How to not be a hashtag hog

Hashtagging is a bit of a minefield. One of the biggest questions I get asked about Instagram is how to properly hashtag.

I’ve been there myself – and oh yes have I had my phase of:


Embarrassing, isn’t it? I was a Hashtag Hog.

For a long time, I actually doing this achieved new followers. Because it sort of did. I had streams of ‘fake’ accounts liking my photos and following me, because they were spambots set up to discover popular hashtags and create false engagement. Within a week those same accounts had unfollowed me and I was back to where I started. What’s more, several genuine followers I had previously actually unfollowed me too, because they got annoyed by seeing a photo that had a million (nearly) hashtags attached to it that meant they couldn’t read the caption properly.

Instagram has evolved a lot over the past couple years. Back in 2014, it was possible to type in up to 30 hashtags, allow people to find you via those hashtags, then delete that 30 and write 30 more. The photo could be a year old, yet if someone added #love to that photo, it would be moved to the top of the page of the search for #love. What this meant was that someone could use an unlimited amount of hashtags to keep making their photo popular, even if it was no longer relevant.

Fortunately (but not for wannabe-Insta-famous-folk), in March 2015 Instagram changed the game so that in hashtag searches photos were ordered from the time that ‘grammers posted the original image, not when they applied the hashtag. Users could no longer add new hashtags to old photos to revive them. This broke a lot of hearts. But it also helps prevent spam. And it does actually help hashtag searches to be more relevant.

Hashtags are important. Since March when Instagram introduced an algorithm technique, similar to Facebook, whereby it decides what you see first rather than in timeline order, the search function for hashtags enables people to find what they’re looking for, rather than waiting for it to show up in their feed.

So how to # appropriately? 

The best thing to do for small businesses is plan ahead. I use a notes app on my phone that has saved preset hashtags that I can whip out whenever I need it. I recommend you do the same. To start with, you need hashtags relevant to your business. That might be #hairdresser #plumber #travelblogger. Whatever is relevant.

Many businesses are location-specific, such as shops, or wedding photographers. Ensure the local area is saved, including the county and surrounding areas, such as #Cambridge #Newmarket #Ely.

Still stuck? Do some research. Find your competitors – what do they hashtag? You do not want to copy them like-for-like, but it might be they’ve added in a couple of hashtags you hadn’t thought about.

Think about events that may be relevant to your business. For instance, a hairdresser or event photographer might include #wedding, #bridetobe or #thebigday.

Keep the number of # short

Cramming 30 # on one post is annoying and dilutes the actual message.

Social media experts everywhere recommend you use two or three hashtags. Two or three!! To me, that’s not enough. For small businesses, utilising this tool is valuable to reach new people. I recommend six or so relevant hashtags. I also recommend not to use the same hashtags on every post. Mix it up. Perhaps in the notes app on your phone, save a few presets of three hashtags that you can alternate between, leaving two or three more spots available for words relevant to the photo you’re uploading.

Keep it fun

My hashtags are definitely NOT always relevant. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, my list of hashtags might start #ireallyneedcoffee. It’s slightly humorous, and also allows the reader to feel a touch of empathy with how you’re feeling. You might not want to go too overboard with these types of hashtags, as often they are not relevant to your business, and probably don’t have many searches. My choice # above only has been used 388 times, therefore it’s obviously not a common phrase people will be searching.

Invent your own company hashtag

Be creative! Personalised hashtags can be used as a great way to hold competitions (more on this in a future post). Or encourage ‘grammers to post pics of your products for a featured spot.

The @photoshop Instagram account regularly creates new hashtags to allow users to be featured on their feed – the latest being #PS_CoolTones. After Christmas, Pandora launched #myPANDORAgift. These are obvious giants on social media, therefore they have the facility to create new hashtags regularly and are guaranteed thousands of people will participate. If you’re a small business starting out, you’re better off thinking of just one hashtag that you can always use on your photos. And one day when you’ve enough followers to start your own contests and competitions on social media you can utilise that hashtag to gain some traction.

Have fun hashtagging!


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