Hashtags on Instagram: Super Spammy or Social Media Savvy?

IG hashtags (1)

I posted the 7 Essentials to Marketing Your Blog on Instagram a few weeks ago, and got a lot of great feedback from IFB’ers who have yet to get their feet wet on Instagram, as well as those who are far more well-versed than I am on IG marketing. I’d say my personal use of Instagram is average for a blogger marketing herself. I’ve got a good grip on the basics and make sure I have all the right hashtags and usernames tagged (especially when I’m working with – or want to work with – brands.) I’ve never really delved too seriously into growing my follower base, specifically with the use of hashtags.

So many social media professionals and Instagram users will tell you not to overdo it with hashtags – and yet, user behavior data proves that quite the opposite works well. After writing that blog, I was curious about how much hashtags would affect my Instagram community. Would the conscious use of hashtags help grow my likes and follower numbers? I decided to experiment for a week to see what I’d find.

What I did:

I already aim to post at least one Instagram a day. During my experiment, I’d only post 1-3 hashtags in my caption (also like I’ve normally done before.) Anywhere from a few hours to a few days later, I’d add around 10 more hashtags that were relevant. This gave me time to see how my ‘normal’ use compared to increased hashtag usage. It also gave me time to think about some good hashtags to use!

What I learned:

Holy cow! Using 10-15 hashtags definitely helped boost my likes, anywhere from 25% – 50% over the couple of hashtags I’d post normally. I also got a few new follows out of each photo, averaging around 10 new ones daily. After the first few Instagrams, I was convinced this was always the way to go from that point on. Then one day, I posted an instagram that immediately prompted 7 unlikes. What gives?! More reflection & analyzing helped me see that while the extra hashtags helped me get likes & followers more quickly than usual, they aren’t necessarily quality likes and follows. There are even ‘cut & paste’ sites that exist solely to give you the most popular Instagram hashtags to take and use in your photos. Those users might stick around for a bit, but are more quick to unfollow. They’re looking for a follow and some likes back, because they’re primarily interested in growing their own following.

Spammy or savvy?

In sum, the only person who can decide what's right for your Instagram is you. Use as many hashtags as you’re comfortable with. I’ve always loved using Instagram, and perhaps I don’t take full advantage of growing my audience to the likes of Song of Style or Sincerely Jules’ massive numbers. While I’m very serious about growing my personal brand & blog strategically, I’m a person before my brand. Sometimes I just want to share a photo of my bulldog to my friends and awesome blog readers, regardless of how many likes it gets. Using lots of hashtags definitely works, and it doesn’t have to be spammy if it’s helping achieve your goals in growing a following. I’ll continue using more hashtags – when it makes sense for my blog and brand.

Some other notes & tips

  • Don’t forget the other best practices for putting out the best Instagrams as possible.
  • Check your stats. Just like your blog, study who your audience is, what they like and when they’re most likely to engage with you. I like using Iconoquare (formerly Statigram), but there are a few other great ones out there.
  • Use custom hashtags! Make ones that are unique to you and your brand, so that you can track photos for your blog/brand, or a specific event, trip or campaign. For example, #_IFB essentially creates an album of IFB-related Instagrams that you can come back to again & again.
  • Know your goals. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game, but your work should always come back to those blog goals.

How many hashtags do you like to use on Instagram, and why?

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18 Responses

  1. ♠sabbiespurses♠

    I am relatively new to IG (a little over a month) and I use about 5-8 hashtags that are appropriate to the subject (no spam) and also some unique ones. I also separate them from the image description so that they don’t get annoying. This has proved useful so far!

  2. Lollie Shopping

    I’m very interested to know what hashtags you used. I often chastise others for hashtag overuse, especially when the hashtags are so, well, made up. For example, hashtagging words like style, fashion, shoes, beauty, nails, selfie, etc., makes sense to me. But when I see people invent and overuse hashtags like #imthecutestblogger, #imsuperawesome, #youwishyouhadmylife I can’t help but be, one, turned off, and two, pity the person’s lack of hashtag comprehension. So, in your experiment, did you invent lame hashtags as in my example, or did you rely on logical ones (i.e., fashion, style, shoes, etc.) only?

    • BikePretty

      Sometimes impractical hashtags are used ironically. It’s a way of poking fun at hashtag culture. I’d say those users actually have a good grasp of the concept so…lay off on the derision?

      • Jess Estrada

        Hey Melissa! You were one of the readers who inspired me to do this experiment and look at IG hashtag use more seriously. Thank you! My perspective is very different now. Lollie – aside from choosing hashtags I thought would naturally go with the photo (i.e. brand names of pieces I’m wearing, food I’m eating, my city, etc.), I did some research on the most popular tags relating to that post and included those. If you log into Iconosquare, it’ll show you some popular hashtags next to all of the ones you’ve used previously. Twelve Skip also has a great article on popular IG hashtags for different topics. Hashtags mean a lot of different things to different people; sometimes hashtags are used in jest, for personal/custom use or just out of a bit of misunderstanding what they’re for.

  3. TlvBirdie

    I do almost the same trick with hashtags, when I upload a pic I don’t tag at all / or 1-2 tags, to see how many likes I can gain naturally. Then, after 3-4 hours I add relevant tags I use consistently. But if it’s my own tag, like #vanillabikestories or #freespiritupgrade, that I’ve created to track my own images, I add them directly. This pause in tagging should be done especially if you know that your audience usually comes from different time zones ( I know mine is, so sometimes it is really hard to not get lost in the feed’s time difference between USA and Europe)
    Recently I overviewed my exposure on Instagram and set up some new goals. While experimenting, I post weekly overviews on my blog by the line Simple Living – Instagram moments:
    week 1 -> http://www.tlvbirdie.com/2014/07/what-and-how-to-post-on-Instagram-lifestyle-blog.html
    week2 -> http://www.tlvbirdie.com/2014/07/simple-living-instagram-moments-week2.html

    Basically, I am doing these roundups of how my last week look like in Instagram pictures (I believe lots of you bloggers out there do almost the same), with the example and tips based on my own experience on what hashtags to use, what to post and how to improve your feed to look more organically smooth. My Instagram account started as personal, many years ago, so I am trying now to find this balance between promoting my blog and keeping it personal ( I don’t believe into splitting the power of insta accounts into two), and this subject also takes place in my weekly roundups. Would love if you could check it out!
    Find me on Instagram (@Ohnonottoday) – http://instagram.com/ohnonottoday

  4. Dilek

    I personally put relevant hastags and never go overboard. I think that all the hastags under a photo distract from it and I am likely to comment on photos that have more original hastags than photos that drown in hastags. At least that is how I roll. ^^

  5. Brittney Mason

    I’m seeing two issues mainly! The first is that my friends and family haaaate my hashtags! I find that I get more response whilst using them, but my personal friends and whatnot get so annoyed. Secondly, when checking my stats, my SELFIES always get the most likes! I love a good selfie, but sheesh! I want people to like my products and stuff too…no one wants to ONLY post selfies! Anyone else having these issues?

  6. Ana Gonzalez

    There is not a certain science about social media. Sometimes you do the same two things and receive different results. The fun thing is to try posting at different hours, with or without tags, all kind of pictures. After all I guess the point is sharing with all the users, and enjoy the experience.


  7. Anastasia

    Before I used to put up to 15 hashtags for each picture. But once I thought – hm, if when I see lots of hashtags it puts me off, why would not it produce the same effect on others with m i n e pictures? And I significantly reduced the number of hashtags..


  8. Jess Zimlich

    Glam Fam had a twitter chat this week and I’ve been catching up on some of the things I missed. One of the topics focused around #hashtags. I normally add around seven to my photos, but I experienced the same thing as you. A takeaway from the chat was that people do think it looks on the spammy side and a guide would be to add 3-4 relevant for each photo. I always try to work mine into the caption if I can! For instance: “Just finished #4miles toward #halfmarathontrainig.” That way people don’t notice them tacked on the end as much!

    p/s you can find me on Instagram @26andnotcounting 🙂

  9. Paige Brown

    I think between 1-5 hashtags is enough. I personally think it’s a little overboard to have a paragraph full of them on one picture. It’s kinda ridiculous, especially if the hashtags used are too similar (for example #IG #IGers #Insta #Instagram #Instalove). I usually keep scrolling.

  10. kia

    I don’t like using hashtags but I don’t really know any other way to gain more likes & followers. A lot of brands won’t even consider working with you now if you don’t have 5000+ instagram followers but I’m sure that some accounts with loads of followers aren’t real followers and I feel like they are misleading brands! I have a small but loyal following on IG and I’d much rather it be that way!

  11. Onianwah

    I generally post to Instagram mostly on weekends cos I recently figured out that most of my Instagram followers (& Facebook page fans) were more likely to see the image then. I have also been able to figure out what posts get the most likes so I post in that line more often.
    For me, Instagram is very much like my blog so I tackle it much the same way – test, watch, delete, test again, lol. Pretty clinical one might say but it is helping to grow my following. I have also learnt the fine art of tagging the ‘right’ brands and users in my images. I love iconosquare for stats too. So far, it is the best. I use it for my office instagram account too.
    I am however trying out the private & open profile just to see how it goes and how people react to it.

    Lagos, Nigeria

  12. Nena

    I use a lot of hashtags. If you’re famous on instagram with 10000 followers there’s no need anymore to use hashtags but for growing instagrammers they’re actually very effective. I know by myself that I use too many hashtags, probably a lot of them aren’t effective.
    I hardly use hashtags in my photo description cause the description shows them all, if you use them as comment under the description only a few are visible that’s less annoying I think.

    love, Turn it inside out

  13. Kali

    Jess, thank you so much for writing a follow-up article on this! Your experiment definitely gave eye opening results and made me feel better about using a larger number of hashtags. As someone mentioned, I too separate my hashtags from the caption which I think helps little.

    Other than using a larger number of relevant hashtags, I also search the same hashtags I use in my posts and find and ‘like’ other people’s pics. I’ve gained quite a few followers this way, especially since most of them seem to be in the same boat as I am – newer blogger, same sense of style, want to support each other. For me, this has been the only way to promote my blog to people other than my friends and family.

  14. Secret Closet

    Hi Jess,

    Thankyou that is actually some really great advise. I use instagram and social media accounts everyday for our online store. I feel that instagram is getting bigger then facebook!! Using our own custom hash-tags will help differentiate us!

    interesting to read the more hash tags the better. i wa=ill try this all and let you know how i go in a week #fingerscrossed

  15. Ann Krembs

    Hi Jess,

    I too have just been experimenting with using more hashtags. I have a fair amount of followers, yet I don’t get many likes. I’ve noticed with using tons of hashtags, I’ve increased my likes and like you, have gotten a few more followers. Not many, but a few. Also, like you mentioned, I’ve gotten some of that weird spam. For now I don’t mind as I’m just trying to build my brand a bit. It’s tough.

    Now, I’m going to search IFB for learning how to grow my readership….it’s all so challenging. But! I’m up for it!!

    Thanks for this article and sharing your research.

    Ann of Kremb de la Kremb

  16. Paisley

    My instagram account for my blog is not relatively new but hasn’t really taken off and hasnt really got a big following. I do think that hashtags help a lot, only to get likes though. In my experience, I never really gain followers through hashtags. I do only use hashtags relevant to the image, even some of the most random hashtags help? My instagram hasn’t been going that well, I’ll have to work harder!