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How to use hashtags on Instagram – without making a hash of it!

by Camilla

How to use hashtags on Instagram

What is a hashtag? How do hashtags work and how do you know which ones you should use? If there’s one person who understands the brave new world of hashtags better than almost anyone we know, it’s Instagram queen Sara from Me & Orla. So we asked her to write a beginner’s guide to hashtagging for us. Over to Sara…

How to use hashtags on Instagram, Me and Orla

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.

But I’m here to argue in defence of the humble hashtag. 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.

A beginner's guide to hashtags on Instagram by Me & Orla


What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a word of 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 (#thingsneatlyorganized 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.

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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, I 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.


where to add hashtags, me and orla instagram tips

Add hashtags as a comment, not in yout 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.


My month of Sundays by Me and Orla, how to use hashtags, beginner's guide to hashtags

A sample of shots tagged with Sara’s #mymonthofsundays hashtag


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 favourites of mine to get you started: #liveauthentic, #thatsdarling, #natureinthehome#feelfreefeed, #mybeigelife, #nothingisordinary, #handmadewithlove, #instacraft#waketomake, #themakers, #makersmovement#dreamjobmakers – plus the brand new #feelingfolksy hashtag for pictures of your creative life, and my own joint project #mymonthofSundays.

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!


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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 #kinfolk 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.


Do you have any favourite hashtags, or a hashtag project of your own?
What tags do you tend to use most?


{ All images courtesy of Me & Orla} 

Follow Me & Orla on Instagram

More tips and inspiration on the Me & Orla blog 


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Reading list

Follow Sara’s tips for Instagram on her blog Me & Orla >

Read Viktorija from And Smile’s guide to Instagram > 

Pick up more social media tips in our Craft Your Social Media series >

Our Top 10 tips for Pinterest >


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milly and pip September 10, 2015 - 4:07 pm

Fab article, thank you x

Sheona September 10, 2015 - 8:44 pm

I always get hashtags wrong or forget the ones I want to use – it’s such a good idea to save them to your notes!

Rebecca Anderson September 12, 2015 - 2:18 pm

This is a really great post – thank you!

Tola Laseinde October 30, 2015 - 12:44 pm

Hi Sara

11 is really the “magic” number!

I used just “11” carefully chosen hashtags for my morning’s post today. And the rate of likes in a short span of time increased massively.

Thanks for this tip which is now gonna be my ‘rule of thumb’ (It’s gonna be a real struggle though ;-) )

Detola and Geek on Folksy

Instagram tips: top posts in hashtag search - how November 30, 2015 - 6:16 am

[…] see my beginner’so guide to hashtags on the Folksy blog […]

Nicole February 26, 2016 - 8:37 pm

I started two – #soveryhappyandglad that fit with a card I’d just designed but has actually been wonderful for seeing the things that make people happy and #ihavethisthingwithglasshouses to let other fanatics share their finds and top spots.

Tags are lovely for connecting to a specific bunch of people as well as finding imagery easily.

How to Find Great Content to Share - March 1, 2016 - 6:35 pm

[…] You need to be aware of this content opportunity as you are working or when you are out hunting for inspiration. Keep your camera or smart phone near by at all times so you can capture little moments when you are working on your crafts.  These moments make great posts for Instagram, be sure to tag hem – you can find out how here – Using Instagram Hashtags. […]

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