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How to use Hashtags

Updated: Jan 25, 2018

At Sharpfox, we do a lot of social media training, and we can assure you that you’re not alone if you don’t know how to use a hashtag!

Hashtagging – the addition of a key word or phrase to a post you’re making on social media – is now so normal it’s even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, and yet many of us still shy away from it. In a world where we’re all increasingly trying to maximise our SEO and keep all our social media plates spinning, it can seem like just another thing to pull us away from the actual creating that drives us.

Used wisely, and with a little ingenuity, hashtags can connect you to your dream audience, elevate you to a new level of exposure and help establish your brand’s identity across a range of social platforms. Not bad for a handful of characters, right? Let’s start at the top.

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a word or phrase used to label a post on social media, to help people find related postings. They must always starts with a #. Don’t use spaces, special characters or punctuation, as this will ‘break’ the tag, and stop it from working.

How do hashtags work?

On platforms like Twitter and Instagram, hashtags are automatically detected and become clickable once your post is published. Then you, or anyone else, can tap on the tag to see a page showing all the latest posts that have included that tag. You can only tag your own postings – sometimes people might comment with a tag underneath, but this won’t make it show up in the search.

How are hashtags different from ordinary search terms?

Including the # changes your results, so for example #GBBO and GBBO will bring slightly different results. Including the hash sign is a way of highlighting your post to people searching for things under a tag. Hashtags are often very specific (#funatthepark for example), allowing searchers to find similar postings that would not necessarily have any other captions in common. There are also hashtag projects that people have started, to encourage people to take and share similar photographs. Tags like #stylingtheseasons, #puddlegram and #hidinginbushes started this way, and the so tag could now be seen less as a search term and more of a category label or call to action.

How do I use hashtags?

Simply add any relevant tags to your posts! On Twitter, this usually means adding one or two at the end of a tweet, when your character limit allows. On Instagram, we always recommend adding hashtags as a comment, separate from your photo caption. This retains the impact of your caption and photograph, and means your strings of tags won’t show up in followers’ home feeds, which some people find irritating.

Try to think about what specifically it is about your post or image that might be interesting to people, and used details tags – avoid tagging with vague words like #beautiful or #jewellery. Not only are these likely to be swamped with thousands of images every minute, but some are so overused they no longer function on Instagram, and using one of these will stop all your tags on that post from working.

Is there a wrong way to use hashtags?

Like most things on social media, there’s accepted etiquette for using hashtags politely. Don’t spam, and don’t use tags that aren’t relevant to your post. Instagram limits how many tags you can use to 30, but I’d recommend never using more than 11 in a single post (apparently it’s the golden number!).

Avoid any tags that sound obviously unprofessional – tags4likes, likes4likes, etc. Keep it relevant, specific and appropriate. Also, click through on hashtags you like and support other posters using the same ones as you. Just as tags are great for helping new people discover your work, they’re a good way for you to discover new inspiration, like-minded souls and online workmates.

Add hashtags as a comment, not in your caption, to avoid strings of tags showing in followers’ feeds.

What’s the benefit of using hashtags?

People often add a stack of hashtags on Instagram expecting to receive a sudden influx of likes, but that isn’t really how it works. You might only draw a handful of new people over by adding a tag to a post, but those people are looking for what you are already sharing, and are much more likely to become followers or customers. Usually after a little while exploring hashtags you’ll develop preferences for certain tags where you feel your images fit well. I’ve included some suggestion below to get you started.

Can I start my own hashtag?

Absolutely! Using a hashtag for a ‘call to action’ is a great way to raise your profile and engage with your customers or followers. You could try something specific, like asking customers to share a photo of their purchase with a hashtag incorporating your username, eg #yourshopname.

Where can I find new hashtags to use?

The best way is to browse the results page for a tag you like, and see what other hashtags people are using on their images. Here are some of our favourites of ours to get you started: #widn, #fitspo, #familyfun, #cheltenham #fashionblogger

There are trends within Instagram tags, driven by current events, seasons, fashion and influencers, so no list of hashtags will stay relevant forever. If you find some you like, it can be a good idea to save them to the ‘notes’ app on your phone or desktop, so you have them to hand should you want to add them to a post. Just copy and paste any across, and you’re good to go!

How to get your picture in Instagram’s Top Posts for hashtags

Instagram has updated its hashtag search to include a Top Posts grid above the Most Recent list. Although it’s not clear how pictures get chosen for this Top Posts slot, it’s likely to be a combination of recency, likes and comments, how quickly they happen and who they come from. So there are a few things you can do to up your chances of appearing there…

  1. Post your picture (and your hashtag) when most of your followers are online – this is usually first thing in the morning and in the evening. This means your pictures are likely to be seen and liked more quickly.

  2. Engage with other users when you post – if you like and comment on other people’s photos it will encourage people to come and see what you’re sharing (and hopefully like and comment back!).

  3. Choose the right tags. On really popular tags like #jewellery or #illustration, there will be loads of competition and you’ll struggle to reach a top slot. But use a niche tag and you’ll increase your chances of gaining a Top Post position by merit of less competition. If fewer people are using that tag, your post will also appear in the chronological stream of hashtag results for a longer – putting your image in front of people with similar interests for longer.

  4. Post your best! Ultimately the better your image, the better it will do, The Top Posts grid is a great new way for the best images to gain attention. None of the above will work for a mediocre image – but if you have a brilliant image and feel you’re being overlooked, these tips might help.

Contact us at to get started with social media, brush up on your existing skills or simply boost your business with our #smartsocial


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