant, Instagram will notice and shadowban that post. It also looks spammy and annoying to your followers and anyone who follows that hashtag. For example, if you run a bakery and the current trending hashtag is "#RainbowHair" for the latest hair trend, don’t use that on a post that has nothing to do with hair or rainbow hair. It will not look good for your account.

Keep an eye on what hashtags are currently trending though and if you see an opportunity for your brand, take advantage of it while you can. The lifespan of a trend is brief but it can be extremely helpful for a short window of time.

You can also always search from the top, best, or trending hashtag lists that are currently popular and use those as a guide. But, get creative when using them. For example, an extremely popular hashtag is "#Love," which has more than 2 billion posts already. Instead of that try "#LoveMyLife", "#LoveMyJob", "#LoveWhatIDo", "#LoveLife", etc.

Should I capitalize hashtags?

While capitalizing one-word hashtags hurt or help your reach as far as the algorithm is concerned, it will help how your followers may interact with you. It’s easier to read when the first letter is capitalized and may help you to spot typos easier, too. It also makes the hashtag accessible for those using a screen reader, because it reads out each word individually. This process is referred to as camel case.

Should I combine words into one long hashtag?

#CombiningWordsTogetherToFormOneLongHashtag doesn’t usually work. It's long, tedious, hard to read and it probably doesn’t exist. You’re better off using hashtags that already are in use, rather than making up ones that aren’t going to gain much traction. If you do decide to go this route, keep the hashtag short and concise and always capitalize the first letter.

Should I put a # in front of every word?

#Using #The #Hashtag #For #Every #Single #Word much like the above, is not easy to understand and your audience will give up trying to read your captions. It also doesn’t do you any good to clog your post up with this many irrelevant and useless hashtags. You’re better off writing a comprehensible caption and using hashtags at the end or sprinkled throughout the caption sparingly. Just keep them relevant and specific.

So now that we’ve left you with some wisdom regarding hashtags are you feeling brave enough to try them? Let us know how they work for you! And remember some hashtags are a hit or miss, so if you’re using one consistently and it’s not doing anything for you, don’t hesitate to swap it out for a better one! The algorithm is always changing and playing favorites with hashtags. You have to stay ahead of the curve to stay in the game!


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