Hashtag spelled out with blocks

Hashtags 101: How to use hashtags on Instagram

october 24, 2023

Whether you’ve got years of Instagram promotion under your belt or you’re new to the game, it’s always smart to take a beat to refresh your knowledge—after all, these platforms change all the time! Here’s our guide to using hashtags on Instagram in 2023. 

What exactly is a hashtag? 

 The nuances of their use vary from platform to platform, but the basic concept is pretty consistent: Hashtags are metadata that attach topics to content, so that users can easily find public posts and media related to that topic all in one place, even if they don’t personally follow all of the accounts producing them. 

The hashtag was born on Twitter in 2007, when user @chrismessina floated the idea of using the pound sign to designate groups. As adoption grew, users’ experimentation solidified the hashtag into the mainstay of Twitter culture as we know it today, and it soon spread to other platforms, like Instagram. 

While Twitter initially offered only text-based microblogging bound by restrictive character counts, Instagram’s origin as a photography-sharing app set it up to provide its users with a very different, visually focused experience, necessitating features to help users discover that visual content. 

How do hashtags work on Instagram? 

As both platforms have evolved alongside smartphones, posting options and character counts have expanded, giving rise to more options for users to both promote and discover content. Instagram offers a few different avenues for discovery, and the app’s search bar is your first stop.  

In the Instagram app, tap the search bar, and then search for a topic or phrase. When you see the results, select Tags (#) to see all hashtag results related to your search, typically with the most popular (i.e., the tags with the most posts) at the top.

A visual highlighting the "Follow" button on a trending hashtag page for Instagram.

Select a result, and you’ll pull up that hashtag’s page, a collection of all content that’s been tagged with it. 

Hashtag pages often further categorize content by “Top,” “Recent,” and “Reels,” so if you’re looking for more specific insights into the types of content using the tag—especially among the results for popular hashtags numbering in the millions—use those categories to narrow it down a bit more. (Instagram recently announced that it’s testing removing “Recent” as its own category, though.) This is where content you’ve tagged shows up when users search for related terms. 

If you want to keep an eye on a hashtag without having to repeatedly search for it to see the latest tagged content, you can follow a hashtag page just like you follow an account. Top posts from hashtag pages that users follow will appear in their feeds. 

A visual showing the "Tags" section of the Instagram app's search page.

Now that you know how to find and follow Instagram content using hashtags, here’s how to use them as you create yours. Why is that worth your time? Though studies show that hashtags don’t increase engagement on Instagram, the approach varies depending on which format you’re working with: 

Instagram hashtags for posts 

Unlike stories, posts are evergreen. They don’t disappear unless you delete them, and while freshness certainly earns priority for “Recent” posts, popularity is what bubbles up to the “Top” posts. 

Quick facts about hashtags in Instagram posts: 

How to implement hashtags in posts: Type “#” and then the text of your tag, with no spaces, as you write your post caption or comment 

Hashtag limit: No more than 30 per post or video; Instagram recommends 3-5. (Instagram won’t publish a caption or comment exceeding 30 hashtags) 

Character limit: No limit, but hashtags do count toward the 2,200-character limit for post captions 

Content restrictions: Special characters like “$” and “*” not allowed, but numbers and emojis work  

Using hashtags in Instagram stories 

Quick facts about hashtags in Instagram stories: 

How to implement hashtags in stories: Type “#” and then the text of your tag, with no spaces, as you write your story text; alternately, add a sticker (more detail below) 

Hashtag limit: No more than 10 per story; Instagram recommends 3-5 

Character limit: No official limit, but space is limited in stories, so keep it short and sweet 

Content restrictions: Special characters like “$” and “*” aren’t allowed, but numbers and emojis work

Unlike Instagram posts, hashtags are visually part of the story itself, so you have a few more considerations: color, font, size, and placement. 

The first three are easy to customize if you use the “Text” tool. Simply write out your hashtag as you normally would, then adjust the color, font, style, and size of the text before placing it wherever you want it to appear. 

Screenshot of hashtags being used on an Instagram story.

If your story is a video, you’ll also need to think about when your text hashtag appears. You can “pin” it starting at a certain timestamp in your story—just tap and hold your text once you’ve created it, then use the slider bar to scroll to the point where you want to pin it. 

Your other option is to add your hashtag as a sticker. These are much less customizable, though. 

Using hashtags in Instagram reels 

Quick facts about using hashtags in reels: 

How to implement hashtags for reels: Type “#” and then the text of your tag, with no spaces, as you write your reel caption; alternately, you can post hashtags in a comment on the reel 

Hashtag limit: No more than 30 hashtags per reel; Instagram recommends 3-5 

Character limit: No limit, but hashtags do count toward the 2,200-character limit for reel captions 

Content restrictions: Special characters like “$” and “*” not allowed, but numbers and emojis work 

Finding the right Instagram hashtags to use

Beyond the most obvious candidates—campaigns, event names, branded product, or service names—there are many ways to find and select which hashtags to use. An exhaustive guide would require its own post, but here are three good places to start: 

  1. Use that search feature to find existing tags and get a sense of how many and what kinds of posts use them. 
  2. Business Instagram accounts have analytics that track your post activity by hashtag. Keep an eye on which ones get the highest engagement.
  3. Observe your audience: what hashtags do they follow and use? Do they interact with brands similar to yours? What hashtags do they use? 

Pro tip:

Avoid using banned hashtags, which will prevent your posts from appearing in other users’ feeds. 

In fact, we can boil this down into a handful of tactics supporting one guiding principle: Prioritize your audience. What makes an Instagram hashtag most useful for those users?

  • Keep it concise—long hashtags quickly become difficult to read due to the lack of spaces between words 
  • Be literal—use words and phrases that can be understood quickly and are illustrative of the content 
  • Don’t crowd—don’t hashtag every other word in a caption. In fact, many creators prefer to cluster their tags at the bottom, providing a cleaner read of the caption text above 

At the end of the day, hashtags on Instagram are all about content discovery and categorization, not engagement—so their place in your strategy should reflect that.

Pro tip:

Find fun, hashtag-worthy, easy-to-customize Instagram templates at Microsoft Create.

Further reading

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