Do hashtags actually help to improve the reach of your posts on Instagram?
The pervading belief has been that they do, but recently, Instagram Chief Adam Mosseri poured cold water on the hashtag debate by noting that hashtags don't really help views.
Instagram hashtags aren’t designed to maximize distribution, necessarily, with the real focus being on categorizing content to better connect users with what they’re looking for.
But still, that should also help to improve reach, right? Do hashtags really not influence post views?
To get some answers, the team at Socialinsider recently analyzed over 75 million Instagram posts published between March 2021 and March 2022, to see what the data says about the relationship between Instagram hashtags and post views.
The research shows that the number of hashtags an Instagram post has does not influence post distribution.
As you can see in the graphic below, there are no significant differences in the average engagement rate by impressions values of the Instagram posts analyzed, despite the number of hashtags.
The highest average engagement rate by impressions (3.41%) is generated by posts with 3-4 hashtags. This comes as no surprise - Instagram itself has previously noted that keeping between 3-5 hashtags is the best strategy to adopt when dealing with post distribution.
But, ultimately, the number of hashtags you use doesn't influence reach, on average, at least not in any significant way.
The Socialinsider team wanted to dig further, so they added an additional parameter in 'Follower Count' to ensure that we're looking at equal comparisons.
The data shows that there aren't any major differences in the average impression rates of the Instagram posts analyzed when looking at the number of hashtags and followers in conjunction, though there are some nuances, depending on the profiles' following base.
In the case of big accounts (50K and 1M followers), the impression rates decrease as they use more Instagram hashtags. According to the data, the best practice for big accounts is to use 3-4 hashtags to maximize their chances of reaching the average engagement rate by impressions of (3.42%).
For small accounts, with 5K - 10K followers, more tags also equals declining engagement, but the variance is not as pronounced. That said, it's still a good practice for small accounts to include fewer hashtags (focusing on 5-6 hashtags) to achieve the best engagement rates.
The same trend applies to mid-sized accounts, with 10K - 50K followers, which should use more 5-6 hashtags to ensure higher impression rates.
Of course, all of this depends on your specific audience, the types of hashtags you use, and the goals you're trying to achieve. Still, according to this data, and industry experts, Instagram hashtags don't help with post distribution.
The real trick is to use the right hashtags for your target audience, in order to get your posts seen by the people searching for the right topics in the app. Do your research, determine the right tags for each of your posts (based on the topics of each, not the same hashtags for every update), and you should still see reach benefits from hashtag use.
More insights on Instagram hashtags can be found in the full report.