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Instagram's New Hashtag Guidance

Hashtags are constantly the cause for heated debate among avid Instagram users. Should you use the full 30 hashtags Instagram allows? Should you switch them up? Should you use trending hashtags even though they don’t relate to your content? The questions around these mysterious tags are endless. Instagram recently dropped a bomb on hashtag fanatics. We're breaking down Instagram's recent guidance for best practices with hashtags ... and our opinions on their guidance. Let's get to it.

Instagram's New Guidance on Hashtags

As Instagram likes to do, they shared new guidance via their @creators account. It seems like the @creators account has become our main source of Instagram news for the last couple of years. According to Instagram, below are things you should do with hashtags:

  1. Do use hashtags that are relevant to the theme of your content.

  2. Do check which hashtags your fans already use and follow.

  3. Do mix well-known and niche hashtags to broaden your discoverability.

  4. Do use specific hashtags so your fans can easily search for your content. You can even create your own!

  5. Do keep the number of hashtags between 3-5.

Yes - we too are SHOCKED at #5. After telling us that we should use all 30, to then saying maybe only 15, and now dropping to 3-5 ... it makes sense if you're feeling some whiplash. And we're not quite sure how we can follow the suggestions in 1-4 with only using 5 hashtags max. They seem to contradict themselves ...

Now, here are things you shouldn't do with hashtags according to Instagram.

  1. Don't use hashtags that have nothing to do with your content (e.g. #explorepage).

  2. Don't use overly generic hashtags -- these will make it harder for people to discover your content due to the volume of other people using the hashtags.

  3. Don't use too many hashtags -- adding 10 - 20 hashtags will not help you get additional distribution.

In this @creators post, Instagram also made it clear that hashtags are no longer for the sole purpose of reach, but instead, hashtags should be viewed as a tool for categorization. Instagram also shared that your content and the way people interact with it will affect the reach of your post more than hashtags you use. This makes it clear to us that Instagram is going to continue to prioritize keyword search more than ever to push posts in the algorithm, as opposed to hashtags.

Should You Really Only Use 3 - 5 Hashtags?

Well known social media scheduling company Later conducted research to test Instagram's "Do keep the number of hashtags between 3-5" guidance, specifically in regards to how hashtags will affect a post's reach. They looked at over 18 million Instagram feed posts and compared the number of hashtags used per post with average reach rates. Later's results did not align with Instagram's recent guidance. As the hashtag amount grew from 1 to 30, the post's reach grew 11%. This means that if an account with 10K followers uses all 30 hashtags, they would gain 1.1K more accounts reached per post. By looking at Later's research and our own impressive hashtag reach results since Instagram unveiled its guidance, it seems to make sense to keep using the 30 hashtags until there is a significant drop in reach.

Check out the infographic below showcasing Later's research on the hashtag number's effect on reach rates.

As Instagram continues to develop its key word search and add more and more suggested content into our feeds, the 3-5 hashtag guidance may come in more handy. Hashtags might stop being a tool for reach entirely and only be used as a tool for categorization. With 30 hashtags, it could be harder for the algorithm to categorize your post to a clear industry or niche. With a few, extremely specific hashtags, your post may be categorized more clearly. Normally, we highly recommend following any and all guidance from Instagram because when you ignore their guidance, your content typically gets docked by the algorithm. But with Later's research bolstering our belief, we're going to keep using the limit of 30 hashtags. If something changes, we'll make sure you're the first to know.


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