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Are Instagram Hashtags Dead?

July 6, 2022

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Hashtags on Instagram have changed so much in the past few years, which means the hashtag strategy you’re currently using is probably outdated.

If you’re looking for a brand-spankin’ new hashtag strategy for 2022, you’ve come to the right place. In this post I’ll be answering FAQs like: Are hashtags dead? How should you be using them moving forward? How many hashtags should you be using on your post? Should you put them in the caption or the comments?

What Are Hashtags? (And How To Use Them)

For you to really understand how outdated your strategy might be, we need to go back in time. I did some digging on Google to find some of the most popular hashtag articles from 2016 to see what was being taught back then and came across this article:

“Hashtags are essentially a way to tag your photo and throw into in a chronological pool of other photos/videos that have used the same tag. This allows other users to find photos of similar interest or in the same niche.

For example, if you’re a portrait photographer and want to find other portrait photographers or photos then the #portrait tag should have photos of portraits that other users have tagged their images with.”

This is important to remember! Hashtags were originally created for photographers to find other content and photographers, get photo inspiration and make connections.

And it worked for exactly that back then! BUT then Influencers, businesses and entrepreneurs entered the chat, and that strategy slowly, but surely, stopped working.

This leads us to today (or April of 2022), when Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri went to his stories to answer the question “Do Hashtags Help Views”?

This is what he said:

Basically, he said, “Not really!” He would use hashtags as a strategy to get more distribution.

We were taught, through the ultimate game of telephone that “the right hashtag, or combination of hashtags, will expose your brand to large and targeted audiences.”

That just isn’t how it works anymore. There’s a new Sheriff in town y’all, and its laws are different!

Are Hashtags Still Relevant On Instagram?

So to answer the question: are hashtags dead?

The answer is… No! But the way we’ve been using them is.

Now, maybe you’re wondering, “if hashtags don’t directly help with ‘getting more views’, why use hashtags at all?”

Well, you don’t really have to use hashtags at all.

If you’re not aware, Instagram has started to expand into more SEO practices. This means they are making their search page similar to how YouTube and TikTok work, where you can look up a keyphrase and any posts using that keyphrase will appear.

The word “SEO” can be very intimidating, but that’s okay. That’s how it was for me at first. Now, I’m a huge fan of utilizing SEO strategies on your Instagram and I have students who have seen TREMENDOUS results from utilizing SEO ALONE.

So, you don’t have to use hashtags, but they do still work! But they only work in the way they say they work nowadays.

Instagram Hashtags Are Relevant For Categorizing Content

Hashtags are a tool that you can use to categorize your content to the algorithm.

Why do you want to categorize your content? This is one of the ways Instagram is able to better connect users to what they’re looking for.

Remember, Adam Mosseri didn’t say “hashtags are pointless.” He said, “They 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”.

How to Use Instagram Hashtags

Let’s break this down.

You have this post, you use hashtags, and the post doesn’t do well. Maybe it gets poor engagement or your insights say 0 reach. So you’re like, “lemme try again.”

You create a new post, you use hashtags, and this time the post DOES do well. You see higher engagement or the reach goes up!

When this happens, most people’s immediate thoughts are, “I used the right hashtags, so that’s why my post performed well!”

When in reality it’s, “because my content was performing well on its own, Instagram suggested it to more places like the hashtag page!”

Your content didn’t get improved reach BECAUSE of the hashtags you used.

What caused the post to do well in hashtags was the CONTENT itself.

SO, if your goal is to rank higher in the feed, explore or search results, your goal should be to create quality content!

I mean, that goes back to Instagram Growth 101. In Instagram’s help desk, when you look up how to grow on Instagram, their literal answer is “create quality content that people want to see in their feed.”

That’s coming straight from the source.

(On the topic of Instagram growth, I have a free downloadable that teaches how I gained my first 10,000 followers in 30 days. So yeah, it’s just some extra free goodness if you like that sort of thing.)

And if that’s not enough proof, remember the post that the Instagram creator account posted on September 27th, 2021 talking about all the hashtag best practices?

It said the things to keep in mind are:

  1. The content itself and the way people interact with it can affect distribution MORE than the hashtag.
  2. Think of a hashtag as a tool that provides context about your post and supports delivering content to people who are interested in a particular topic”

What Should Your Hashtag Strategy Be?

Here are my 4 steps for an effective hashtag strategy.

Think Less About Hashtags

Spend less time on hashtag research & more time on creating the best possible content for your followers. When you feel like your content is the best it can possibly be, then you can start implementing the next step.

Find and Use Relevant Hashtags

We’ve all heard before that the hashtags you use should relate to what you’re posting. What does that look like? These hashtags should be describing 3 things:

  • the photo
  • the content
  • your page/niche
Photo of Millie in a pool in Palm Springs. Purpose of photo is to give an example of what Instagram hashtags she would use when posting on Instagram
What hashtags would you use for this photo?

For example, if I were to post this picture here, what hashtags would I use?

When describing the photo, I’d use hashtags like #PalmSprings (because that’s where I am). #TravelInfluencer (because I’m traveling), #SummerVibes, #PalmTrees, etc.

In this post, my caption is giving tips about Instagram. So, when it comes to describing the content, I’d use hashtags like #InstagramTips, #CaptionWriting, and #Writing101.

Finally, I’d include hashtags describing my niche. I’m an Influencer Coach, so I’d use hashtags like #InstagramCoach, #InfluencerCoach, and #BusinessCoach.

In short, be as descriptive as possible.

Pro tip: If you’re looking for a tool to help you find hashtags, I highly recommend using Hashtag Slayer.

How Many Hashtags Should You Use?

This is probably the most asked question when it comes to hashtags.

Well if you ask Instagram, in this post, they said to use 3-5 hashtags.

Agree to disagree. Everyone’s Instagram strategy is going to look different, so it’s important to test and see what works best for you!

To help give you some more answers, the team at Socialinsider recently analyzed over 75 million Instagram posts, published between March 2021 and March 2022, to see what the data says about the relationship between Instagram hashtags and post views.

source: socialinsider.io

As you can see here, the research shows that the number of hashtags an Instagram post has does not influence post distribution.

You do see that the highest average engagement rate by impressions (at 3.41%) is generated by posts with 3-4 hashtags. It makes sense why Instagram would suggest 3-5, but that doesn’t mean using 30 hashtags won’t work.

My interpretation, from looking back to where hashtags originated on Instagram, they probably want their users to focus on fewer, quality hashtags so that search results become more and more accurate.

If everyone just put #Love in their captions, search would get really messy, really fast. In fact, it already is. That’s why banned hashtags are a thing!

If you don’t know what banned hashtags are, check out this video here where I explain it and how you can make sure you’re not using banned hashtags on your posts.

Put Hashtags in the Caption, NOT the Comments

Yes, the debate is settled. If you didn’t already know that, now you do.

This is one of the tips Instagram themselves gave in their best practices post.

Follow these tips, and as I mentioned earlier, test different strategies out. Figure out what works best for you.

And let me know what your favorite strategies are along the way.

Follow your joy!

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