You know you’re supposed to be using hashtags in Instagram posts and Tiktok captions. But how do you know if you’re using the right ones? Are they helping get your posts noticed by potential followers or customers?
Let’s start by getting familiar with how hashtags work for your social media channels.
What do hashtags do for me and my business?
Hashtags are a great tool for signaling what your content is about for those who enjoy similar content on Instagram and Tiktok. Users who like to know about your industry, your product, or your location are often shown posts in their feeds corresponding to those interests, and you can use key hashtags to make sure you’re among those posts.
How many hashtags should I use?
The age-old debate about using hashtags on Instagram is whether you should use as many as you can, or if you should try to use less, as Instagram sets a limit of 30 per post. In my experience as a social media manager for hospitality businesses, I’ve found that it isn’t using too many hashtags that decreases engagement (meaning likes, comments, and clicks). What can hinder engagement is using the WRONG hashtags. If you’re using half of the 30 hashtags allotted, that’s 15 opportunities to make yourself discoverable to potential followers and customers that you’re not using! So my philosophy is: don’t be afraid to use all 30. We’ll get into how to choose the right hashtags further below.
On, Tiktok, you’ll generally have to use a lot fewer hashtags than on Instagram. For starters, your characters are much more limited when writing captions on Tiktok, so you have to pick and choose your hashtags a lot more selectively. Tiktok content creators recommend a mix of about 5-7 hashtags as of 2022. And this makes sense for Tiktok – which unlike Instagram, is really good at showing content to users based on what they like to interact with rather than who they follow. The algorithm is much more intuitive to other cues that signal a users’ interest in addition to hashtags, making it perfectly acceptable to only use a few per post.
How do I choose which hashtags to use?
Do your research
Before you pick the hashtags you want to use in your Instagram post or Tiktok, start by jotting down any keywords you can think of about your business, and common phrases associated with what you do. These could include: wine, food, tourism, travel, hiking, outdoors, California, etc. Then take a step further and jot down some more phrases and keywords you’d associate with your industry and location. Some Northern California examples include: “Bay Area lifestyle, San Francisco travel, Oakland foodie, etc.”
Once you’ve thought of as many keywords as you can, it’s time to start researching. Open the Instagram or Tiktok app (or their websites on your computer), and start typing in these keywords and phrases. Are there existing hashtags similar to your keywords that people are already using? Click on some of the hashtags that show up in your search and see what kinds of content people are using them for. Are they relevant to your business? Take note of the ones that are in use and look promising.
Research hashtag trends
It’s a good idea to supplement the hashtag list you’ve started by looking up trending hashtags and evaluating whether any of them are relevant to your brand, niche, or industry. If they ARE relevant in some way, I recommend including 1-2 in your post, on both Instagram and Tiktok. However, I do NOT recommend using trending hashtags that are unrelated to your business or content. Users (and these apps’ algorithms) can usually sniff out irrelevant content very quickly, and the reach of your post or video will likely be reduced if you try this. However, if you’re lucky and a trending hashtag can be used in an entertaining way alongside your content, it can really boost your post to more viewers in a great way.
Narrow your hashtag list based on popularity
One of the keys to finding the right hashtags for your posts is finding what I like to call “the sweet spot” of popularity. A hashtag that is too specific may only be be used by a few people occasionally (or only by you, or not at all) – and that’s not a good way to reach new viewers. When you search hashtags on Instagram and Tiktok, you can see how many people are using them. On Instagram, a good minimum number to look for is around 10,000-20,000 uses, with hundreds of thousands of uses being most effective. When you approach millions of uses on Instagram, the pool gets a little too big for your content to be noticed among the crowd. On Tiktok, where the algorithm works differently, a good minimum to shoot for is a few hundred thousand uses – but hashtags with millions of uses or more will be more effective.
In practice, this means that on Instagram, you’ll want to avoid super-generic hashtags like #wine, #food, and #travel, whereas on Tiktok, you might have more success with highly popular terms like these. On Instagram, you’ll probably achieve better results if you use versions of the same tags but with context, like #californiatravel, or #pnwlife.
Should I use the same hashtags in every post?
Once you’ve found an ideal list of hashtags based on your brand’s target audience, it might be tempting to use them all every time But is this a good strategy? Partially. For Instagram, certain hashtags can be part of your “core” group – those that will be relevant for every kind of post you share. But you should always make a point to customize a few hashtags in every post depending on what the content is. Since you have fewer characters to use on Tiktok, you may want to use different hashtags in every video, depending on the content.
The point is that you want the hashtags to be as relevant as possible to the content itself, to make sure you’re reaching the people who are actually interested in seeing it.
So there you have it – if you stick to the tips above, you’ll have a smart, targeted arsenal of hashtags to use in your posts in no time.
P.S. Don’t like the way a block of 30 hashtags looks on your Instagram post? See my separate post on how to add line breaks to separate your captions from your hashtags and clean things up.
Meaghan Webster is an experienced photographer and marketing manager in the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California. She helps clients with everything from social media, to email marketing, websites, and content creation. Learn more about her work at meaghanwebster.com or see her latest updates at instagram.com/meaghanwmarketing.