Hashtags 101 - Understanding the Basics!

If you’re a social media rookie, the hashtag; a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#) could be baffling you right now.

The hashtag came into existence on Twitter, but since then most social media platforms have adopted the use of these. The hash (symbol) turns any word or group of words that directly follow it into a searchable link, which allows you to find & organise content as well as track discussion topics based on those keywords.


Hashtags cover a broad range of topics from politics to funnies (basically anything and everything), and have value for a number of reasons:

  • Hashtags help potential customers to find you. Using hashtags that are relevant or of interest to your target market can increase your chances of being found, as many people use hashtags for research e.g. #tropicalholiday or #handmadefurniture. It’s also possible to ‘follow’ hashtags on Instagram, so if someone is following a hashtag, popular posts will appear in users’ feeds.
  • Hashtags improve engagement. According to research from SimplyMeasuredInstagram posts with at least one hashtag tend to receive 12.6% more engagement.
  • Hashtags can be used for humor. A hashtag can be used as a sarcastic, or amusing side comment. While using a clever & witty hashtag is unlikely to help you get found in social media, it will illuminate your brands personality and help you connect with your audience.


Anyone can create a new hashtag, and businesses often make and use their own hashtags, but here’s a few guidelines on do’s and don'ts:
  • Spaces are a no-go. If your hashtag contains multiple words, string them all together. If you want to differentiate between words, use capitals instead e.g. #BlueJasmine. However, hashtags aren’t case sensitive, so searching #TheSocialShop will show the same results as #thesocialshop. It’s also worth checking whether your run together words create another phrase. Susan Boyle’s album launch got a whole lot of attention for the wrong reasons when her PR team used hashtag #susanalbumparty - we’ll let you work that one out for yourself!!
  • Numbers are supported, so feel free to use #50ShadesOfGrey to your heart’s content.
  • Punctuation marks are off limits. Commas, full stops, exclamation marks, question marks and apostrophes are out. This can be pretty frustrating when you’re trying to say #dontstop, but you’ll just have to quiet your inner grammar nerd on this one.
  • Sorry, no special characters - asterisks and ampersands are off the table. The only exception to this is underscores, which can be used - but this technique is not commonly seen on Social Media so it’s best to leave them out and avoid looking like a rookie.
  • Use Emojis. Emojis work as hashtags, and since they’re eye-catching and can often replace entire words. If using emojis is within the parameters of your brand guidelines, using them can bring attention and keep your hashtags short.
  • Spaces between hashtags. Although not technically necessary (hashtags without spaces between will still register as separate hashtags), it is best practice to put a space between each hashtag you use, for legibility.

If you’re still unsure how to hashtag try watching this video:


It can be challenging to work out what hashtags to use, and which hashtags are working best for you. Here’s a good place to start: 

Use popular hashtags that are relevant to the platform. For example, #throwbackthursday (or #tbt) is a good starting point (if you have content that matches this theme). Many people use this hashtag to post pics from their past, so if you have a box of old photos now’s the time to drag them out!

Using popular or broad hashtags can be appealing, but it’s also important to use more niche or specialised hashtags too. If a hashtag is used by masses of users regularly, your post will quickly fall from the top of a hashtag search... and attract a lot of spam. Hashtag that fewer people use will stay near the top for longer, and will also help you target specific members of your audience more effectively e.g. by location.

To find hashtags that are both fairly popular and specialised to your niche, look for influencers, popular businesses, or competition in your industry to see what hashtags they’re using.

You can also use Instagram’s ‘Explore’ feature to find keywords: 

To 'explore' type a keyword that’s related to your brand into Instagram’s search bar, then select the Tags tab. 

Instagram will give you a list of all the hashtags with that keyword, as well as a number of posts that are tagged with it. This can give you a good idea of the hashtags that will work for you.

There's also 'related hashtags' displayed at the top which may throw up some other ideas for you.


A brand hashtag is one that’s unique to your company or campaign. This could be as simple as your business name, tagline, or name for one of your products.

Air New Zealand uses a few brand hashtags. Their hashtag #AirNZShareMe was created to encourage customers to share their travel photos on Air New Zealand. The best of these are re-posted by AirNZ, and with over 50,000 photos shared with this hashtag they have plenty of pics to choose from!

If you’re running a promotional campaign, having a brand hashtag helps drive participation and engagement. It also means that all posts tagged with your brand hashtag are organised together. This is particularly helpful if you’re using the hashtag to collect entries for a promotion or measure engagement.

Additionally, you can also use branded hashtags to promote your company, your workforce, and culture.


It’s possible to add up to 30 hashtags to an Instagram post and 10 on a Story, but that doesn’t mean you should! According to an analysis by TrackMaven, posts with nine hashtags receive the most engagement, but there’s no set rules - you’ll need to find what works for your business and the products you’re promoting. It’s considered best practice to keep hashtags to a minimum of relevant or brand focussed hashtags. 

It’s also pretty common on Instagram to find businesses posting hashtags as the first comment on their posts, to avoid crowding their caption. It doesn't make any difference to the position of your post in the hashtag page - that works off the time you posted the image. 

The main benefit to putting hashtags in the first comment is to keep the post tidier, but if you make a mistake in the first comment, you need to delete the whole thing and start again. If the hashtags are in caption, you can simply edit the incorrect hashtag. If you decide you're going to post your hashtags in the first comment it also adds more work as you have to go back into the post once published to add hashtags.

To make sure you keep hashtags to a minimum, it's a good idea to keep on top of which hashtags are working for you. It's possible to do this through Sprout Social reports:

P.S. If you've never heard of Sprout Social before, and you're managing multiple social media accounts we recommend you check this out. 

Sprout Social is what we use here at The Social Shop to manage a tonne of our social media requirements, all in one place.

In general, the more you use hashtags, the more you’ll find out what’s working for you. So grab your keyboard, start #hashtagging and you’re on your way to #socialwinning.

If you’re still bewildered, we’re always happy to help... Scroll down to Contact Us and we'll get in touch to discuss your social strategy!

PLUS, make sure to check out our FREE Facebook group Social School, and we’ll help you to nail hashtags for your business with tips, more training, and ongoing expert advice.