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Are You Using Hashtags Wrong? Instagram Says You Need To Do The Research

Instagram ruined a lot of people’s week with one simple post on it’s @creators account. Specifically, they made a lot of the “beat the algorithm” crowd upset. For the first time in…maybe ever, Instagram actually gave us real guidelines for how to use hashtags.

Hashtags: You are probably using them wrong

If you keep an eye on these things, you might have thought that Instagram completely blew up the hashtag universe and created a whole new set of stars. YouTube video titles and blog articles proclaimed “Instagram Changes Hashtags!”, “Big Hashtag Changes”, and “Instagram Changed How Hashtags Worked AGAIN”.

Now, I know that YouTube video titles are not known for their veracity, but these reactions to the @creators post really overdo it. Unless, of course, you are someone who has been preaching a gimmicky, beat the algorithm narrative to your followers.

What Was Actually Said

Recently Instagram has begun sharing a bit more of the behind the scenes info on how their algorithm works in creating organic reach. They have shared posts explaining how ranking in the algorithm works for Reels, how you can influence what you see on Instagram, and how to show up on the Instagram search page.

Instagram’s post about how to use hashtags was a simple 4 page carousel post that spelled out some basic hashtag Do’s and Don’ts. But one in particular had the beat the algorithm folks baffled.

The last of the “Do” tips really threw a huge monkey-wrench into a lot of the hashtag strategies that float around YouTube and other social media outlets.

“Do keep the number of hashtags between 3–5”

Just to add a little more emphasis for those who might have though that this was some kind of hyperbolic statement, the last of the “Don’t” tips also stressed not using maximum hashtags.

“Don’t use too many hashtags — adding 10–20 hashtags will not help you get additional distribution.”

Why It Matters

Honestly, for a lot of us, it doesn’t. But to a select group of social media marketing gurus, it’s a big deal. For the most part, Instagram hasn’t really given much guidance on how to use hashtags. They did give everyone the ability to use up to 30 hashtags per post, but no info about what the ideal number is. That left a knowledge gap that had to be filled.

A lot of people wanted to know what the magic number of hashtags was. It’s human nature. So people started to speculate and formulate what that sweet spot was. What most of the crowd came up with was somewhere around 20 hashtags per post. Some went higher, some went lower. Nobody dared to say 3–5. That’s why Instagram’s hashtag count was so disruptive.

If you were one of the folks who made a living giving out Instagram tips and hacks, this 3–5 number probably shook your foundations. But really, it shouldn’t have. Before this revelation, all anyone was doing was speculating. Perhaps you saw some impressive results at a higher hashtag count, so it made sense to think that was the cause. But there was probably more to those results than the high number of hashtags.

What REALLY Matters

The other Do’s and Don’ts on the @creators post are not as explosive, but they are just as important to note. They also hint at why the 20+ hashtag theories may have worked.

The absolute key point on the “Do” list is rightfully listed first.

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

That simple statement tells us why the mega-hashtag strategy can still work, despite not complying to the Instagram ideal hashtags number. If you have 26 hashtags on your post, you’re bound to have included a few highly relevant tags.

Relevant hashtags are all that really matter. If you use the most relevant hashtags, people who discover your content through a hashtag search will find your content to be a satisfying result. That can lead to increased engagement, greater organic reach and even further exploration of the rest of your account’s content.

Just to reiterate how important relevant hashtags are, first on the “Don’t” list is another tip focused on relevancy.

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

Again, this isn’t exactly a hot take from Instagram. It does, however, give a look into why using maximum hashtags isn’t helpful. When someone uses an excessive amount of hashtags, at some point those hashtags will become less and less relevant. When the content doesn’t quite sync up with the hashtag, Instagram’s users get disappointed by the results.

The biggest takeaway

Everyone needs to do hashtag research. If you want to use the most relevant hashtags, you need to spend the time discovering what they are. There are many, many tools online to use for hashtag research.

Of course, the best reference material is Instagram itself. Spend some time exploring hashtags that other people in your niche are using. Find a good mix of hashtags that match up well with the content that you are putting out. Don’t forget that you can also create your own custom hashtag, relevant only to you and your followers so that they can find you, and only you, when they use it.

Instagram clearly cares about the user experience when it comes to hashtags. They may have debunked a lot of people’s growth strategies by putting out these guidelines, but they probably also helped a lot of us out. They took away the guesswork. The rest of the work is on us.

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