How many hashtags should you add to your Instagram posts to make engagement pop?
According to Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri, hashtags don’t really help with post distribution, so it’s probably not worth losing too much sleep over, either way…
Mosseri stated that hashtags are designed to help categorise posts better and ensure users find the stuff they’re looking for. But can it really be true that they don’t help with distribution?
Data examined – new hashtag info produced
That’s where a new study from Social Insider comes into play.
Social Insider recently crunched the numbers and analysed over 75 million Instagram posts between March 2021 and March 2022 to determine what’s happening in the app.
And… turns out Mosseri does know what’s happening on the platform he runs. The results found that the number of hashtags used on an Instagram post does not influence distribution.
“The number of hashtags a post has doesn’t really influence post distribution, which we calculated as the average engagement rate by impressions.”
The theory goes like this: as hashtags are used to categorise content and tell users what your post is about, they do not help gain more distribution. Additionally, the introduction of Instagram keyword search means users can find items via longer search terms, not just hashtags.
Different tactics for different account sizes
The boffins at Social Insider ran extensive tests and presented findings that showed you can use between 1 and 20 hashtags, and you’ll still get around the same engagement rate by impressions (3%). There was some slight fluctuation, but nothing significant – and certainly nothing significant enough to base an Instagram strategy around.
However, there were some interesting takeaways concerning follower count.
“The best practice for big accounts (with 50k – 1m followers) is to post Instagram content with three-four hashtags to obtain an average engagement rate by impressions of 3.42%.”
Results showed that smaller accounts (with 10k – 50k followers) get a higher impression rate if they use five to six hashtags.
Mosseri, the Head of Instagram, really put the cat among the pigeons with his latest quote – read what he said in full below.
“They (hashtags) 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.”
In some instances, it might seem like hashtags cause content to perform better, but that’s only because people are engaging with your post, which then prompts Instagram to promote it on top posts via hashtag pages, suggested posts, or hashtags people follow. In this instance, the post is popular, so the hashtag is then promoted.
Not, as we previously might have thought, the post is popular because of the hashtag.
Hashtags have a place in Explore
An area where hashtags can be helpful is in Explore (Search).
Search is built to help users find accounts or topics of interest – think of it like the For You Page on TikTok, but not as good.
What you interact with within the main Feed and the things you search for will inform Explore, which will show you different content.
“It’s different from Feed, Stories, Reels and Explore because your input helps us figure out what to show you. Your search tells us what you’re looking for.”
Brands can be discovered via search if they’re using the proper hashtags.
Let’s say someone is searching for ‘desks’. They type that into the search bar, and #desks show up as one of the top results. The person clicks on that and discovers your range of sleek, innovative work from home desks. They can then browse your profile, and if they like what they see, make a purchase.
Annnnd that’s how you can use hashtags to grow reach and even win a little bit of business.
But, make sure you’re using relevant keywords and hashtags in your captions (not the comments). Also, have locations in your bio and make sure your bio has the proper keywords for good measure.