a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media websites and applications, especially Twitter, to identify messages on a specific topic.
Love them or hate them, #’s have embedded themselves into our daily lives and if you’re anything like me then you’ll like #to #hashtag #everything. I love them! I even find myself saying certain ones out loud, like #RelationshipGoals whenever I see a loved-up couple. (Hashtag vom.)
They’re not just for fun, though – they’re also vital in boosting your post reach and engagement on social media. That’s because many people follow hashtags as well as individuals. They also search them and click on them, even if they’re not following them, meaning your posts could get seen far and wide.
Just make sure you do your research. Using popular hashtags such as #follow4follow or #ootd (outfit of the day) may seem like a great idea because of their tendency to trend but using them too many times can make the algorithms think you are trying to spam users.
Also, it’s social media best practice to use a mixture of popular hashtags (those with more than one million followers) and not so popular hashtags (with around 100,000 followers). It’s been proven that using hashtags with lower follower counts can really help boost your reach and engagement as your posts aren’t being drowned out.
How do hashtags work on Instagram?
Instagram allows you to add up to 30 hashtags to a post and up to 10 hashtags to an Instagram story.
On posts, when you start typing out the hashtag, you can immediately see how popular it is i.e. how many posts there are with this hashtag.
One major thing to know about hashtags is that they can get banned. Instagram identifies hashtags that are used in posts tagged as spam and instantly cuts the reach for posts using these hashtags. It won’t even show them to your followers. Users can even report specific hashtags as ‘spammy’ to get them banned.
Often, these are hashtags like #follow4follow but it can also be something random like #valentinesday. If you suddenly see that your post is getting much lower engagement and reach than usual, perhaps one of the hashtags you used is banned.
Types of hashtag
There are several types of hashtags that can be used in your posts besides the most obvious.
Niche hashtags – these don’t just describe the topic of your post but go into a little more detail. For example, if you’re a tattoo artist you can specify the style you’re working with (#blackwork, #stickandpoke) to reach people specifically interested in this style.
Community hashtags – communities exist on Instagram and these hashtags help you find and join them. They’re usually known to the members of each community so it’s hard to come across them unless you do some research. For example, to stick to my previous example, many tattoo artists and wearers use #lovettt to tag their posts.
Special event or seasonal hashtags – these can refer to real holidays or contrived seasons, such as #socialmediaday. They’re also used for all those National [Thing] Day holidays popular on social media, like #nationalicecreamday or #nationalnailpolishday. When organizing an event, it’s a good idea to create your own hashtag for people to use when posting about it. This helps so much with curating user-generated content, too.
Location hashtags – even if you geotag your Instagram post (that is, choose to include the location in your actual post) it can still be a good idea to include a hashtag describing your location, especially if you’re promoting an event or a brick and mortar business. People love to follow or search the towns and cities where they live, and may be served local content by discovery algorithms.
Acronym hashtags – these usually describe a particular Instagram trend. For example, the best-known acronym hashtag is #tbt for throwback Thursday, when you repost old pictures. There’s also #bts for behind the scenes.
Branded hashtags – these are directly tied to your brand. Usually it’s simply #brandname, but sometimes your slogans or phrases associated with it can become hashtags as well. For example, #imlovingit for McDonald’s.
Campaign hashtags – Nowadays, any decent marketing campaignwill come with hashtags. What’s great about campaign hashtags is that they can outlive campaigns and become a long-term brand awareness generator. Similar to those, there are hashtags that describe grassroots movements and become social phenomena such as #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, or as a smaller example, #adoptdontshop, promoting animal adoption.
You can mix and match hashtags from these categories with your usual ones. When you are choosing which hashtags you want to use, try to think of the audience you want to reach and the goals of your post.
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How many hashtags can I use on Instagram?
Instagram sets a limit of 30 hashtags and it might be tempting to add all 30, but actually the recommended number is between three and 15.
Many experiments prove that exceeding this limit puts you at risk of being banned for spam, while going under just won’t have much effect on your reach at all.
It’s also worth noting that many users put 4 dots (. . . .) vertically, underneath the main copy, to separate the text from the hashtags being used. There is a lot of debate about this with some people claiming that, by doing this, you can gain more followers. More realistically, it keeps your Insta posts clean and crisp looking.
How to find the right Instagram hashtags
Sometimes this question is also phrased as “how do I find trending hashtags on Instagram?”. Well, the thing is, the popular or trending hashtags are not always the best ones to use to get more eyeballs on your content.The most popular hashtags get thousands of new posts every day, so there’s very little chance that people will see your content. Besides, they are usually too vague and broad to have any strong community or defined audience.
Many social media experts (myself included) recommend hashtags with no more than 100,000 posts currently using them. This way, you have more chance of getting noticed.
Or, if you are desperate to use a trending hashtag, use a mixture of popular and less popular, as I’ve already suggested.
There are two main things you can do to find the right hashtags for your content.
Checking which hashtags your competitors are using can give you a lot of insight. Go to their profiles and see which hashtags they are using for which posts. For example, they might be using one set of hashtags with product launches and another to talk about their team.
Experiment with hashtags
If you want to know for certain which of them are the most beneficial, don’t be afraid to use a mixture of hashtags from post to post. Try different hashtag sets for different posts and see if it affects reach. If you notice that a post has a much higher reach than usual, note the hashtags you’ve used. Try different combinations and see what works. In a while, you’ll have your own little database of hashtags and stats that prove that they work.
Come back to your research from time to time to update your #database — that way you’ll always have up-to-date data to build your Instagram hashtag strategy on.
What about Twitter and LinkedIn?
A lot of the rules that apply to Instagram also work across social media more generally.
In particular, avoid using hashtags to spam, and don’t overload your posts with too many. On LinkedIn, more than three is generally considered overkill.
Check out our Beginner’s Guide to social media for accountants for more tips and advice.
Trending Hashtags for 2021
When posting content, use various hashtags in order to help your post reach a wider audience and generate the engagement you need in order to further promote your firm.
When choosing your hashtags, it’s important to remember the following
- Make them relevant to the content you post. For example, if you are posting about issues relating to the services you provide such as PAYE or Payroll, you should obviously use hashtags like #PAYE and #Payroll..
- Use a mixture of common and less common hashtags – I’ve set out some examples in this downloadable PDF.
The popular hashtags in column 1 on the PDF have a huge reach. Those in column 2 are more obscure but will help you reach a wider pool of people.
By using a mixture of both, you are giving your post the best possible chance to be seen by as many people as possible and to avoid being drowned out.
Use the following guidelines when posting with hashtags:
- LinkedIn: Upto five hashtags. Three is ideal but no more than five or LinkedIn will think your post is spam.
- Facebook: Up to 30 hashtags but between 13-18 is best practice.
- Instagram: The same as Facebook as Instagram is owned by them.
- Twitter: no more than two hashtags because they come out of your character count which is currently 240 characters.