Like all good rumors about Instagram, I’ve been approached by multiple people in regards to the “news” that Instagram allegedly told @lucasokeefe some interesting advice about only using 8-15 hashtags per IG post. I had a few “first thoughts” on this and I did some more digging and have formalized my thoughts on this topic which have been shared in my Facebook group and elsewhere but I wanted to put them cohesively into one place for you.
For context, Lucas shared that he had a creators strategy call with someone on the Instagram team and they talked about a variety of things including “briefly” about hashtags. The IG rep told him to “use hashtags to create a persona for your account”. Essentially hashtags are how you communicate to the Instagram algorithm what your account is about and what each piece of content is about. Ultimately, this rep told him to only use 8-15 hashtags per post (erring on the lower side, closer to 8 hashtags per post) and making sure those hashtags are indicative of the topic/content at hand. Here’s a screen shot from one of the carousel slides on his post:
Ok, so what does all of this mean? Does this mean to stop using up to 30 hashtags?
In my opinion, no it doesn’t. It means use hashtags strategically. And if you’ve been around my online space for more than 5 minutes, you know I’m more than a little pointed when it comes to the strategic use of hashtags. My targeted hashtag recipe specifically tells you to use a variety of hashtags that are targeted to your industry and your specific niche, while also incorporating the hashtags your audience is actually looking for (not just where you want to be found). For shits and giggles, here’s that strategy in case you haven’t checked it out yet:
And here’s why this strategy STILL works with this new found advice:
- If you’re using targeted hashtags for your industry and niche, you’re telling Instagram what it is you do and who you serve
- If you’re using content related hashtags, you’re telling Instagram what’s in that post (in addition to what their AI is seeing)
- If you use the hashtags your audience is actually searching for, you’re showing up where they are AND telling Instagram more about who it is you’re attracting
You literally achieve all the things this Instagram rep said to do.
The problem is that MOST people don’t use this strategy for hashtags. Most people use a mix of random hashtags, super popular hashtags, and are not thinking about the right hashtags to attract their target audience. For those people, yes, this advice from the IG rep is actually kind of smart because it would allow them to focus their hashtags in a more meaningful way that would ultimately be beneficial to the “algorithm” in determining their content placement.
You might be wondering now what that whole “confuse the algorithm” comment is about too. Here’s where things tie into the changes on Instagram in the last year…
Now Instagram offers keyword search results. Meaning you don’t have to search for a specific hashtag, location, or account. But instead, you can type in a word or two and Instagram will populate a variety of results that match that general criteria. Where do they source the data to populate those keyword searches? Well, we don’t know “for sure” but I assume (from experience, insight, and testing) that the information comes from a variety of sources including hashtags on posts, captions, your bio description, artificial intelligence scans of your visuals, as well as who is following you.
So, if you are a business coach but all you post is recipes and stuff about your kids, you’re confusing Instagram by posting content that does NOT relate to business, personal development, or coaching. But your followers are probably those business owners and professionals who follow other coaches and marketing experts. So Instagram doesn’t really know where to rank you in keyword searches. Instead, if you’re a jewelry designer and you post lots of content with accessories, jewelry, and jem stones and your captions and hashtags all tie into this, AND your followers are people interested in fashion and accessories, then Instagram knows exactly where to rank you in search.
THIS is basically what I assume the IG rep was explaining to Lucas when it comes to picking targeted hashtags related to your industry and content. But yet they didn’t give all this other context (unless he did and it’s just not disclosed in this post) and I think it was misleading to tell people to use less hashtags when really the better advice would be to use more targeted and selective hashtags.
On that note, if you want to organize your hashtags quickly and easily so that you can ensure they are targeted to the right industry, niche, topic, season, content, etc., I am a huge proponent of the hashtag tool within Agorapulse. Yes, I am a brand ambassador for Agorapulse, and yes, this is technically an affiliate link, but I’ve been using Agorapulse for years and their hashtag tool saves me so much time!
When you’re in the publishing tool in Agorapulse and you start an Instagram post (yes, you can schedule or post directly to Instagram via Agorapulse), you’ll see the large # at the bottom of the caption box. Click on that and you’ll get the option to click the “+” button to create a group of hashtags. You can put as many as you like in each group (although you’d want to probably keep it to 5-10 per category if you’re planning on combining multiple categories in your posts).
Ideally, you want to create at least a couple groups of hashtags. Create one for your industry and niche specific hashtags that you’ll use on pretty much every post. Then create additional ones for any common categories you use – seasonal, product lines, content types, geographical locations, each service offering, etc. For example, if you’re a fitness trainer, you might have a category for your branded company hashtags along with the fitness related hashtags, another one for the hashtags related to the city or region you serve, categories for each of the different types of classes you teach, one for the hashtags most related to your target audience (moms, college students, busy professionals, etc.), and any other ones related to your promotions and campaigns.
AND, if you do this after reviewing the hashtag strategy I recommend and selecting all your ideal hashtags, you won’t ever have to worry about if you have the “right” number of hashtags, because you’ll be all set strategically and categorically to make sure Instagram knows what you’re up to, you show up where your audience is, and you can keep growing your Instagram audience and getting more activity on your content.
The great thing about this tool is that once you set up those categories, those hashtags are in there and ready for you to use. So the next time you want to post to Instagram, you can log into Agorapulse, upload your image or video, draft up your caption, then quickly select the various hashtag categories you want to include, add a couple more relevant hashtags if needed, and hit publish. It’s quick and easy and you don’t have to remember all your different hashtags or worry about forgetting any important ones. You can try out Agorapulse for free for a month to see how it works and how easy this tool is – in addition to all the other cool tools they have!
Now, back to the Instagram rep and this “advice”, this is why I also cringe whenever people post the advice they had shared with them from an IG rep. This is not the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last. When they’re talking to these reps, they are talking to their own account specifics, not general best practices. And when you are talking general best practices, you’re not looking at your account nuances and what your insights are actually telling you. These reps are “selling” Instagram but they are also restricted in what they can say (or even know) about the actual inner workings of the app. So their advice should always be taken with a grain of salt. Of course, when you take your car to the dealership, they offer you all the best manufacturer products and “best” services to maintain your vehicle. It’s not that they’re wrong, but they’re working to keep you there, not going elsewhere. And that’s sort of how I feel about these IG rep calls that always seem to turn out “advice” that goes viral and throws everyone into a tizzy.
So, no I don’t recommend massively cutting down your hashtag use right now. I do welcome you to test this if you want to and run a number of posts with 8-15 hashtags and see how they perform compared to ones where you’ve used more than 20. You’ll have to do this over at least a handful of posts and over a period of time (weeks, ideally) to see how they really do perform. If the testing and data shows that less is more, I will be the first to tell you to start using less. Do what WORKS, not what I or any Instagram rep theorizes should work.