A guide to Instagram hashtags in 2021

Most of us have heard of hashtags. You may have even thrown in a few hashtags on your last Instagram post for good measure. But did you know that, with the right strategy, the humble #hashtag can supercharge your posts by increasing organic reach and followers? It does so by categorising and sorting Instagram posts so that viewers can see and follow themes of interest. When we follow Instagram hashtags, we see posts in our feed from people who have used that tag on their posts. In short, using hashtags is one of the best ways to make your profile more discoverable. So, if you’re using a platform that relies heavily on hashtags, such as Instagram, to promote your product or service, read on.

Are all hashtags good for Instagram?

We know that using hashtags is paramount to reach and engagement. But are all hashtags equal, and are all beneficial to you and your business?

Although hashtags are a great tool, it is possible to innocently misuse them in a way that penalises our content. That includes using banned hashtags, using too many hashtags, and using irrelevant hashtags. Misusing hashtags can negatively affect your ranking within Instagram’s algorithm, which means that fewer people will see your content.

3 helpful hashtag tips

Don’t misuse hashtags

  • Banned hashtags. Instagram’s algorithm flags and disables hashtags that it deems to go against community guidelines or attract spam. If you use a banned hashtag, your post may be hidden from your followers and hurt your growth strategy. You may be surprised to learn that common hashtags such as #humpday and #elevator sits on the platform’s banned list in 2021. So, it’s important to check each hashtag before including them in your posts. See list of banned hashtags that users have reported here. Banned hashtags are always changing, based on community reports and Instagram’s investigations. Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t publish a list of the currently banned hashtags, so do your research.
  • Spammy hashtags. Overuse of hashtags, especially hashtags that aren’t relevant to your content, is classed as spam. Spam has a negative effect on the algorithm, and your posts and even your profile can be affected. As a general rule, aim for between 5-10 hashtags, and keep them relevant.
  • Irrelevant hashtags.Using hashtags that you think are popular, but are irrelevant to your content or brand, can have a negative effect on your Instagram marketing efforts. By doing this, not only does Instagram’s algorithm react negatively to your content, but your users’ perception of your brand may be tarnished. If you post content that’s irrelevant to the hashtag, users who follow the hashtag can flag your content and Instagram will mark you as a spam account.

Use relevant and trending hashtags

By keeping hashtags relevant, you work in hand with the Instagram algorithm. It can help you to understand your audience, competitors and industry leaders. You should keep your hashtags in line with your brand, content, and products.

You should ensure to take a strategic approach to your hashtags. The most popular Instagram hashtags do not guarantee engagement. Often these hashtags are overused, and your post will go unseen. Instead, it’s much more advantageous for you to be more specific. For example, the hashtag #dog has 301 million posts. Instead of using that hashtag, it would be more beneficial to use #cavoodlesofinstagram. This hashtag is specific to a certain breed, and only has 867k posts. By using that hashtag instead, you reach a more targeted audience. Your post will reach users who like Cavoodles. This means users will be more likely to engage and interact with your post.

There are two ways you can search for relevant hashtags:

  • Use a hashtag suggestion app. Using a hashtag suggestion app is an easy way to find the best, most relevant hashtags to your content. These apps often work by searching a hashtag. The app will then suggest hashtags which are similar, and show you results around frequency of use of the hashtag. The benefit of suggestion apps is they filter through results to show you the best ones to use to optimise your posts.
  • Free in-app search. The most simple and cost effective way to find relevant hashtags is internally through the Instagram app. Firstly, you type your original hashtag into the search bar. Select “tags” from the menu provided. This will show a range of hashtags, all similar to the original hashtag you have searched. For example, see what happens when I type in #armchair into the body of my post:

Use branded hashtags on Instagram

Branded hashtags refer to hashtags you have created to represent your brand, a campaign, or products you sell. Campaign hashtags are often very successful for engagement, especially with fans of your brand. Campaign hashtags can organically promote user generated content (UGC). UGC is content a user of your brand has uploaded, and tagged you or mentioned your brand via hashtag. One popular example of UGC is Coca-Cola’s #shareacoke campaign. This hashtag allowed users to upload and share content, while promoting the brand.

While campaign hashtags are an effective tool for short term campaigns, you should also create one brand-specific tagline hashtag to be used continuously. This branded hashtag should be included in your profile to promote it directly. By adding it to your bio, the hashtag becomes a direct link for users to view all related posts. For example, see lululemon’s #thesweatlife.

So next time you’re planning out your social media, consider how to better optimise your posts with an effective and well-researched hashtag strategy. Now, I want to hear from you. Do you have an Instagram hashtag growth strategy? Comment below.

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Image of Laura Prael, Director of LEP Digital

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