April 18, 2018 Last updated on August 19th, 2020
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Want to know how to use hashtags on Instagram the right way?

Wondering how to reach a new audience and generate more engagement with Instagram hashtags?

Well, you’re in the right place!

This article will cover all the best practices for using Instagram hashtags to grow your account, from hashtag research and selection, to evaluating hashtag performance.

how to use hashtags on instagram

#1 Use the same hashtags as your target audience

A good place to begin with selecting the hashtags that are going to help you grow is to discover which hashtags your ideal Instagram follower is already using. Check out the hashtags they add to their posts for ideas – if your target audience is using and interacting with a particular hashtag, you can get your content in front of them simply by adding that tag to your post!

However, you should always dig deeper into potential hashtags to make sure they will actually add value. If the hashtag has too few associated posts, nobody will see your post as nobody is actually searching for or using that hashtag (even if it sounds cool). The same problem applies if the hashtag has too many associated posts – your post will be a drop in the ocean of content on that hashtag, and it will be pushed down the feed before anyone has even had a glimpse! ☹️

But more on that later!

To check the number of times a hashtag has been used, simply search for it in the search bar on the Instagram app, and select the ‘Tags’ tab.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: check hashtag usage

TOP TIP: Look at the accounts of influencers in your niche, because they know how to use Instagram professionally and they’ll most likely have done their hashtag research. They’re also likely to be the first to jump on trending hashtags, so get in on the action and use them to drive up your visibility and engagement – before everyone else get’s there first!

#2 Copy your competitors’ hashtags on Instagram

Next, focus on find industry-specific hashtags. These are basically Instagram hashtags that are used by similar brands to yours, and by direct competitors. You can utilize these hashtags to help position your content and your account, and benefit from a pre-existing community.

To get some inspiration for hashtags that will actually help you grow your Instagram , visit your competitors’ accounts and spy on their recent posts. Which industry-specific hashtags do they use that also apply to your brand? Take note of as many of these hashtags as possible so you can evaluate them later and use the best-fitting ones in your future posts.

Keep in mind that popular and relevant hashtags change regularly, so it’s important to refresh your hashtag list as often as possible!

You can get a more in-depth look at the hashtags your competitors are using on Instagram through Competitor Tracking if you have an Instagram Business Profile and a PRO plan or above on Iconosquare.

To add competitor’s hashtags on Iconosquare, head to the Analytics tab under ‘Competitors’ and add the Instagram handle of the accounts you want to track. Depending on your plan, you can add up to 10 competitor accounts (bear in mind that they also have to be Business Accounts).

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: use Iconosquare's Competitor's feature to research hashtags

When you select the competitor from the list, you’ll be able to scroll down to ‘Tag Usage’ where you’ll see the Instagram hashtags they’ve used over the past 30 days.

You can also click into each hashtag to see the associated content, and get an overview of the Instagram hashtag usage across all of the competitor accounts you’re tracking. This will give you a consistent view of the way your competitors are using hashtags on Instagram over a period of time, so you have a rolling source of hashtag inspiration to grow your account.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: Check competitor's hashtag usage

#3 Follow hashtags recommended by Instagram for inspiration

The option to follow hashtags, which was introduced in December 2017, provides another way to discover new hashtags for your posts. Instagram automatically suggests related hashtags to any hashtags you follow, as well as the accounts and content topics you engage with most. So, the more hashtags you follow, and the more you engage with content in your industry that relates to your brand, the more relevant the hashtag suggestions will be (and the more visibility your Instagram Profile will get!).

To find your hashtag suggestions, click on ‘following’ at the top of your profile, and then select ‘hashtags’.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: hashtag suggestions

#4 Use specific, long-tail Instagram hashtags as much as possible

As I mentioned earlier, to make sure your post doesn’t get lost in a sea of other similar posts, you’re going to want to choose hashtags that aren’t already saturated with associated content. If a hashtag has millions of posts associated with it (take #love as an example), I’m sorry to say, no one is going to find your post through this hashtag. If you want to grow your Instagram, you’ll need to look beyond basic, generic hashtags, and focus on targeted, long-tail hashtags.

For example, if you’re a small retail business selling vintage clothing, you’d probably think to use #vintage or #vintageclothing to promote your posts. However, because these hashtags are so general, they’ve already been used literally millions of times –68,399,555 and  2,181,164 times respectively to be exact (and it’s going up by the minute). Thankfully, when you search for these hashtags on Instagram, you’re given a list of similar, related hashtags that have fewer associated posts. Keep clicking through until you find your winning long-tail hashtags, ideally with fewer than 100,000 associated posts.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: use longtail hashtags

Here you can see the difference between the more general #vintageclothing hashtag versus the more targeted, long-tail hashtag #truevintageootd. Using the latter gives you more opportunity to get your content seen, so it makes sense to go for this one.

#5 Vary your hashtags across your Instagram posts

Once you’ve researched your Instagram hashtags, it’s tempting to use the same ones across every post. Copying and pasting them over and over definitely saves time, but DON’T DO IT!


By not varying your hashtags, you’re limiting your audience. Without testing your hashtags, how do you know which ones are getting you the most followers and the best engagement, both in terms of quantity and quality?

To see how many people found your post via hashtags on Instagram, you need a Business Profile which will give you access to Insights. However, while you can see how many times your hashtags worked for you, you can’t see which one it was that brought a user to your post.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: use Instagram business insights

Using the same hashtags on every post could cause Instagram to recognize your content as spam, and limit the visibility of your posts. This is also known as a shadowban – something which has been widely debated and recently ‘debunked’ by Instagram…yet the shadowban debate continues.

The same applies to ‘banned’ hashtags (‘banned’ meaning no content is shown when you search for that particular hashtag). You might have heard about a number of seemingly innocent hashtags, such as ‘#dogsofinstagram’ and ‘#boho’ falling into this category and causing an account to be shadowbanned by Instagram. The good news is, this no longer seems to be the case, and now only clearly offensive or pornographic hashtags are banned (but you weren’t going to use those anyway…).

My advice? Better be on the safe side and mix up your hashtags! And keep it clean…

#6 Create a brand hashtag on Instagram

Wondering how to use hashtags on Instagram to bring your community together?

Creating a brand hashtag is a good way to collect all of the content relating to your brand, including UGC and influencer content. If you encourage your community to use your branded hashtag in their posts when showcasing your product or participating in a UGC competition, their followers are more likely to find your own posts and visit your Profile. The more your branded hashtag is used, the more visibility your account, and your brand, receives.

Your branded hashtag doesn’t have to be the name of your brand. Take Nike and the hashtag #justdoit. Nike made their slogan (which is just as recognizable as their name or logo) their brand hashtag, and it’s been used over 13 million times on the platform.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: Nike hashtag example

Another benefit of using a branded hashtag is having the ability to monitor your visibility and the sentiment around your brand on Instagram. When your search for your brand hashtag on the platform, you’ll be able to see the type of posts tagged with your hashtag, what users are saying about your brand in the post captions, and the profiles of the users engaging with your hashtag.

#7 Establish micro-communities using Instagram hashtags

Using a single, consistent brand hashtag is just one way of establishing a community and collating content on Instagram. You can use hashtags to build a number of different micro-communities relating to your brand or product for particular events, seasons, or promotions.

Makeup brand Too Faced created the time-relevant hashtag #tflifesafestival to encourage their community to share their festival makeup style on Instagram. Posting under a popular hashtag is beneficial for users too, as it gives them the chance to get discovered, gain new followers and increase engagement on their own accounts.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: grow your instagram community with hashtags

Even if you don’t share much or any UGC on your Instagram account, using hashtags to build micro-communities can still be a good strategy for you to boost your visibility and engagement.

#8 Use hashtags on Instagram Stories

Want to learn how to use hashtags on Instagram Stories to grow your account? Adding hashtags to your Stories improves their discoverability, just as it does with posts in the feed. To add a hashtag sticker to your Story, just upload your photo or video, select the sticker icon in the top left corner of the screen, and choose ‘#Hashtag’.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: use Iconosquare's Competitor's feature to research hashtags: use hashtags on stories

Type in your hashtag and check out the suggestions for other hashtags at the bottom of the screen. Often these are more specific, long-tail hashtags with fewer associated posts, giving your Story more chance of being discovered.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: adding hashtags on Instagram Stories

Currently, you can only add one hashtag sticker per Story, but if you want to add additional hashtags to your post, you can do so using the normal text function. Your Story will still be found through these extra Instagram hashtags – but don’t overdo it. Too many tags in a Story will make it look spammy!

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: Adding extra hashtags to Stories

#9 Monitor the performance of the hashtags you’re using

To get greater insights into the performance of the Instagram hashtags you use, including your brand and campaign hashtags, you can use a tool that provides hashtag analytics. Iconosquare allows you track up to 10 specific hashtags depending on the plan you choose for your account.

To set up hashtag tracking, go into the Analytics tab, select ‘Hashtags’ and then add the hashtag you want to track.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: use Iconosquare hashtag tracking

It takes around 24 hours to generate the hashtag data. Once this is done, your hashtags will be displayed in a table displaying an overview of the key stats.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: hashtag tracking

You can click into your hashtag to view in-depth insights including how many times the hashtag has been used, the engagement on the hashtag, all the media tagged with that particular hashtag, and the locations where the hashtag is used most frequently.

You can also export the data as a CSV, PNG, SVG or PDF by selecting the download arrow in the top right corner of the available sections.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram to Grow Your Account: monitoring hashtag growth

Hashtags can really boost your visibility and engagement on Instagram, but a strategic approach is essential. Researching and refreshing your hashtags regularly will ensure the ones you use are effective in helping you grow your account – so keep at it!

 How do you use hashtags on Instagram? Are the hashtags you use bringing you new followers and engagement?
Let us know in the comments!

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About the author
Caitlin Hughes

Caitlin Hughes

Caitlin is a Content Marketing expert at Iconosquare, based in Berlin. She’s passionate about creating ROI-driven content strategies and sharing her best tips on social media marketing. She’s also into true crime, loves ‘80’s music, and spends too much time online shopping.

More posts by Caitlin Hughes

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