Discovering Instagram's #Hashtag Culture

One of the most under-utilized growth hacks on social media is that of Instagram's culture of hashtags. The symbol that the older generations (and I'm included in that group), originally called the "pound sign," has been co-opted by the tech world to connect our topics and communities around the internet.

Hashtags were popularized by Twitter. They're a tech method of connecting people who are discussing similar topics. A person who wanted to discuss a topic such as a presidential election, or sporting event, would create a tweet and then use a couple of hashtags at the end of the tweet. This would allow other users who are searching that hashtag topic to see the user's post.

Here's an example:


NBC's, Kate Snow tweeted out this photo from South Korea in preparation for the 2018 Olympics. She included 2 hashtags at the end of her tweet. Users who search or click on those hashtags are connected to every other tweet on that topic.


Instagram's hashtag culture is really no different in principle. However, there's definitive differences in execution.

Where as Twitter utilizes hashtags within the body of the content itself, there are some unwritten rules forming around Instagram's hashtag culture. Here's a look at a few of them.

1. Hashtags should be placed in the first comment, not in the caption.

This serves two real purposes. First, it avoids cluttering up the caption. And second, if you've connected your Instagram account to Facebook it won't send the hashtags to Facebook. That's a positive because Facebook tends to down rank (that means not show your stuff) to as many people if the caption is cluttered with hashtags.

2. Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags per post.

But, wait! That sounds like too many. Shouldn't you only limit yourself to 2 or 3?
Nope! That's why you put them in the first comment. They're essentially hidden from your followers at that point so they're not spammy.

3. Hashtags need to be connected to the topic of your piece of content.

Posts that have hashtags completely unrelated to the content are considered spammy. Definitely not a good way to make an impression on your audience.


Creating a solid hashtag campaign to help grow your audience can seem complicated. But it's actually quite simple once you create a system. All it takes is a little bit of planning. Here's exactly how I use hashtags. Let's use this piece of content as an example.



1. Make a list of your hashtags on your phone's notepad.


This is the most important part of the process. Once you have these down, it's super easy to get involved with the IG hashtag culture.

This list of hashtags is what I typically use when promoting the Social Media 434 talk. If you look through you'll notice there's a variety of hashtags which look random. However, there's a reason for them. Each of these falls under a specifics category of hashtag.

SPECIFIC HASHTAGS - These are hashtags that are specific to the content or your brand. #Social434 is the tag I use for this talk. Any piece of content I use related to promoting the talk or social media topics includes this hashtag first.

INDIRECT HASHTAGS - #social #socialmedia, #brand, #entrepreneur, etc are all indirectly related to my piece of content. Even #apple #iphone etc are indirect hashtags as they're connected to the storytelling aspect of the content. If you're using an image you shot on a good camera, you should absolutely use the brand, model and similar hashtags. (Example: #Canon #Canon80D #CanonUSA #CanonPhotography)

LOCATION HASHTAGS - I try to include #Albuquerque and #NewMexico in every single piece of content I put out because that's where our company is based. When I'm presenting in another city, I'll add those cities as well. If your area is known more by county, or if there's a specific acronym, you can use that as well. As an example, sometimes I'll add #ABQ. Certainly #NYC should definitely be included with #NewYorkCity posts.

Once your hashtags are ready, do a select-all and tap copy. You'll paste them after uploading the content.

2. Create your piece of content and upload it.

As you see above, I created a piece of content with a quote on it. You can create your content entirely within the app, or a secondary app like WordSwag, Canva, or iMovie. I used Photoshop.

Be sure to add an interesting caption. Instagram does not have a native hard return or line break to separate paragraphs. A good hack for that is to tap RETURN to start a new line of text, then touch the "." period, and then hit return again. This seems tedious and I'm sure some grammar purists will refuse. However, it's become a widely accepted part of Instagram culture.

3. Paste your hashtags.

Now go to your piece of content and click the comment bubble. Paste your hashtags into the comment field and click post.

Instagram will now index your hashtags accordingly. But they have to be the first comment.


4. Make sure to engage with your audience!

This isn't a hashtag suggestion but it has to be said. The number of brands I see disregard and ignore their audience is staggering. We're building businesses. None of us exist without our customers. And none of us would think to walk away and not acknowledge a customer who walked into our business to compliment or criticize us. Yet so many brands do it 24/7/365 on social media.

A couple of things to note on Instagram engagement. Once you begin deploying your hashtag strategy, you'll no doubt find a whole ton of comments come in that are simply an emoji. Or sometime there's an actual comment but seems out of context.

The comment might say something like, "Great content! Follow me."

Or even be a pitch. Here's an example.


Comments like this are spam. They're generated by a bot program that searches hashtags and when it sees them automatically posts them. Don't waste your time replying to these.


Don't be surprised if you see an engagement spike when you utilize hashtags. That's the entire idea!

Good luck with it. DM me if you have questions.