Oh, the hashtag. We are #blessed to have them in our Instagram content marketing arsenal. Sometimes funny, sometimes overused (i.e. #adulting, #ThrowBackThursday); hashtags are a powerful tool in social media marketing. The benefits are undeniable. Some of the main reasons to use relevant hashtags include:  

  • Increasing engagement 
  • Building brand awareness
  • Connecting with your target audiences 

Social media platforms like Twitter, Tumbler, and even Linkedin all encourage the use of hashtags. This article will focus on Instagram and how small businesses can use hashtags to grow their brands. 

History Of The Hashtag

Ten years ago, the #hashtag was more commonly referred to as the pound sign on your keyboard or phone. Its technical name is an octothorpe. The symbol was primarily used to mark numbers, until a fateful day in 2007. 

Marketing specialist Chris Messina is credited with the invention of the hashtag as we know and use it today. Hootsuite shares the full history, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll give you the cliff notes version. Messina proposed the idea of group-related Tweets together using the pound sign, and (spoiler alert) the idea took off.  

Fun Fact: The world’s very first hashtag was #barcamp. 

Why You Need To Hashtag 

Messina’s initial hashtag concept is virtually unchanged. Hashtags are now used by millions of people across multiple platforms to share and find related content. But how exactly can a little hashtag boost your bottom line? 

Put simply, the answer is a wider reach. Think of it this way: More reach = More awareness = More engagement = More customers. The right hashtags (which are essentially keywords for Instagram SEO) will get your content in front of the right eyes. 

From a numbers standpoint, a post with at least one hashtag averages roughly 13 percent more engagement than posts without a hashtag, according to the social media management platform Later. Numbers don’t lie. It really is worth creating a hashtag strategy for your brand if you want to grow your digital presence. 

Anatomy Of A Hashtag Strategy 

You know hashtags are important, but please don’t go #hashtagging random words in posts. The most effective hashtags are the ones that fit into a thoughtful content strategy. Consider it a part of your overall content marketing plan, because it is. 

A few guidelines to keep in mind: 

  • There is a limit of 30 hashtags per post and a limit of 10 per story. Use the max number of hashtags allotted on your posts. 
  • You can use numbers and emojis in your hashtags, but you can’t use spaces or special characters, such as $ or &. 
    • Side Note: Should you use one of your precious 30 hashtags on an emoji? I personally do not. But Lifewire has a great article on how to try it out, you’re so inclined. 
  • Make sure you’re not using banned hashtags. More on that in a moment. 

There is a great rule for choosing hashtags to reach your target audience. Use a combination of industry-based hashtags, niche-based hashtags, and community-based hashtags. 

She defines industry-based hashtags as keywords that make it easy for like-minded leaders or service-seeking clients to find each other. ⁠Niche-based hashtags connect your brand with people most likely to engage and shop at your business. And, community hashtags speak to your company’s morals, values, services, overall aesthetic. You can grab Bre’s free hashtag guide here

There’s some debate on if hashtags should be placed in the first comment or in the post itself. A recent study published in Social Insider states, “profiles with more than 100k followers have a better Reach Rate when posting their hashtags in comments (15.9%). Judging by the reach metrics, large Instagram profiles —with over 100k followers — perform the exact opposite from the smaller and medium-sized profile.”

I opt for the first comment. 

Banned Hashtags 

Using banned hashtags is a very comment Instagram mistake. Instagram bans hashtags that label as spammy. These are typically overused words or phases that comprised the intent of hashtags: to group together related content. If you accidentally use a banned hashtag, your post will be hidden from public view. That kills your organic and growth efforts. Some examples of banned hashtags include bikinibody, humpday, and happythanksgiving. 

Here’s a full list of banned Instagram hashtags to avoid. 

Top Hashtags For Small Businesses

Now that you know what pitfalls to sidestep, here are some popular hashtags that will help grow for your small business on Instagram. 














There are some great tools to help you find industry/niche-specific hashtags. I like Influencer Marketing Hub Instagram Hashtag Generator and Sistrix. You can also draw hashtag inspiration by looking at what’s working for similar accounts. 

Did these tips help you with your business small hashtag strategy? Let me know in the comments below. 

Happy Creating,

Cyndi, Owner of Ascent StoryCraft