Over the last decade, hashtags have gone from collecting dust on your phone’s keypad (show of hands: does anyone still call them “pound signs”?) to valuable tools which have been deeply ingrained in our culture. If you’re reading this, you can probably remember a time where every Instagram post in your feed had no fewer than 20 hashtags tucked sneakily beneath a caption. And even in 2024, you might overhear the word “hashtag” being used in conversation — or in a tragically outdated late-night monologue. But in today’s ever-changing world of social media, what were once meme-able affectations of our increasingly online society have also become an integral part of any content strategy.
Hashtags serve as essential labels to categorize your content, enabling Instagram’s algorithms to connect your posts with users who are interested in or searching for similar content. This means that when used effectively, hashtags can significantly boost your content’s reach and engagement. All this is to say that effective hashtag use has changed quite a bit in the last decade, and it’s time to revisit how to best use these tools in your favor.
1. Keep It Relevant
The days of using walls of hashtags to increase your reach — and enlist your page in a never-ending #followforfollow scheme — are behind us, and now you’re better off using hashtags that are directly related to your content. They should be generic, for the most part, while reflecting the topic, theme, or keywords in your post. And while this strategy may have worked in the past, you should avoid using trending hashtags that have no connection to your content. Relevance remains key.
2. Followed Hashtags
Instagram used to allow you to use hashtags to search recent content, but as of the platform’s latest update, it will now only show top posts. To see this newly posted content, you’ll have to follow the hashtag and wait for it to show up in your feed. So, while your recent content won’t show up in a hashtag search, you can still get your content in front of a wider audience by utilizing commonly followed hashtags.
3. Don’t Go Overboard
The use of hashtags is always a debate, especially with Instagram’s ever-evolving algorithms, but it seems that the days of using dozens of random hashtags on a single post are behind us. Now, a few well-chosen hashtags are proven to be more effective than a long list — with Instagram’s latest suggestion being 3–5 for optimal visibility. This is largely due to the fact that Instagram is prioritizing content discoverability and improving SEO by accurately categorizing posts for the Explore Page and Instagram Reels tab. A reduced number of hashtags should ultimately result in a more precise categorization from the algorithm.
With that said, the platform’s limit is still 30, and given the cyclical nature of trends we could very well see the eventual return of essay-length hashtag blocks. Time will tell!
4. Research and Monitor (Then Repeat)
You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and the same is true with your hashtags. It’s important to regularly research and monitor trending and relevant hashtags in your industry or niche, leveraging tools and platforms (like our favorite, Sprout Social) for deeper insights. Given the tempestuous nature of hashtags, their role in your content strategy should be continuously re-evaluated to ensure you’re always wielding them effectively.
5. Create Branded Hashtags
While the way you leverage existing hashtags matters, dreaming up hashtags of your own can be every bit as crucial. Developing — and skillfully promoting — your own branded hashtags can help you build an engaged community while increasing brand awareness. To boost effectiveness, encourage your audience to follow and use these hashtags when sharing their experiences related to your brand.
Mastering hashtag usage on Instagram involves 10,000 hours (okay, maybe a little less) of trial and error to find the right balance. And since social media is always evolving, your strategy will, too. Ultimately, not every post will “feed” the algorithm in the way you had planned, but by staying true to your brand and posting consistently you’ll find a rhythm that works for you.
Need help navigating the hectic hashtag hullabaloo? We’ve got you covered! Send us a note, and our savvy team of social media experts will help you craft an online strategy that makes a real-world impact.