What are Hashtags and, why do you need them?

Manuel Castañeda
5 min readOct 19, 2020


How hashtags work, what they can do for your business, and how to use them to reach more people every time you post on social media.

By using hashtags in your posts, you can reach untapped audiences on your social networks, which may be interested in your content, product, or services. Reaching new audiences will enable you to grow with more of your target audiences.

But first of all what is a hashtag?

A hashtag, introduced by the number sign, or hash symbol, #, is a type of metadata tag used on social networks. It lets users apply dynamic, user-generated tagging that helps other users easily find messages with a specific theme or content.

Users create and use hashtags by placing a hash symbol in front of a word or unspaced phrase in a message. The hashtag may contain letters, digits, and underscores.

A hashtag archive is consequently collected into a single stream under the same hashtag.

The use of hashtags was first proposed by Chris Messina in a 2007 tweet, that, although initially decried by Twitter as a “thing for nerds”, eventually led to their use rapidly becoming widespread throughout the platform. Messina, who did not attempt to patent the use because he felt “they were born of the internet, and owned by no one”, has subsequently been credited as the godfather of the hashtag.

Think of a hashtag as a folder on your computer. Folders allow you to find exactly what you need, quickly and efficiently. At their most basic level, hashtags are simply a version of folders.

Key principles for using hashtags

Hashtags can be a great way to boost your reach on Instagram however, there are a few factors to consider when including them in your posts.

Hashtags aren’t magic.

If you’re a new account, reaching tens of thousands of people through hashtags on your first try is unlikely. But, we can build some great foundations, and start reaching 20–30% more people every time you post. Your strategy will develop over time — it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Relevancy is key

The best hashtags for you, are not the best hashtags for everyone else — it’s completely dependant on your account.

Relevancy between your hashtags and your content will provide the best results. Just like Instagram, that wants to show content to relevant audiences and the more specific your hashtags are to the post you’re making, the easier you make their job.

Not all hashtags are made equal!

Some hashtags are more competitive than others — this is typically determined by their size.

What to search, how to choose hashtags, and deciding the most suitable view for finding hashtags is important. Hashtags need to be relevant to the posts you’re making, suitable for your account’s size and engagement level.

When looking for the rights hashtags, consider the following:

  • Average engagement levels
  • Content topics and niches

Building a strategy

Boosting your hashtag reach doesn’t have to be difficult, a simple hashtag strategy can help you increase your reach by 30–40%.

if you use the right hashtags, you are able to reach more of the right people within your niche, who are interested in your content and therefore are more likely to be engaged. But, it isn’t as simple as just picking random hashtags for your posts.

So, What kind of things do we need to be thinking about before we can apply a strategy?

Goal setting

The best way to start any strategy is by asking yourself what you want to achieve. Why do you want to improve your hashtag strategy? Is it to:

  • Increase your following?
  • Build a personal brand?
  • Sell a product?
  • Gain more authority within your industry?
  • Reach a specific audience?

It’s important to take note and keep your goals top of mind. That way, when you are working on your strategy, and implementing it into your routine, you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

A lot of people find it easier when they can tick off certain milestones as they go — so you can also set micro-goals to track your progress along the way. This will help you stay motivated, and will show you that your strategy is paying off, in real-time.

Here are some examples of micro-goals you can set yourself:

  • Reach 100 new followers
  • Increase your reach by 15%
  • Create 10 different hashtag Collections, tailored to your account
  • Understand hashtag metrics

Plan ahead, and pre-empt the hashtags you’re going to use to give you a greater chance of getting your strategy off on the right foot. We know our hashtags need to relevant, choosing broad hashtags may be easier in the short-term, but this won’t give you every opportunity to get ranking.

Look specifically at the type of content you post and build more specific hashtags based on this. The more matched up your posts are to your hashtags, the more likely you are to reach more of the right people.

There are a lot of creators and accounts out there that prefer to focus on being creative and sending their content out into the world without paying attention to or monitoring metrics. When it comes to hashtag research, metrics are your best friend.

To start ranking you’ll need to make sure your chosen hashtags have similar stats to your current content and engagement.

If you tend to get a certain amount of likes or engagement when you post content on Instagram, the hashtags you use should match up with your typical performance.

Know your engagement levels

This is where Average Likes Comes in. Your ‘Average Likes’ is the average amount of likes you get on a post, which you can compare with the Average Likes that users who rank on a specific hashtag get.

By comparing these numbers, you can easily predict which hashtags might work for you, and which might not.

Last but not least, remember: There are no shortcuts when it comes to gaining organic growth on Social Media.



Manuel Castañeda

Entrepreneur and graphic designer. Owner of DeCast Design. MS in Human Rights. World Citizen and freelance writer. Madrid based. www.decastdesign.com