Instagram Hashtags Strategy Guide

Social Media

Instagram hashtags are a great way to categorize your posts and potentially increase their reach, though just how much is up for debate.

This guide answers common questions about hashtags on the popular photo- and video-sharing social network, along with tips and best practices.

Follow these guidelines to supercharge your next carousel or Reel with the right strategy.


  1. What are Instagram hashtags? What are Instagram hashtag rules?
  2. Do Instagram hashtags work anymore?
  3. What is the benefit of using Instagram hashtags?
  4. Which hashtags should you use?
  5. How many hashtags should you use?
  6. How can you tell how popular an Instagram hashtag is?
  7. Where is the best place to put a hashtag on Instagram?
  8. What is hashtag stuffing?
  9. How do you follow Instagram hashtags?
  10. What Instagram hashtags are trending?
  11. What Instagram hashtags are banned?
  12. How do you put hashtags in Instagram Stories?

What are Instagram hashtags? What are Instagram hashtag rules?

Instagram hashtags are words, phrases, numbers, symbols and emojis written after the # symbol. Here are some examples of possible hashtags:

  • #news
  • #PS130
  • #😃
  • #i_love_pizza
  • #pandas🐼

Notice anything about the list?

  1. None of them start with a number.
  2. Emojis can be standalone hashtags, or also part of hashtags.
  3. There are no spaces (though underscores are allowed).
  4. There are no special characters, like % or ! or &.

Do Instagram hashtags work anymore?

In a Q&A on his account in March 2022, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said “…in general, no, I wouldn’t try to think of hashtags as a way to get more distribution.”

He clarified his comment a couple weeks later: “I’m not saying hashtags don’t matter, I’m saying they’re not going to meaningfully change the amount of reach you get when you post.”

A recent study by Socialinsider of 75,361,233 posts concluded that “Instagram hashtags don’t help with post distribution.

But just because the head of Instagram says hashtags don’t “really” help your reach, and a large study supports the notion, doesn’t mean you should never use them. Hashtags should be a part of your Instagram strategy and not the foundation.

They’re a great way to organize your content and establish authority on a particular topic.

Let’s look at why Instagram hashtags are in fact useful, and answer some other questions about them.

What is the benefit of using Instagram hashtags?

Hashtags make it easier for users to find your content. Whenever users search for something in Instagram, if they go to the Tags tab, they’ll see all the results related to the word or phrase used.

Instagram Tags search tab example

When a user taps on a particular hashtag, they’ll be brought to the tags page, which shows corresponding “Top” posts, “Recent” posts and “Reels.” On April 19, 2022, however, Instagram announced a test in which it had eliminated the Recent tab.

Instagram tags tab test
Image: @InstagramComms on Twitter

Which hashtags should you use?

Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags in the same post, though the official recommendation is three to five.

When choosing hashtags, they should first and foremost be relevant. If you use a hashtag that isn’t closely related to your content, not only will you disappoint users who see what you posted, but you could invoke the wrath of the algorithm. (See below for information about “shadow bans.”)

Once you have established relevant hashtags, there are two primary routes you could take:

1. Use popular, well established hashtags

  • Pros: You know for sure that others are using this hashtag, and it’s more likely that someone searches for the particular #word or #phrase you’re using
  • Cons: It will be very competitive to appear in the top results of searches for this particular hashtag

2. Use hashtags with low post counts (my recommendation)

  • Pros: This won’t be very competitive, and when someone does open the search tab for this hashtag, your post will have a higher likelihood of being featured. You could also be a “first mover” in a particular topic and establish yourself as an authoritative voice in an area that others don’t often post about
  • Cons: Since users don’t often search for the this #word or #phrase, the number of times you’ll have an opportunity to show up in search results will be diminished

To generate ideas for hashtags, you can look at what others in your industry are posting, and even take ideas from what’s trending on other social media platforms, like TikTok and Twitter.

How many hashtags should you use?

From the aforementioned Socialinsider study:

“Big accounts should use three-four hashtags to obtain better impressions rates. Mid-sized accounts get a higher impression rate if they use more than five hashtags.”

Instagram itself, as of Sept. 28, 2021, recommends using three to five hashtags per post.

If you want to use more than these recommended amounts, do so prudently, and make sure they’re relevant. I would also recommend putting them at the end of your caption. Having a bunch of hashtags listed one after the other in the midst of regular text can be distracting.

You will find many examples of influential accounts using many far more than five hashtags per post, but you will also see that if that profile is generating a lot of interaction, all its hashtags are probably relevant.

How can you tell how popular an Instagram hashtag is?

Using the search function, any word or phrase you type will show you how many posts feature hashtags with that exact phrase, as well as other hashtags that contain the phrase.

Then, below each of the hashtags, you will see approximately how many times it’s been used in a post.

One thing to be aware of is that some phrases – especially acronyms – have different meanings for different people. So while you might think of chicken when you see the hashtag #KFC, perhaps there’s a soccer team called the Kansas Football Club that also (unwisely) uses the #KFC hashtag. In these situations, it’s best not to try to introduce a new meaning to a well-established hashtag.

Where is the best place to put a hashtag on Instagram?

The best place to put a hashtag on Instagram is in the caption of your post.

“For a post to be found in Search, put keywords and hashtags in the caption, not the comments,” according to the Instagram blog.

If you can organically include a hashtag in the text of your caption, feel free to do so. Otherwise, I prefer to include all relevant hashtags at the end of a post so that they don’t distract from the text. Here’s an example of how to do so:

Instagram caption with hashtags

I used a laptop emoji to create a line break. If you use empty line breaks on Instagram, they’ll be deleted when you save. To avoid this, put at least one character on each line break you want to create, even if it’s simply a dot or period. The benefit of doing this is that your hashtags are pushed further down the caption so that they’re not as immediately visible and possibly distracting.

Just make sure you’re not stuffing irrelevant hashtags.

What is hashtag stuffing?

Hashtag stuffing is when you include an excessive amount of hashtags that are marginally (or not at all) relevant to your content.

The feed algorithms for Instagram and other platforms (like TikTok) are wise, and can usually tell when you’re trying to game their formula to increase reach. This shady practice can result in a shadow ban. Shadow banning is a widely suspected yet unacknowledged tactic social networks use to suppress a particular account’s reach if they’re caught trying to manipulate the algorithms.

Instagram does acknowledge that if you use hashtags that go against their recommendation guidelines, the post will be hidden from search results. And hashtags (among other signals) that violate community guidelines will cause the post to be removed altogether.

How do you follow Instagram hashtags?

1. To follow Instagram hashtags, tap any hashtag you see anywhere on the app.

2. Tap “Follow.” You will now begin to see content related to this hashtag in your feed.

To unfollow a hashtag, simply go to a hashtag page and tap “Following” at the top, then tap “Unfollow” in red at the bottom.

Instagram does not have an official “trending” section like you might see on TikTok, for example. There are two ways to figure out which hashtags might be most popular in a given moment:

1. Keep an eye on the hashtags others are using in popular posts, especially those who create content similar to yours.

If you work for a news organization and you’re covering the Smith County Fair, look what others who are attending and sharing content from the fair are using. #SmithCountyFair may be the obvious choice, but what if it’s the 100th anniversary and #SmithFair100 is actually the one to use.

2. When you search for a topic, you don’t have to use a specific hashtag. Use any word or phrase, and Instagram will show you the hashtags related to that topic in the tags tab. From there, you’ll be able to see the number of posts that contain that particular hashtag.

Of course many of those posts could be old, or over-saturated, so don’t blindly use a hashtag just because it’s popular in search results.

What Instagram hashtags are banned?

To find out if recent posts for a particular hashtag are being hidden by Instagram for not following its community guidelines, follow these steps:

1. Go to the search tab on Instagram.

2. Type in the hashtag you’re considering using. If you don’t see it show up in the initial search results, that might be a clue that it’s been “banned.”

Instagram pushups search

3. Tap on the Tags tab

Instagram pushups search tag results tab

4. Tap into the hashtag in question

5. If you see a warning at the top of the screen like the one here, don’t use that hashtag.

Instagram #pushups page with warning for hidden posts because some don't follow community guidelines

6. If you don’t see a warning and the screen looks like this – and there’s a follow button – it’s an acceptable hashtag to use.

Instagram #apples hashtag page

How do you put hashtags in Instagram stories?

There are two ways to put hashtags in Instagram stories:

1. Use the hashtag sticker.

A. When creating your story, tap the sticker button at the top-right portion of the screen.

Instagram story Create blank

B. Select the #HASHTAG sticker.

Instagram Story stickers menu

C. Start typing, and you’ll begin to see suggested hashtags populate below.

Instagram story adding a hashtag sticker

D. Tap outside of where you’re typing and the hashtag will be added to the story, where you can then resize it by pinch-zooming in and out, as well as reposition by dragging it with your finger.

Instagram Story with hashtag sticker

Note: You can only use one hashtag per story with the sticker. If you want to use more than one hashtag, option 2 may be of interest.

2. Using the regular text option, which is activated by simply tapping your screen (or the Aa symbol up top), type the # symbol followed by whatever hashtag you want to use, and you’ll have created your hashtag. Repeat this step for as many hashtags as you want to create.

Instagram Story manually typed hashtag

This is what it will look like when you have multiple hashtags in the same story:

Instagram Story with multiple hashtags