The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags in 2018

When it comes to using Instagram hashtags, it can be a bit of a touchy subject.

Some people hate them, and some people love them a little too much. But did you know that posts with at least one Instagram hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag?

The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags in 2018 will help you understand everything you need to know about using Instagram hashtags to gain followers and increase likes.

Learn how to use Instagram hashtags strategically, and what steps you need to take to implement an effective hashtag strategy that boosts the reach of your Instagram marketing campaigns! Ready? Let’s go:

Content Menu

  1. Why You Should Use Instagram Hashtags
  2. How Instagram Hashtags Work
  3. The Different Types of Instagram Hashtags
  4. How to Organize Your Instagram Hashtags
  5. How to Find the Best Instagram Hashtags for Your Account
  6. How to “Trend” for an Instagram Hashtag
  7. The Formula for Getting in the Top Posts of a Hashtag
  8. How to Create Your Own Branded Instagram Hashtag

#1: Why You Should Use Instagram Hashtags

Things on Instagram evolve pretty quickly (especially in 2018!), but one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of hashtags.

To this day, building an effective hashtag strategy is one of the best ways to get your posts discovered by new audiences on the platform — and depending on how targeted your hashtags are, this can mean more engagement, more followers, and even more customers.

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Friday 🎉 #fashionfix #sneakerhead

A post shared by Nordstrom (@nordstrom) on

Of course, it’s not like Instagram hashtags haven’t changed as well! In the last year alone, Instagram has released a ton of new hashtag features, adding new capabilities and even better tracking. Here are some of the highlights: 

1. Track Your Instagram Hashtag Success with Post Insights

Yet another reason to switch to an Instagram business profile. Just recently, Instagram added the ability to analyze how effective your hashtags are in getting more views (or impressions) on your posts!

To access this data, just open a post and tap the “View Insights” text below it.

Swipe up and you’ll find a full page of data for that post, including reach, impressions, and, now, how the people who viewed your post found you.

2. You Can Now Follow Hashtags on Instagram

Another big update, earlier this year, Instagram added the ability to follow hashtags, meaning you can now stay up-to-date on various topics (or communities) by following a hashtag related to your interests.

Following a hashtag works just like following a user’s profile. When you find a hashtag you’d like to follow you simply open the hashtag page and tap on the follow button.

3. Add Clickable Hashtags to Your Instagram Bio

Thanks to a recent update, you can now add clickable hashtags (and usernames) to your Instagram bio, meaning building an effective Instagram bio just got a lot easier in 2018.

What’s so great about this feature is that it makes your Instagram bio even more functional — you can use hashtags for everything from promoting your Instagram community to highlighting your branded content.

All you have to do is include a “#” before any word in your bio and it will automatically become a clickable link that leads visitors to that hashtag.

4. Add Instagram Hashtags to Your Instagram Stories

This one isn’t quite as new as the others, but Instagram recently added the ability to add hashtags to your Instagram Stories, giving users yet another way to get their content discovered.

What’s so great about this feature is that, like regular posts, when you add a hashtag to an Instagram story, it becomes searchable from the Search & Explore page. So if someone looks the hashtag up, they might see your story in the Stories queue at the top of the page.

How Instagram Hashtags Work

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s chat briefly about how Instagram hashtags work.

Like on Twitter and other social media platforms, Instagram hashtags work by organizing and categorizing photo and video content.

Every post you create can be accompanied by a Instagram caption and a few hashtags (up to 30), and these hashtags help in the process of content discovery. 

For example, a food blogger might post a picture of a gorgeous smoothie bowl, and then use the hashtags #superfoods, #cleaneating, and #vegansofig when it’s uploaded to Instagram.

By using these three hashtags, the image is cataloged so other Instagram users who enjoy healthy foods can easily find it.

#2: The Different Types of Instagram Hashtags

Instagram hashtags come in all shapes and sizes — and understanding the different types of hashtags and their corresponding audiences is key to developing an effective Instagram hashtag strategy:

1. Branded Hashtags

A branded hashtag is a hashtag that’s unique to your company when using Instagram for business. It can be as simple as your company name, tagline, or the name of one of your products or campaigns. Or it can be a hashtag that has nothing to do with your brand name, but has everything to do with your brand identity!

While community hashtags are meant to increase the reach of your message, branded hashtags are designed to connect themes for you and your audience.

For example, the “natural” sneaker company @allbirds uses the hashtag #weareallbirds to drive awareness around their brand by giving their followers a place to share relevant content.

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We’ve got 5 on it. #weareallbirds

A post shared by Allbirds (@allbirds) on

Getting your @herschelsupply’s #welltravelled hashtag, which the brand created to connect like-minded users around their love of travel and travel photography.

While not directly promoting Herschel or its products, the hashtag has been used on over 3.5 million posts and has been key to growing Herschel’s community.

The best way to find these community-oriented hashtags is by looking to see which hashtags your audience, or favorite accounts, are already using. The narrower the scope of the hashtag, the more engaged the users are.

3. Campaign Hashtags

While branded and community hashtags are meant to last, campaign hashtags are usually shorter-term, last just a few days or even a season or year. They are also perfect for use inside stories or Instagram live

The reason campaign hashtags have a shorter longevity is because they’re tied to specific campaigns, like a new product launch or partnership. As a result, businesses will heavily promote a campaign hashtag to get as much activity as possible, and then stop promoting it once the campaign is over.

For more in-depth information on Instagram hashtag basics, check out our free Instagram Hashtags Strategy Guide!

How to Organize Your Instagram Hashtags

It used to be that the best way to organize your hashtags was with a spreadsheet like Google Sheets. You would create a spreadsheet with headers like “hashtags,” “category,” “# of posts,” and more, and then actively fill it out as you found new effective hashtags.

Luckily, there’s a better way.

Thanks to Later’s new Saved Captions feature, you can now create multiple hashtag lists based on your frequently used hashtag categories, all from your Later account.

For example, let’s say you run a travel brand and often post photos of beautiful locations around the world. Instead of trying to remember (or find) relevant hashtags for every post, you can use Saved Captions to keep them all organized, so you can quickly add them when scheduling in the future.

If you want to schedule a photo of a beach in San Diego, since you’ve already saved hashtags for different categories, you can we can insert relevant hashtags for beaches, California, travel, and San Diego with just the click of a button!

After you’ve written your caption, just click on “saved captions” and then click on the appropriate hashtag list to instantly add those hashtags to your caption. 

Saved Captions is available on all Later plans — including our free plan!  

#3: How to Find the Best Instagram Hashtags for Your Account

In order to be successful with hashtags, it’s important to be strategic about the hashtags you use.

While the most “popular” Instagram hashtags have been used millions and millions of times, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a ton of likes and comments simply by adding #love, #happy, or #dog to your post.

Instead of using the most popular Instagram hashtags, it’s better to use the top Instagram hashtags that have an engaging community behind them and are specific to your audience or industry.

So, how are you supposed to find these cool, creative, and community-oriented hashtags? The best way is to look and see what Instagram hashtags your audience, competitors, and industry leaders are already using. The narrower the scope of the hashtag, the more engaged the users are. You’ll be shocked and surprised by just how niche hashtags can get!

For example, let’s say you’re going to post a photo of a French Bulldog. Instead of just tagging #dogstagram (over 15 million posts), you could also tag #frenchie (over 5 million posts) and #squishyfacecrew (over 1.3 million posts) to reach a more targeted audience of people who really love French Bulldogs. This is the best way to get a lot of targeted engagement on your posts!

Here’s how to find the best hashtags for your account:

1. Use Later’s Hashtag Suggestions Feature

To help you upgrade your hashtag research, Later recently launched Hashtag Suggestions, a tool that helps you find the best hashtags for every Instagram post!

Hashtag Suggestions works by automatically finding relevant hashtags for your posts based on other hashtags that you use.

For example, let’s say you’re posting a photo of a beautiful bedroom to promote your business that sells linens. All you have to do is know one relevant hashtag (like #livesimply), put it into Hashtag Suggestions, hit “Suggest,” and the feature will immediately generate 30 other hashtags, sorted by relevance.

You can then pick and choose which of these hashtags to add you to your post. All you have to do is click “Insert Hashtags” and they’ll be added to the end of your caption.

2. Research Your Audience

Throwing random hashtags at the end of your Instagram posts isn’t going to grow your audience. Instead, find out what hashtags your audience is using and see which ones fit the content that you’re publishing. Your hashtags should be relevant and contain keywords that users are actually searching for.

3. Research Your Competitors

It’s always smart to find out what hashtags your competitors are using. By doing so, you can determine which hashtags provide the most engagement.

While it may not be your intention to compete on those hashtags, you could still end up figuring out what your potential customers are talking about and which hashtags they’re using. And maybe you’ll discover new hashtags to add to your repertoire!

4. Research Industry Leaders

One of the best ways to find hashtags you should be using is to follow Instagram influencers that have the same (or similar) target audience as you. For the uninitiated, social influencers are basically the people that tend to perform exceptionally well on social media. Every industry has its respective key influencers. Find out who these people are in your niche and piggyback off their success. These people are already well-established with your target audience, so why not learn from the best?

5. Find Related Hashtags

Surveying the landscape of trends that are relevant to your own hashtag is an easy and effective way to grow your community. Simply type your hashtag into the app’s search bar, and then select “tags” from the dropdown menu. You’ll then be able to see all of the top hashtags that are closely related to your own hashtag, revealing additional ways to reach, monitor, and engage with your community.

You can also browse through posts containing a hashtag you’re already having success with. Do you see a trend of any other common hashtags that could be included in future posts? If yes, write them down.

#4: Best Practices for Instagram Hashtags in 2018

Instagram hashtags can be a powerful tool for discovery when used properly — but they can also look spammy and hurt your account when used incorrectly. Here are some rules to follow to get more from your Instagram hashtags in 2018:

When Should You Use Instagram Hashtags?

The short answer? As often as possible! Whenever you share content on Instagram, whether it’s a post or Instagram story, if your goal is to get it seen by as many people as possible, you need to be using Instagram hashtags.

That being said, there might be occasions where using hashtags isn’t necessary! Like if you’re sharing a personal anecdote or story.

This is more often the case with Instagram Stories than with regular posts (because they tend to be more casual in general), but it varies from case to case. At the end of the day, it’s best to weigh the tone or topic of your post, along with what you’re hoping to achieve, and then decide if it makes sense to use hashtags.

How Many Hashtags Should You Use?

Unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to deciding how many hashtags you should use. While some experts like Alex Tooby recommend using the maximum number of hashtags allowed, because it gives you more opportunities to be discovered, others recommend using just 5-10.

We’ve seen all sorts of strategies and ideas on how many hashtags make the difference, but at the end of the day, it’s really up to you. If you can find 30 super-relevant hashtags to add to each post, then you should definitely go for it.

However, if you don’t feel comfortable using that many, feel free to opt for less. It’s always okay to experiment with the number of hashtags you use on a post in the search to finding your hashtag sweet spot.

What Hashtags Should You Use?

The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding what hashtags to use is that you’re being intentional — as in, you’re using hashtags that your target audience is actually searching for and following!

According to Tooby, It’s important to switch up your Instagram hashtags in every post to avoid being “spammy.” It’s also a good idea to avoid gimmicky hashtags such as #likeforlike, and hashtags that have been used a million-plus times. While these hashtags might get you a few extra likes, they aren’t going to help you grow a highly engaged, targeted following.

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not to be trifled with.

A post shared by PETITS VILAINS (@petitsvilains) on

Instead, try looking for ultra-niche community hashtags that are specifically relevant to the content you post. It’s not a bad idea to use Saved Captions to build multiple hashtag lists that are organized by theme or category.

And don’t forget to use your branded hashtag whenever it makes sense! The first step to getting other users to share your branded hashtag is to use it yourself.

#5: How to “Trend” for an Instagram Hashtag

If you’ve ever searched for a hashtag on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed a grid “Top Posts” at the top of the results page.

It used to be on the mobile Instagram app that you would only see the top 9 posts for each hashtag, but thanks to a recent update, you can now toggle between “Top” and “Recent” posts when searching for a hashtag (note: it’s still just the top 9 posts on the desktop version of Instagram).

Getting in the top posts for a hashtag is a great way to get discovered by new users. Like getting featured on the Explore Page, it can results in a huge network effect that essentially makes your post go viral on Instagram.

So how do you actually get on the Top Posts for a hashtag?

Based on our experience, the two factors that play the biggest role in determining whether a post gets into the top posts for a hashtag are how much engagement the post gets, and how quickly it gets that engagement.

Top posts generally take their position within the first 24 hours of posting, so you need those likes and comments to roll in quickly after posting. If you can generate a lot of engagement on your Instagram post shortly after posting, this signals to Instagram that your post is quality, engaging content.  

The Formula for Getting on the Top Posts:

1. Pick the right hashtags

The first step is picking the right hashtags to trend for. If you’re a smaller account with 10,000 or less followers, you’re much more likely to trend for smaller, highly targeted hashtags like #fashiongoals than you are for a massive hashtag like #instafashion.

As we discussed earlier, the relevance of your hashtag is much more important than how popular it is. Rather than just adding random hashtags (#sunset, #girl, #cali) to your photos, find what hashtags are killing it in your niche! This way, you can connect with other creatives in your industry and develop personal relationships

2. Generate a ton of engagement

Once you’ve picked the right hashtag, you need to focus on getting as much engagement on your post as quickly as possible. And one of the best ways to do this is to schedule your Instagram posts for when your audience is most active on Instagram.

If you post when your audience is most active on Instagram, you’re more likely to drive engagement on that post. That engagement will translate into Instagram bumping your post higher up on users’ feeds, which, in turn, will result in even more engagement on your post. It’s a cyclical process: higher engagement leads to more visibility, which leads to higher engagement, which leads to more visibility… and it all starts with when you post on Instagram.

#6: How to Create Your Own Branded Instagram Hashtag

As we’ve already discussed, branded hashtags are a great way to start a conversation with your followers and increase the reach of your content. Typically, “fans” of your business will use your branded hashtag to share relevant content with their followers — so they’re great for curating user-generated content (UGC).

Your branded hashtag can be as simple as your company name, tagline, or the name of one of your products or campaigns. Or it can be a hashtag that has nothing to do with your brand name, but has everything to do with your brand identity.

In any case, when creating your own branded Instagram hashtag, remember to keep it simple and catchy. It should be short and easy to spell so that your fans and customers can easily remember it — but also relevant and creative so that people will be enthusiastic about sharing it!

Hashtags that are either funny, cleverly constructed, or both are also much more likely to leave a lasting impression. But they can also be more educational or helpful than entertaining. For example, home essentials company @snowehome uses their hashtag #startwithsnowe for their customers to show off how they outfit their homes with their products.

Branded hashtags can be used to drive brand awareness or to showcase your products and services — but in reality, there are tons of awesome ways that businesses can leverage branded hashtags to supercharge their Instagram marketing efforts. Here are some examples:

1. Collect User-Generated Content (UGC)

Contests structured around UGC are all the rage, and with good reason: they’re fun, popular, and great for both driving engagement and reaching a new audience. Create a contest where your followers upload photos on Instagram and tag their post with your branded hashtag.

It’s time for 🍦 #LiveInLevis

A post shared by Levi’s Netherlands (@levis_nl) on

2. Inspire Your Community

Instagram is a community built on the power of visual storytelling. It’s where the world captures and shares its moments through imagery. A branded Instagram hashtag can inspire your community by creating a destination for people to share and collect beautiful and meaningful content.

Monday? No sweat👊🏽 @fpmovement •link in bio to shop• #movementmonday

A post shared by freepeople (@freepeople) on

3. Take Your Followers Behind-the-Scenes

Taking your followers behind-the-scenes is a great way to build a deeper connection with your brand, and one of the best ways to do this is with a branded Instagram hashtag. Keep your followers in the loop about company news and product launches, or simply give you audience a peek at how your brand does what it does — from the people to the product.

4. Create a Customized Hashtag for Your Event

If you’re hosting an event, pick a hashtag beforehand and encourage your followers to share content surrounding it on Instagram. It will help drive participation and engagement, and will also organize all the posts that are tagged with it on a hashtag page.

5. Promote New Products

As creative hashtag projects grow in popularity, having an active branded hashtag that your customers actually want to use is the pot of gold at the end of the Instagram rainbow. By including the appropriate hashtags in your posts, you can effectively reach new people interested in your products. The key is to use branded hashtags that not only describe your photos and business, but entices users to purchase.

Using Instagram hashtags strategically is a great way to connect with customers, find content created about you by your followers, and build long-term relationships with influential partners!

Ready to get moving with your Instagram marketing strategy? Later makes it easy for you to plan, manage, and schedule your Instagram posts!

Written By

Taylor Loren

Taylor Loren is the Head of Marketing at Later. She was named a LinkedIn Top Voice for social media marketing, and you can follow her writing on LinkedIn or connect with her on Instagram at @taylor.loren.