The Only Instagram Hashtag Guide You Need in 2020

  • by John Maduforo
  • Feb 17, 2020
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Do you remember when the hashtag symbol “#” was just a symbol on our keypad and was only useful when we dialled USSD codes or an IVR system asked you to press the pound key?

Today, it’s not just a popular term on Social Media Channels like Instagram, but rather a means of discovering content you are interested in.

Because they are so important I think it’s important to explain what hashtags really do and why they exist.

If I invented my own definition for the Hashtag, it would say…

The hashtag is a feature on social media platforms that allow users to organize and categorise content into searchable tags — John Maduforo (2020)

What do hashtags really do?

– “Hashtags make your content easy to find”

Think of how you would use Google to find content around a particular topic, for example, if you were looking for the best places to unwind in Lagos during the weekend, you’d probably search for “best restaurants in Lagos” or “best places to hang out in Lagos” but it’s different for most social media platforms, specifically, Instagram where content is discovered using hashtags.

If Instagram was a search engine, hashtags would be the keywords

When you search for a hashtag on Instagram, you’re able to see posts that have been tagged with it, and when you add a hashtag to your post, it can be discovered by anyone who searches for that hashtag.

For example, here’s what you’d most likely find when you search for “restaurants in Lagos” on Instagram, using the tag #RestaurantsInLagos

Hashtag #RestaurantsInLagos

Now that you understand why hashtags exist and how they work, let’s talk about…

Why you should use Hashtags

While Instagram hashtags may seem like a bunch of #random #clickable #words, they are one of the most important tools every social media marketer should use….and decision-makers must put them at the forefront of their strategies.

Let’s stop and think about how much time, energy and brainwork goes into creating an Instagram post. It would be a waste to limit the reach of a good post when you can help people find it, even when they don’t follow you.

When used right, hashtags can vastly increase your chances of gaining new followers and increasing your engagement, but aside from visibility and reach, many successful brands on Instagram currently use hashtags to monitor audience interests and learn from their competition.

By actively following hashtags, you can gain valuable insights and data into what content with similar tags performs best and what doesn’t work,

Quick Tip: Search for a hashtag on Instagram that you’d like to monitor, click the follow button to start following the Hashtag and see new posts that are tagged with it.

The Instagram Hashtag Strategy (types of hashtags)

Ultimately, hashtags help you expand your content reach, amplify your brand and reach a targeted audience, but in order to successfully get the best results with hashtags, you need to be strategic.

Understanding the different types of hashtags and how they work is a great way to start. In this blog, I will be placing Instagram hashtags into 3 categories; Most Popular, Branded and Community hashtags.

Popular Hashtags

The most popular hashtags are often simple words like #love, #Cats, #Food #Foodie or #Fashion because they have been used so many times and have the most picture or video content in tagged with them. While these are great for increasing post reach, they don’t do a great job in finding engaged users. Their audiences are very wide and random and may not be interested in your post even though they are searching for the topic.

Imagine you lived in Lagos and searched for the hashtag #Restaurants, you’d also find posts from Kenyan restaurants that have used the tag, but I bet your chances of engaging a restaurant you will be visiting over the weekend is very slim. While I’m not totally against using popular hashtags, make sure to use more branded and community hashtags.

Branded Hashtags

A branded hashtag is one that is unique to your brand. It could be your business name, a slogan/tagline, a product or even a campaign that involves the brand. Sometimes it could be your brand values or anything around your brand’s identity.

These hashtags may not be popular, but as you create more content, they become a great way to connect with you and your audience, aggregate user-generated content and ultimately amplify your brand.

I love how United Bank for Africa (UBA) tell their brand story with the hashtag #AfricasGlobalBank with over 5,000 original, curated and user-generated posts under the tag.

UBA Branded Hashtag #AfricasGlobalBank

Community/Industry Hashtags

Depending on how many people engage with a hashtag in this category, community hashtags are often more popular than branded hashtags. These are tags that connect ‘Instagramers’ with similar interests or goals. These hashtags are not always restricted to brands and can be used by accounts with a similar audience.

An example of such hashtags is #EverythingNaArt, a hashtag that is currently populated with over 41k posts (Data as of February 2020) mostly from content creators, lifestyle bloggers, users in the creative space.

Another example of a community hashtag can be #EatingHealthy or #HealthyLiving for users who like to create content around food, fitness and healthy lifestyle. Creating or using a community hashtag is a great way to reach a very targeted audience, grow your own community and gain quality engagement on your posts.

This is my most recommended category of hashtags and the best way to find these hashtags is to look at what hashtags your audience and favourite accounts are currently engaging with.

Quick Tip: The smaller the scope of a hashtag is, the more targeted and engaged the users are.

#EverythingNaArt Hashtags

Best Hashtag Practices

As much as there are no laid out rules when it comes to using hashtags, there are best practices that help you get the best results from using hashtags on your Instagram and these are some of my favourite ones.

Number of hashtags

You can only use up to 30 hashtags on an Instagram post and if you are one of those who write only “Good Morning” as a caption, please don’t complain, your followers didn’t come online to read hashtags. In not-just-my-opinion, posting so many hashtags may come across as desperate, too promotional or even as spam.

Quick Tip: Use up to 5 hashtags that are closely related to your content in the caption and add the rest as a first comment (Instagram discovers hashtags in the comment section on your post),

Number of characters; Too much of anything is BAD

Even though #InstagramHashtagsAreNotLimitedByCharacterCount, I bet you didn’t enjoy reading that. Keep your hashtags brief and easy to read so your audience can remember to use it. Also bear in mind that nobody goes on Instagram to search for long hashtags, so its a total waste of time and caption space, nobody will find you in that forest 🌳🌳🌳

Unsupported Characters

Instagram hashtags don’t support special characters like (! @ # $ % &) so stop writing these fancy things, it’s like winking in the dark, your crush won’t see you. Also, spaces are a no-no in hashtags. For example, a hashtag for Lagos Restaurants would be tagged at ‘#LagosRestaurants’ and not ‘#Lagos Restaurants’.

Avoid Banned Hashtags

Instagram has strict rules against content that promotes violence, nudity, partial nudity, discrimination, pornography and a list of other things. This also applies for hashtags that are associated with these content. An Instagram ban can be outright or temporary. When it’s an outright ban, no content with such a tag will show up in search, while temporary ban may only block your content for a short time.

Whatever the case may be, you are better off posting without hashtags than using a banned hashtag that gets you in trouble.

There are tons of tools online that can help you research, organise and even detect banned hashtags when you choose them. Some of my favourite ones are Hashtagify and RiteTag, you should definitely check them out and if you already have your favourite ones, please share them in the comments.

I hope you start to create magic using hashtags, and if you enjoyed reading this blog, please share to help someone else find it ❤️❤️❤️


John Maduforo

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