Your ultimate brand guide to using Instagram hashtags

Instagram hashtag blog header


Your brand needs an Instagram hashtag strategy. An essential part of that strategy is how to use trending hashtags on Instagram to reach and connect with people interested in your brand. In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • How to hashtag Instagram posts
  • Some of the most popular hashtags
  • Which Instagram hashtag practices can be detrimental to your brand
  • How to deploy some of the newest features in Instagram effectively
  • About the different types of hashtags brands are using on Instagram
  • The platforms to use to ensure your content gets in front of the right eyeballs.

What is a hashtag?

The #HASHTAG is the essential sorting mechanism of social media. It categorizes any piece of information on the internet. Hashtags are popular on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. In this blog, we’ll focus on good hashtags for Instagram.

Do you have goals for your Instagram strategy?

Before you hit that #sign, set some #goals. This is a 2-step process:

  1. Define what you want to achieve
  2. Identify how to get there.

First, you need an overarching goal. This informs your Instagram strategy. As a business conversions are often the most important metric.

Think of your hashtags as the top of your sales funnel.

To become an industry influencer, you need to focus on growing your follower count. Engagement and interaction within your niche’s popular hashtags on Instagram will help get you there. Put your three most effective ones in your Instagram bio!

If searching for an influencer for brand promotion, look at niche hashtags to discover who’s important and engaging in your industry.

Hashtags allow you to find content that’s relevant to you and your brand. And help people looking for content like yours.

So now you know where you want to go, the second step is how to get there. The most effective way to do this is to set a goal for each hashtag you use. Think about where this will deliver your content. Two of those places are the dropdown search bar, and the results page for the hashtag.

Can your brand own the dropdown search bar?

When you start typing in the search bar, adding a # will create a list of relevant hashtags in the dropdown. These suggestions are not based on popularity but are the hashtags Instagram thinks you want. The first suggestion is the nearest and closest popular hashtag to what you have in the search bar.

With some effort, your brand can own one of those hashtag search suggestions.

You want a hashtag with some visibility, but not the biggest one. Somewhere above 10,000 posts but fewer than 100,000 is the sweet spot. See if there’s something your brand can co-opt. You can rely on user curiosity about this slightly different hashtag to get your content seen.

The beauty of this strategy is that users are already looking for content. Curiosity will drive them to your hashtag. The algorithm hasn’t pushed anything to them. These are people who went out of their way to find you.

When you click on a hashtag you will see the top posts under that Instagram hashtag. Get your brand in there for a steady stream of engagement.

Top and trending hashtags - which one is right for your brand?

The answer is...none. As you can see there is lots of spammy behavior within this set. Spammy hashtags like #LikeForLikes, #L4L, #FollowForFollowBack, #F4F, or #FollowMe. These types of Instagram hashtags won’t bring you valuable traffic and could hurt your brand in the long run.

Remember, one comment from a fan on your post is better than 100 likes from people or bots just looking for reciprocal behavior.

If you had to pick just one or two trending Instagram hashtags, which would they be?

For your best content, there’s nothing wrong with using something super popular like #PhotoOfTheDay or #InstaGood. A good strategy is to use one or two of the top 100 hashtags on your best content. Then complement it with 6-10 hashtags that are slight variations on the popular one.

#InstaGood (1.7 billion+ posts) can become #InstaGoodPhoto (100k+ posts) or or #InstaGoodVibes (200k+ posts). This strategy gives you symbiosis - #InstaGoodPhoto drives some likes the moment it’s posted. This in turn tells the Instagram algorithm this content is popular. This may get your content into the top posts of some of the other hashtag variants.


Mentions of #cocacola over the last 30 days. Talkwalker Social Listening

If can’t find a suitable hashtag for your niche, try hashtagging an emoji on Instagram. That little UniCode symbol can replace several words, making your hashtag more concise. And you can mix and match a combination of words and emoji within a single hashtag.

Just make sure the emoji means what you think it does. If you’re a farmer and you want to brag about your fresh crop of eggplants and peaches, be careful what emojis you use.

What is bad brand behavior on Instagram?

Let’s look at bad behavior using top Instagram hashtags. This can range from lazy to negligent to outright harassment that can get you banned.

The Lazy: You didn’t check that the hashtag means what you think it does. 

The Negligent: If your hashtag can be re-interpreted as something else, make sure you are okay with that. Susan Boyle discovered this the hard way

Make sure your acronyms and abbreviations mean what you want them to. Here’s looking at you Cheltenham Literary Festival.


The Harassment: It’s forbidden in the Instagram terms and conditions, to post repetitive content or spam. You walk a fine line by doing this too often, and that includes repetitive hashtags.

Forget about hopping on a trending hashtag if you just copy and paste the same hashtags every time.

Widen your horizons, widen your funnel!

Is there a magic number of top hashtags on Instagram?

This concept migrated over from Twitter, where there is a magic number of hashtags that a brand can use to boost engagement. That number, on Twitter, is 1. Instagram isn’t so simple.

The maximum number of hashtags you can use on a single post is 30. You can find many marketers who insist that by using less than the 30 maximum hashtags you are leaving something on the table.

Others will cite the number 9, and others insist it’s any number over 11.

On the other hand, 30 hashtags in a row is not a pretty sight. Just 9 hashtags aren’t pretty. Consider the benefits against the reader experience.

The essential truth of hashtags: They are naked advertising, and which ones you use will reflect back on your brand.

Ultimately what wins on Instagram is pretty visuals.

The prettier the picture the more likes you will get. But only with your followers. Hashtags help you open up your content to a global audience.

To expand your target audience, the hashtags you select will be key. They must be relevant and they must be small enough that the content doesn’t get buried. The prettier the picture, the larger the hashtag you can use.

How can you hide the hashtags you use on Instagram?

If your feed is particularly aesthetic you may feel this is not something your followers want to see.

There are two ways to hide Instagram hashtags.

The first is to insert them as a comment. This could get lost in the noise between publishing the photo and posting the comment. Instead, insert the hashtags in the caption. If below the second line of the caption box, people searching the hashtag won’t see them.

What are campaign, product & brand hashtags?

First, you have generic hashtags-- these are usually just single words describing a photo. So Coca-Cola might use #soda #cola #fountaindrink or even #pop if they wanted to drive Midwestern sales. But you’ve heard of the #ShareACoke campaign, literally a call out to get people sharing the brand with friends.

The idea behind this branded hashtag campaign is to share a soda with a friend. And it’s still going strong, to the tune of over 600,000 posts on Instagram.

Another type of hashtag is the product hashtag. This is most often going to be #_brandname_product, as Calvin Klein so helpfully illustrates.

This helps consumers browse a branded collection and allows you to gather social intelligence around products.

Maybe you don’t have the many departments of a Calvin Klein, and need to make a single hashtag work overtime. The branded hashtag will do that for you, and when done correctly, it can double as a community hashtag and a product hashtag.

Check out what @fi.dogs does for their IG strategy. As a start-up with a single product, they now have over 769,000 followers. #fidogs works as a brand and product hashtag. They turn it into a community hashtag through the content they post, including user-generated content.

If their photos feature a pitbull they broaden their reach with hashtags like #Pitbull or #PitbullsofInstagram.

Then they add hashtags to boost brand awareness. They include generic hashtags like #RescueDog #HappyDog #DogsofNewYork #CityDog and the alpha dog of canine hashtags: #DogsOfInstagram.


Their product suits any breed. So it benefits the brand to get exposure in these smaller, more active communities of dog lovers.

Hashtags also work great as a way to organize participants, such as in a contest or giveaway. Just ask competitors to include a specific hashtag in their response. Just make sure you don’t run afoul of Instagram’s T&C’s or state and federal laws.

That hashtag is now your list of all the participants, with a huge user base built around your hashtag.

How can you follow hashtags?

At the end of 2017, Instagram allowed you to follow hashtags. As a user, this is a great way to push content that’s important to you into your feed. As a brand, it’s an opportunity. Use it to keep up with your industry, gather competitor intelligence, and to engage digital consumers.

It’s also an advertising opportunity. If you are running a campaign with a branded hashtag, include it in your profile. Followers will often click to learn more.

How to use hashtags in Instagram Stories

Have you ever found a brand or other popular Instagram account that has fewer than 10 posts, yet thousands of followers? Either it’s a fake and they bought their followers. Or they’re a Story-focused account and you can bet they made liberal and creative use of hashtags in their Stories or Reels. You should too.

You can add up to 30 hashtags or 1 hashtag sticker.

This is a great tool to use on a branded campaign, or when you only need one hashtag.

When using a hashtag for a post in your feed, with enough scrolling within that hashtag people will find it. Stories offer no such guarantee. If your stuff isn’t good enough, it won’t show up. Instagram Stories have over 400 million daily users - your content must stand out.

One final note on making your stories pop - use the stickers! Technically they are not hashtags, but things like location tags, quizzes, polls, even music.

Location can be as specific as the name of your business or as broad as the country you are in. It’s especially useful if your business relies on foot traffic, or receives a lot of visitors every day. Your story gets added to the location’s story. If your location is not set up for foot traffic - like an office park or high-rise - you can build and own this location within Instagram.

How can you build a branded community using Instagram hashtags?

Now you know hashtags are more than just tools to expand your reach, they are designators of a community. The followers of your brand are a community too, and you can organize them around a brand-associated hashtag.

Authenticity is key and as such this is a community about a topic, not your brand. It’s not all-brand all the time, it’s not about product or sales. It’s about providing value, as a space for your followers to share ideas and content.

#Shotoniphone is a great example of this. A branded community hashtag encouraging people to share images, while promoting the iPhone’s camera capabilities.


So how can you decide which hashtag to use on Instagram?

A bit of research can go a long way toward boosting your Instagram strategy.

The first tool you have available is the Post Insights feature within your Instagram Business account. This is a helpful starting point, but only offers data related to your page. There is nothing to tell you about trending hashtags on other platforms and you don’t get that same data about your competitor.

The Posts Insights page can tell you what you can do better, but it can’t tell you what to do.

Ultimately, the best tool you can use is Talkwalker’s Quick Search. Part of Talkwalker’s Social Listening, just search for any keyword and you’ll have a full range of insights available to you. In a few clicks, you can discover the most popular hashtags related to your search. As well as the most popular brands, celebrities, emojis, themes, and events.

You can further filter by platform, device, demographic, and more. It’s a truly powerful tool that generates actionable insights in a minute.

That’s it! That’s everything you need to get your Instagram content in front of the people who want to see it. To learn more about how Social Listening can help boost your brand strategy, click below.


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