How Many Hashtags Should You Use on Instagram

Published on February 4, 2022

If you're using Instagram to share your content and promote your business, you probably already know the importance of hashtags. But the real question is, how do you make them work for you? Which hashtags should you choose? How many hashtags is too many?

Knowing why hashtags are on Instagram in the first place, and how to use them effectively to promote your content, is one major key to your success on the platform. 

While “the ‘gram” is widely known to make frequent changes to optimize its organic search algorithm, there are truisms about good hashtag use that are seemingly timeless. Regardless of whether these precedents are timeless, here is the latest on how to use hashtags to their fullest potential when working with Meta’s golden child. 

Let’s start by dispelling some myths about Instagram hashtags. Hashtags are not on-platform advertising mechanisms. They are “a tool that provides context about your post” and its content. In other words, they’re there so the algorithm promoting organic reach can do its job better.

Hashtags are also not a “more the merrier” type of deal. Stuffing hashtags into your content won’t do it any favors, and you run the risk of choosing an irrelevant hashtag that someone may have intentionally muted. Let’s illustrate with some examples. Say you’re a tech influencer who’s made a post about the recent Tesla recall, and CES is chugging along as it does in early January (these events coincided earlier this month). Adding #CES to the bottom of your post about the Tesla news can be harmful if it has nothing to do with the annual Consumer Electronics Show. In fact, many tech news consumers may be so inundated with nonstop CES news (or morally opposed to the convention being held during a wave of viral infections) that they mute the hashtag. 

Let’s also look at the flip side, someone looking for CES content regarding the latest QLED TVs, EVs, smart refrigerators, and everything else unveiled at the convention. They may be annoyed at your brand for clogging up that hashtag feed with stuff that has nothing to do with the convention. Now they’re inclined to mute your account so that they can see just the meat of the content they’re looking for, with none of the fat.

In both circumstances, adding the irrelevant hashtag did more harm than good. If you want your brand to actually reach someone on the explore page, with content they’re likely to welcome in their feeds, then you need to follow some of the DOs of Instagram Hashstrategy: 

When in doubt, only use the most relevant hashtags in your posts, not anything that’s just tangentially related to your content.

How many hashtags then? If you’ve seen the recent Spiderman movie, you’ll know that 3 is the magic number. More specifically, between 3 and 5 hashtags and you're golden. Don’t just take our word for it, Instagram’s own creators’ page indicates that this is the best way to go in a recent post.

You’ll also notice that this guide calls specific attention to using “niche” hashtags alongside the more generic ones. What does this mean exactly? Imagine you’re managing a chef’s account, or you’re some variety of food influencer. While #cooking is always going to seem like a no-brainer, millions of people are likely following that hashtag. If the 52,981,968 posts with that hashtag indicate anything, it’s that it gets used all the time, by everybody, from stay-at-home parents to Gordon Ramsey himself. You’ll seldom be successful in cutting through all that noise. 

Now imagine your chef’s specialty is vegan-friendly dishes. Perhaps they just made a lovely quinoa dish with a perfect saliva-inducing photo to accompany it. Hashtags associated with these words are going to be much more effective at finding an audience compared to #cooking. #VeganRecipies has way fewer posts by comparison (8mil), but we can still go deeper. Maybe you’re trying to reach an audience of new vegans or people just getting into the lifestyle. #Veganuary is in full swing as I write this, with a thriving community of people and even less noise to cut through (1.5 mil posts). If you wanted significantly less noise to cut through while still reaching a relevant audience of people who will like your posts, try something like #VeganAdvice. With less than 4k posts, that indicates a small yet sizable cohort of people who would be interested in a picture of your chef’s specialty quinoa dish with a caption along the lines of “Tired of eating so much plain white rice as a vegan? Try to add more quinoa into your diet, which is nutritionally superior to rice because of x, y, and z…” #VeganAdvice #Veganuary #VeganRecipies”. 

Say it with me now: when it comes to hashtags, niche is nice. You need something that has a built-in audience, but something that won’t get buried below a sea of other posts like it in the hashtag feed. 

You’ll notice we still included the “Veganuary” and “VeganRecipies” hashtags in with the more niche ones. This is because you need to mix your well-known and niche hashtags to increase your discoverability.  While not always true, a topic being niche is usually not indicative of being well-known or mainstream. To balance this out, we put the more popular hashtags alongside the niche ones. This way we have our bases covered for content being more specific and more discoverable within the explore page. 

It’s important to remember: hashtags are there to pair users with the content they’re most inclined to enjoy. As long as you have a healthy mix of 2-3 niche hashtags paired with 2-3 mainstream ones, you’re using the platform as intended. When in doubt, keep it simple. If you see a smaller, more relevant audience to target with your hashtags, go for it. If you’re not sure that audience is the best fit, or doubt that they’d vibe with your content, trust your instincts. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who just got off work and wants to catch up on all the latest CES news. Do you think they’ll enjoy seeing your post about the Tesla recall in their feed? Context is king. 

Now it’s time to do the research. Go on Instagram and find the broadest possible hashtags that could fit into your brand’s subject matter. Make a list and label it “1”. This is the largest possible umbrella that your content could fit into. If you’re managing the Chef’s account from earlier, this would be something like #food or #diningout. Now find a relevant keyword with half the amount of posts (note, Instagram doesn't currently let you see how many people are following a given hashtag, but we can use the number of posts with that hashtag as a good indicator of popularity). This could be something along the lines of #indoordining #foodie, etc. Label this list “2.” Keep halving until you end up with 5 lists of hashtag categories, ranging from broadest to most niche. Make notes for the most promising ones found along the way, with things like how popular they are, and how applicable they are to your client. You now have 5 categories of hashtags to choose from when writing your next caption. Choose 1 from each category and you’re making an even distribution of niche and well-known hashtags, just as the Instagram guidelines recommended. 

Alternatively, if you feel like you have a post with content at the intersection of 3 equally-sized niche communities, it’s fine to use all three of those niche hashtags in your post as well. This is just an exercise demonstrating how not all of your hashtags should cover the widest-possible demographics. 

In the end, as long as you’re targeting specific communities of people, and not using hashtags as an afterthought, you’re likely on the right track when it comes to your Instagram Hashstrategy. Just remember to reference the most recent cheat sheet whenever you find yourself confused about the do’s and don’t of hashtags, and remember these methods outlined above to find a wide range of communities, with varying sizes, all of which may be interested in your content. 
Are you looking for more help with your social media management and hashtag strategy? Look no further than Geek Chicago, a digital marketing services agency founded in 2011 with the goal of enriching and growing our clients’ brands, while allowing them to focus on what they do best. Send us a message today if you’d like to explore how Geek Chicago can help your business grow.