Hashtags have become an integral part of social media culture over the last decade. Popularized by Instagram and added to the Oxford dictionary in 2010, the hashtag is a way to connect users by common interests. While most Instagram users know what a hashtag is, many are not using them correctly. There is an art to selecting the correct hashtags for the purpose of increasing exposure and organic reach.

What's a hashtag?

Hashtags are used to categorize content on the internet. Without them, we would all be swimming in a sea of unfiltered, perhaps even unwanted, information.

Hashtags are used on Instagram to browse particular posts, to discover certain content, and to locate other user accounts.

To create a hashtag, simply type the pound symbol in front of your chosen keywords. For example, a travel account on Instagram might choose to use "#wanderlust" because of its significance in the sphere of travel enthusiasts.

Be specific

Over 40 billion posts have been uploaded to Instagram since its launch on October 6, 2010. Every day the platform sees approximately 95 million new photos and videos. With all of this content constantly being uploaded to same place, hashtags have become crucial in order for your posts to be seen.

The more specific your hashtags are, the more targeted your audience reach will be.

A targeted audience is what increases the engagement on your posts. Posting engaging content relies heavily on knowing who your audience is and what they want to see.

For example, a photography account might not want to use "#photography." Instead, they might choose more specific hashtags like "#portraitphotography" or "#CanonEOS." Using the style of photography or the specific camera used to take the photo will result in reaching a more targeted audience.

Users who appreciate portrait work or who favor Canon over Nikon will be more likely to engage with the post.

Mistakes to avoid

Hashtags should be simple and easy to read. It may be tempting to write out long, clever hashtags, but Instagram is different from Tumblr. Most users don't want to take the time to type in all of those characters.

For example, a travel account that posts a photo in a Middle Eastern outdoor market might not want to use "#ShoppingintheOutdoorMarketinCairo." No one is searching for that. Instead, using "#CairoBazaar" will narrow down the targeted audience without causing too much of a fuss.

Another tip to using hashtags on Instagram is to hide them. Each post will hold a maximum of 30 hashtags. It's best to make sure they are hidden so that they don't overpower or distract from your well-crafted caption.

In the past, users could post hashtags in the comment section, but the new algorithm for Instagram has rendered that trick moot. Now, hashtags should be placed inside the caption in order for the post to show up in the search results.

To hide hashtags inside a caption, touch the 123 key and hit return. Follow with a dash, period, or asterisk. You should repeat these steps about five times to completely hide the group of hashtags. Captions cut off after the third line of text, and you should never have more hashtags than actual words. Too many can make your post look like spam.

Now that you know how to properly use hashtags on Instagram, you should start to see better engagement on your posts.