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April, 2022

Instagram Hashtags: Do They Really Matter?

This article was contributed by Jonathon Tanner, Co-CEO and founder, Social Media College

It has long been believed that Instagram hashtags can help you gain more reach on the platform. The right hashtags can get you in front of the right people, allowing interested audience members to discover your content and your brand.

That was considered widespread best practice for building an Instagram strategy, but last month the Head of Instagram shared that hashtags don’t impact reach at all… or at least not the way that some brands think.

Since hashtags are clearly an important part of many brands’ Instagram strategies, let’s take a look at what was said, and exactly what this means for strategists moving forward.

Why Hashtag Effectiveness is In Question

Previously, it’s been thought that hashtags can help increase reach in the following ways:

  • They allow you to show up when users search for or follow specific hashtags that you’re using
  • They provide Instagram with context to determine what your content is about, making it easier for the algorithm to show your content to relevant users as in-feed suggestions or in the Explore section

In March, however, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri posted a Story of his own in response to a user question that said that hashtags aren’t quite as impactful as users think.

Here’s what he said:

“They do help us to understand what a post is about, which means it might be more likely to show up in a place like a hashtag page, for instance, but in general, no, I wouldn’t try to think of hashtags as a way to get more distribution.”

This, naturally, resulted in an enormous amount of discourse amongst social media marketers about whether or not hashtags really matter on Instagram.

How Hashtags Do & Don’t Impact Reach

There were some misconceptions that Mosseri implied that hashtags are entirely irrelevant.

That’s not the case.

He was explaining that hashtags aren’t effective as a significant distribution strategy. Instagram isn’t going to read your hashtags and place your content in Explore feeds or Shop pages of relevant users. The right hashtags aren’t magically going to put you in front of hundreds of thousands of users.

He did acknowledge, however, that using hashtags can have an impact on reach in other ways. Some users do search for hashtag pages or follow select hashtags. That’s still a good reach-building option because it helps you show up in more places on the app. For this reason alone, we recommend that you continue to use hashtags on Instagram and that you don’t toss all that hashtag research out the window.

Hashtags Are About More Than Just Reach

While hashtags may not have quite as strong an impact on reach as many strategists had thought, the reality is that they can be valuable even outside of reach. Plenty of users, for example, actually enjoy reading what we call “entertainment-focused” hashtags that are designed to be entertaining or add value as part of the Instagram caption. They can actively enrich the captions and thus your overall content.

Hashtags to track branded content and create strong, branded UGC (user generated content) feeds are also an invaluable marketing tactic. We strongly recommend that each organization features a branded hashtag in their profile and encourages users to tag them in it.

Other users will look at these hashtag pages to see what people think of a brand, and it makes it easier for your brand to find UGC that you can share.

Final Thoughts: Hashtags Still Matter

While Mosseri’s statement had a lot of people questioning their entire Instagram distribution strategies, nobody should be throwing out their hashtags just yet.

Hashtags are still a vital part of the platform, even if they don’t offer quite the same benefits as we may have thought.

Make sure that you have a branded hashtag, and that you’re using immediately-relevant hashtags that users are more likely to follow. And, as always, focus on engagement-building content to gain priority in the algorithm, which continues to be the best way to increase your reach and build your account.

And when it comes to hashtags, here’s our best tip: Don’t worry about including all 33 hashtags to try to maximize reach unless you have a good reason to do so. Instead, focus on including a few hashtags that are directly relevant to the content at hand. These will stand out more to your audience, making them more effective in the way hashtags work best.

This article was contributed by Jonathon Tanner, Co-CEO and founder, Social Media College


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