The Definitive Guide to Hashtags on Social Media

Let's get one thing straight:hashtags.

First, back to basics: What is a hashtag:

A #hashtag, similar to the pound symbol, is a symbol we put in front of a word or phrase to make it clickable and discoverable. Hashtags have no spaces, grammar, punctuation or (for the most part) special characters in them. They can be a single word like #Teacher, plural like #Teachers or a whole phrase like #TeachersLoveStudents.

Rather than there being random conversations all over the internet and scouring through trillions of terabytes of information, social media platforms bring keywords to your screen with hashtags.

Hashtags have unique qualities depending on the platform they're used on. Some platforms have similar hashtag best practices (Facebook and LinkedIn, for example), and some are wildly different (Twitter and Instagram, for example).  It's also important to note that hashtags do not work across platforms: a post on Instagram with a hashtag will not be discoverable on Facebook for example.That said, there are some core principles to hashtags you should know:

1) Hashtags should be user centric. We in business want to use hashtags consumers use to get in front of those audiences. This is why marketing activities like customer avatars and active research are key. Start with what you think your audience uses, then start looking at people's or business' profiles to see what they follow and use - and use those.

2) Brands should never have more than one custom hashtag. We use custom hashtags to gauge who's engaging with us, when and why, and then to improve those efforts. Only one will do: and you gotta tell people anywhere and everywhere what your custom hashtag is and when to use it.

3) Hashtags should be intentional. I see so many people throw up any topic or idea that comes to mind, and many of them are custom, or have limited uses or are all topic specific (see below about this). They're also thrown about, or crossposted. Don't. Be intentional in your hashtag choices.

4) Hashtag strategies tend to break down between vanity appeal or numerical appeal. For example, some people will say you should put hashtags in the first comment on Instagram, because it's cleaner looking. But, research shows posts with hashtags in the body of the post perform better. You have to choose what you're after.

Now, here's something you should know and integrate to slay with hashtags: categories. People engage with hashtags relevant to them, and this is best expressed in categories. Of all the hashtags out there, all hashtags break down into one of three categories:

1) Topic Specific. Whatever your post is about, the general idea or theme, this will be a topic specific hashtags. Examples include #cats #school #business. People will use and follow hashtags of topics that interest them.

2) Audience Specific. These are hashtags that identify people. Examples would be #GayGuy #Mompreneur #SingleDad. People will use and follow hashtags that are part of their identity.

3) Location Specific. These are hashtags unique to a region, city or country. Note they are not always exact to the city. #Toronto is an example of a city that does use its own name in the hashtag, but #Cbridge is the official hashtag for the city of Cambridge, and must use a unique one because there are more popular Cambridges (Massachusetts and UK). People will use and follow hashtags relevant to areas where they are, are or want to visit.

Okay, so we understand hashtags and categories. How do we choose which hashtags to use, or how to use them? Essentially:

  • Choose the number of hashtags that corresponds to your strategy or best practice (see below on best practices),

  • Isolate the key idea or theme to your post and start there,

  • Make sure to include a combination of the three categories when relevant,

  • Search popular hashtags and use those.

A note on "popular hashtags": mostly relevant to Instagram, find out how many times a hashtag has been used to determine if it's appropriate. For audience and topic specific, I look for between 10,000 and 1M uses. While you can use hashtags with more than 1M uses, that tends to mean they're flooded, and at best will get you likes without engagement. For location specific hashtags, I like to see a number of uses in line with the population of that area multiplied over time. I also tend to follow Instagram trends: if I can see it's popular on Instagram, chances are it's popular on the other platforms as well.

This all said, it's important to note hashtag best practices differ on each platform. To break it down:


  • 2-4 hashtags per tweet

  • 1-2 hashtags per fleet

  • put in the body of the post,

  • put in with the rest of the text


  • Up to 30 allowed in a post,

  • Up to 10 allowed in a story,

  • in the body of the post,

  • below the rest of the text in the post,

  • hidden under text & stickers in stories,

  • should use a mix and combination

throughout posts (not just the same ones).


  • 2-5 hashtags per post,

  • In the body of the post,

  • Below the post.


  • 2-5 hashtags per post,

  • In the body of the post,

  • Below the post.


  • 2-4 hashtags

  • in the body of the description of the pin.

A final note particular to hashtags on Instagram: small business owners often ask me "Isn't 30 a lot of hashtags per post?" and it is. This, from me, who uses up to 30 often, I am willing to admit it's a lot. But, it's also undeniable that using more and smarter hashtags really increases discoverability.

With Instagram and every platform, you want to use your hashtags intentionally. Hashtag use should be a part of, and match, your overall social media strategy. There definitely is a time and place to use less or more: but it needs to match you and your audience.