The Ultimate Guide to Using Instagram Hashtags to Grow your Followers

The idea of using hashtags to grow your followers on Instagram seems to lead to one of two polarizing views. You either love to spread hashtags throughout all of your posts, or you hate using them, avoiding them like the plague. The fact remains, though, that hashtags generally help you widen the spread of your posts. Simply Measured found that posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than those without.

Instagram is tailor-made for hashtag usage. In fact, hashtags are arguably Instagram’s primary method of sorting and filtering content. Unlike Twitter, where most people use just one or two hashtags in a tweet, Instagrammers frequently use most of their allowance of 30 hashtags in each post.

But just because you can use 30 hashtags in a post does not mean that you should. There is no value in using irrelevant hashtags just to make up a hashtag quota. The key to Instagram hashtag usage is to include plenty of relevant hashtags that will help your fellow Instagrammers. If you use unrelated hashtags, you are spamming the system and placing yourself in danger of receiving an Instagram shadowban.

The Ultimate Guide to Using Instagram Hashtags to Grow your Followers:

How to Use Hashtags

Whenever you create an Instagram post, you should include up to 30 relevant hashtags in your caption. The reason you do this is to help people discover your content.

For instance, if you upload a post showing yourself basking in the sun onboard a yacht, you might include #summer, #travel, and #yachting along with other relevant phrases.

Instagram will then organize your post according to your tags. Your post will show up for people who search for any of these terms (at least until too many other people upload new posts that contain them, dropping your post further down peoples’ feeds).

Types of Hashtags You Should Use

1. Use Popular Hashtags to Increase Your Views

As I recently discussed in 25 Most Popular Instagram Hashtags, there are quite a few hashtags that receive regular use. The most popular tags may have too much use, however, meaning your posts would get lost in the crowd. But there are still many loved hashtags that are used a more manageable number of times.

Your posts will end up in the search results of people who search for the hashtags you use.

A recent change in Instagram, allows people to follow selected hashtags, which should further increase the reach of your posts that use those hashtags.

Often people looking at a particular hashtag will come across your post. If they like it, they may even begin to follow your Instagram account in the hope of seeing you produce further similar content.

Of course, there is the usual caveat. There is no use using a popular but irrelevant hashtag. You might, for instance, have noticed that #summer is a popular hashtag right now. You could use it on any post that evoked summer in some way. But it would not be suitable to include on the photos of your friends snowboarding. Similarly, #selfie is popular, but you wouldn't use it on your picture of a beautiful landscape.

2. Use Highly Specific Hashtags to Reach Your Ideal Audience

You should also include a selection of low-volume, highly relevant, hashtags in your posts. There may not be vast numbers of people following these hashtags, but you know that the people who do take an interest in them will make a perfect match for your account.

So, if you are a Lord of the Rings fan, by all means, use #hobbiton on your Lord of the Rings posts – 446,559 people; have already done so. It is highly likely that anybody who searches that hashtag will take an interest in your LOTR-related posts. Of course, you should also use #lotr and join the existing 1,812,932 posts.

Depending on what your post depicts, you would use a relevant generic hashtag, and then break the topic down into more specific hashtags, too. For instance, you might use the trendy #food tag, but you should also consider using more specific food-related tags, such as #foodlove, #dinnertime, #dessert or perhaps even more niche.

Finding the Right Hashtags for Your Posts

The thought of using up to 30 hashtags per post may initially appear mind-boggling. This is particularly so when you realize you can’t just use the same block of hashtags on every post. If you post regularly to your Instagram account, you need to build up an extensive library of hashtags to use. You need to select the most appropriate group for each post you make.

Ways you can find suitable hashtags include:

  1. Use the Instagram search function. Type in a keyword relevant to your post and select the Tags tab. Instagram will then ist a range of hashtags. Look for relevant tags with a reasonable usage that are not so popular that your posts will quickly disappear.
  2. Use the hashtags that the influencers in your industry use.
  3. Look at your competitors’ posts and use the non-branded tags that they use. Check their posts to ensure that the hashtags are not part of one of their campaigns before you use them, however.
  4. Look at posts that use hashtags you have found successful. What other hashtags do these posts target? Would any of these tags be valuable to your brand?

Use Social Media Tools to Find the Best Hashtags

You might consider finding appropriate hashtags to be a daunting and uninviting task – one that potentially takes the fun out of your Instagram usage. Luckily there are quite a few software solutions to make the job more straightforward for you.

In time you should be able to create a personal library of hashtags from which you can pick and choose each time you assemble a post.

1. Instagram Hashtag Generator

The Instagram Hashtag Generator created by Influencer Marketing Hub uses AI image recognition technology to identify popular and trending hashtags on Instagram that is very easy to use: You upload your Instagram photo and the tool will generate the most popular niche hashtags for your Instagram Post. Then you can select the best hashtags and copy them in bulk and paste them in your Instagram photo caption. It also works as a Pinterest Hashtag Generator Tool.

Instagram Hashtag Generator

2. Iconsquare

Iconsquare provides a full set of analytics tools for Instagram and Facebook. It gives you a wealth of knowledge about your online following.

It follows a hashtag’s growth across posts, videos, and photos. It can show you the most influential posts relating to a hashtag. It will even visualize where people are posting using your hashtags. It allows you to monitor the engagement relating to the hashtags you use.

3. Hashtagify

You can use Hashtagify to search for hashtag popularity, trends, and correlations. You can enter a suggested hashtag, and Hashtagify scrapes all related data from both Instagram and Twitter. This provides you with a detailed report on users of the hashtag. It will suggest top influencers who use the hashtag, and how their followers engage with the hashtag. It also recommends other relevant hashtags that influencers use.

You can use Hashtagify to search for and locates trending hashtags, discovering the ones most relevant for your audience

4. Ritetag

Ritetag provides you with numerous hashtag suggestions for any topic of your choice. You can select a hashtag as a starting point, and Ritetag will suggest multiple hashtags that will match. You can use Ritetag to keep up-to-date with hashtag trends.

Ritetag offers a Chrome add-on which suggests suitable hashtags you can use for your posts.

It provides groups of suggested hashtags by topic, making it easy for you to compare. You can also use Ritetag to discover hashtags in a cloud-like cluster.

It color-codes hashtags so you can see whether a particular hashtag is best used to gain followers now, whether it is better used over the longer term, whether it has very little usage, or whether it is so popular that your posts will disappear too rapidly.

Use Hashtags in Your Bio

A recent change to Instagram means that you can now include clickable hashtags in your bio. This gives you an excellent opportunity to create a custom hashtag for your brand, linking to all the posts that use it directly from your bio.

It also means that you could click on hashtags relevant to your brand. For instance, if you are involved in tourism, you could include clickable hashtags in your bio that relate to your city or region.

This could be particularly useful for influencer marketers who could link to specific hashtags for their clients from their bios.

Add Hashtags to Your Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories can be an excellent way to get your message across to your (or your influencers’) Instagram followers. You should include hashtags in your stories to help people discover them.

As with any other Instagram hashtag, those in your Stories are searchable, meaning your Stories will show up in relevant hashtag searches.

Special Types of Instagram Hashtag

Most Instagram hashtags are generic and subject-related. This means that anybody can use them, as long as they relate to the subject matter of the post.

Some hashtags have specific purposes, however.

special types of Instagram hashtags

1. Brand Hashtags

Brands often create specific hashtags relating to their products or brand. For example, Coca-Cola encourages people to post pictures of themselves sharing a bottle of their product, using the #shareacoke tag. These are often (but not always) influencers in a paid partnership with Coca-Cola.

In most situations, brand hashtags, work best with people who already know of the brand.

Brands have found that associating a tagline or phrase with the brand works better than trying to use the brand name itself as the hashtag. #shareacoke sounds less promotional than #cocacola. The critical thing is to create a brand hashtag that people can associate with your brand identity.

You often use branded hashtags to connect themes for your audience.

2. Category Hashtags

These can be relatively generic tags, but they relate to the central niche that your post fits into. For instance, if you upload a picture of yourself running the Boston Marathon, you should include some category hashtags, such as #running and #marathon.

Category hashtags will not generally connect to any particular brand. They are much less focused, and it is likely that many people who search for that hashtag will not have an existing connection with you. Often they will not even know of your existence.

For maximum exposure, you will want to balance using a popular category hashtag against using those trendy tags where your posts will become lost in a sea of activity. Ideally, you should search for category hashtags favored by your target market, but not too many other people. You want to use relatively narrow-focused category hashtags, that still have enough engagement to make your efforts worthwhile.

3. Event Hashtags

Event hashtags are used to group conversations relating to a particular event. This could be anything ranging from a specific television show, e.g., #gameofthrones to a major sporting event, e.g., #worldcup, to a regional activity, e.g., #sxsw.

If there is any correlation between an event and your target market, it makes sense to create posts targeting relevant event hashtags.

4. Campaign Hashtags

In many ways, campaign hashtags are like short-term brand hashtags. They may even be similar to an event hashtag, but specific to your business.

Campaign hashtags are designed for a particular marketing campaign, and will generally only last for the duration of the campaign. For example, you might create a campaign hashtag to use for a specific product launch. In that case, your brand and any influencers you work with would include the campaign hashtag in promotional posts relating to the launch.

Track the Success of Your Instagram Hashtags

As we referred to in 4 Benefits of an Instagram Business Profile, operating a business profile gives you access to Instagram Insights. This gives serious Instagram users access to analytics and performance statistics far above what they provide to the average Instagrammer.

One useful feature of Instagram Insights is the ability to analyze the effectiveness of the hashtags you use. You can see how successful your hashtags have been at bringing you more views and impressions of your posts.

To see this information, open a post and tap on the “view Insights” link beneath it. Amongst the data that Instagram Insights provides is the impression for the post, split up by source. This includes Impressions from Hashtags.

While this doesn’t tell you the performance of specific hashtags, it does give you a guide to the effectiveness of the overall group of hashtags you used on the post.

About the Author
With over 15 years in content marketing, Werner founded Influencer Marketing Hub in 2016. He successfully grew the platform to attract 5 million monthly visitors, making it a key site for brand marketers globally. His efforts led to the company's acquisition in 2020. Additionally, Werner's expertise has been recognized by major marketing and tech publications, including Forbes, TechCrunch, BBC and Wired.