Instagram 101: Hashtags – How to Use Them & When to Avoid Them

Published: September 14, 2021

Author: Carolina Hollnagel

The hashtag strategy (i.e., #marketing) was invented in 2007 by a Twitter user named Chris Messina as a means to differentiate between groups of topics within tweets.¹ And clearly he was onto something because it is still useful today. In fact, a hashtag strategy is an essential part of any and all social media strategies. Why?

  • They are a great way to increase organic reach. 
  • When people search for a specific hashtag on any social media platform (yes, you can actually do that), your feed post or story post could appear in the hashtag page (i.e., If you’re about to take a trip to NYC, you could search #NYC to see anything anyone posted about NYC, therefore giving you ideas for your trip!) 
  • People can follow hashtags, so when they do this, your post could appear in their feed, even if they don’t follow you (as long as your profile is public!) 
  • According to, adding at least one hashtag to your post can bring an average of 12.6% more engagement. (!!!) 

To help you create your hashtag strategy, we gathered the top eight tips on how to use hashtags, especially on Instagram. 

1. Use or create hashtags that are relevant to your content. 

For example, on 615i’s Instagram and LinkedIn, we use hashtags related to sales, marketing, branding, and small businesses. For example #smallbusinessconsulting, #nashvillebusinessowner, #marketinginnovation and #salestips. 

A great way to find hashtag  inspiration is by checking which ones your competitors or industry leaders are using. We also love to use hashtag generator tools such as or and with just one word, it will give you a whole list of hashtags you can use. 

2. Mix frequently used hashtags with small, niche hashtags. 

The reason you want to mix up your hashtags is because when you use broader, more frequently used ones, the chances of your post showing up on a hashtag page with 135M posts are much lower than your chance of showing up on a page with 1,000 posts (ie., #innovativequotes). Therefore, it’s important to use small and niche hashtags, with the larger, category hashtags. Instagram usually classifies post positions within the first 24 hours after posting so you want to try to get as much engagement as possible during this period. 

3. Hashtags can be used in your caption OR added after posting as a comment (from your own account). 

It does not make any difference in it’s functionality if the hashtag is in the caption or comment. The only difference is aesthetic as some think it can make your caption look messy. 

4. How many hashtags should you use?

That’s the trickiest question. According to… 

  • Facebook & Twitter suggest using 1-2
  • LinkedIn says use 2-3
  • Pinterest – TBD 

Instagram allows you to use up to 30 per feed post and up to 10 hashtags per story post. Some specialists say you should use as many as possible, others say 5-10 is a good number. So what’s the verdict? Find what works best for your profile. 

5. Analyze your hashtags’ performance.

If you have a business account, check your post insights, by clicking on “view Insights” when you open a post and see how many people saw it from hashtags. This can give you an idea of how effective your hashtag strategy is. 

6. Be careful of “banned” hashtags. 

Always check the hashtag you want to use before posting! Begin by searching for the hashtag in the Search area. If when the results populate, you don’t see the “Follow” button, then you know the hashtag has been banned by Instagram.  If you continue to use it, or use it without knowing, your post will be shadow banned. (“Shadow banned” means  your post won’t appear on your followers’ feeds). In addition, you risk having your account removed, if you keep using them. Instagram does not release an official list of banned hashtags, but you can find a list created by users here. But be sure to do the search yourself as the list is constantly being updated. 

7. Don’t be afraid to test hashtags. 

Just like everything else in marketing, use A/B Testing to see which hashtags perform better. 

8. Ask customers engaging with your brand or product on social media to use your custom branded hashtags. 

User-generated content is the top way to gain trust and build credibility among your followers. So make sure any time someone is going to post about you, your product, your event, etc., that they use your specific hashtag so you can re-post and share with your followers. 


As mentioned earlier, hashtags are a great way to build reach organically (also read as when you’re a small business and can only afford so much and paid advertising on socials isn’t in the cards). There’s plenty of tools and websites to help you further develop your social media strategy. And, of course, 615innovations is also here to help you develop your hashtag and social media strategies! 



615innovations is a business development consulting firm focused on giving small businesses innovative sales, marketing and branding strategies and implementation services to help them become industry leaders. For more information on 615i and our services, please visit or give us a shout at [email protected]

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Jody Thomas
Executive Director
National Foundation for Women Legislators


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