Instagram Hashtag Strategy Tips for Creatives

Instagram is constantly updating its features and algorithm and it’s hard to know what strategies should stay or go. Let’s talk about your Instagram hashtag strategy and creating content your ideal audience will love.

Every small business is different and it’s important to remember that when applying new strategies to your own business. Before you read on, I highly suggest that you head over to your Instagram Insights if you haven’t already, and get a general idea of how it works and what data you already have access to. Unfortunately, there isn’t any hashtag-specific data – yet –  but you are able to see best-performing posts based on reach, and note which hashtags you had used on that post!

Start in Instagram Insights

Open your Instagram profile and click on the Insights button. There, you can analyze how your content is performing.

I suggest you take a look at your top 5 posts in the last 30 days. What hashtags were used in those posts? Mark them down somewhere to use for later!

Understand Your Ideal Audience

By understanding who you’re creating content for, you’ll be able to identify other things like: How can you best serve your audience? What questions do they have that you can answer? What products/services of yours will make their lives easier? Answering these questions will help you better understand what your ideal audience’s needs are.

I wrote an entire blog post on Why Customer Personas are Essential for Your Small Business. It dives deep into understanding & defining your dream client/customer and includes a free workbook to help you create up to 3 persona profiles!

When you know exactly who your business best serves, you’ll know exactly what they’re searching for online & what platforms to find them on. Use this to your advantage for your hashtag strategy! What hashtags or terms are they searching for on Instagram? Use those hashtags in your next post, but only as long as your content relates to the hashtag/term!

Analyze Your Industry

What are your competitors talking about online? More importantly, what aren’t they talking about? And how can you bring your expertise in to create your own spin? The gaps within their content plan could be golden nuggets in yours. By talking about the topics they aren’t already covering, you’ll bring new value to your ideal audience.

Research hashtags surrounding the topics your competitors aren’t covering, big or small. Not only will you be covering something they’re not, but you’ll also be able to show up where they aren’t. Giving you the advantage to increase brand awareness and reach!

Understanding Hashtag “Competition”

The competition of a hashtag depends on how many posts have been published using that hashtag. So if you try using a really popular hashtag, it’s more likely that your post will get lost in the crowd.

Back when using all 30 hashtags was the general rule of thumb, I would’ve said to try using 3-5 high competition hashtags. Now that the supposed rule is to use only 5, I would try staying within the medium competition hashtags.

Low Competition: Less than 100k posts
Medium Competition: Between 100k – 500k posts
High Competition: Greater than 500k posts

How Many Hashtags Should You Use?

This is tricky! With all of the new Instagram updates rolling out, it’s hard to know what the best practices are. What we do know, is that Instagram’s Creator account recently sponsored a post on what they believe to be the best practices. (Screenshot attached).

They say to keep the number of hashtags between 3-5. Personally, I’ve seen mixed results when using ~5 hashtags. Some of my clients do better with less, and others better with more. It really comes down to trial & error and seeing what works best for your own business.

Image says: Do use hashtags that are relevant to the theme of your content. Do check which hashtags your fans already use and follow. Do mix well-known and niche hashtags to broaden your discoverability. Do use specific hashtags so your fans can easily search for your content. You can create your own! Do keep the number of hashtags between 3-5.

Photo from @creators on Instagram.

Hashtags for Location-based Businesses

I’ve seen a TON of success with my clients who use location-based hashtags. A location-based hashtag simply means a hashtag that identifies the location you do business in, and your profession (ex. #newyorkbakery).

If your business depends on people local to you, DEFINITELY use at least 2, one medium & one high competition location-based hashtags.

Image says: Don't use hashtags that have nothing to do with your content (e.g. #explorepage). 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. Don't use too many hashtags- adding 10-20 hashtags will not help you get additional distribution.

Need more ideas on what type of hashtags to use? Check out this blog post by Later where they break down the different types of hashtags to add to your posts.

Using Instagram Hashtags in Stories

Yes! You can use up to 10 hashtags in one of your Instagram story posts.  When adding a hashtag to your story, your story will be added to the hashtag’s story! Aka, reach more of your ideal audience.

Organize Your Instagram Hashtags

It’s time to start creating your library of captions! I personally love using spreadsheets (Google Sheets to be exact) to organize all of my hashtags.

Organize your hashtags into sets so you can quickly copy & paste them into your caption when it’s time to post! You can add them directly to your social media content planner (steal the one I use with clients here!), or use your scheduler like Later or Tailwind to auto-post hashtags in the first comment of your post!

BTW. There are rumors that the new Instagram algorithm is looking at your image and caption to identify what it’s about & who it’s best for. I recommend switching up where your hashtags live, whether they are in your caption or in the first comment. Check in with your Insights after testing the waters and see which performs best for your biz!

In Summary

Not one person knows exactly what the Instagram algorithm entails, so your guess is as good as anyone else’s. BUT, I can share my experiences with my own account as well as my clients who are fellow creatives. This knowledge is what my advice is based on.

  • Start with what you already know about your own business. Check your Instagram Insights and find what’s working already. Remember to track your best-performing posts (based on reach) and markdown which hashtags were used in those posts.
  • Identify exactly who your business best serves. This will help you create content & find hashtags with medium to high competition.
  • Find what content your competitors are not talking on. Use these gaps to your advantage and find related hashtags!
  • Organize your hashtags for ease of use when posting to Instagram!

And most importantly, you should always create quality content that makes your ideal audience like, comment, share, or save (in a perfect world, all of the above.) This well help further your posts no matter the hashtags!

Interested in more Instagram-related tips? Let’s be friends on Instagram!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

An entrepreneur passionate about empowering women-owned small businesses by offering the resources they need to grow their online presence.


I'm Emily