The Truth about Instagram Hashtag Advice

There is a lot of hashtag advice out there. We make some observations ourselves—because we think that hashtags are a necessary tool in a knife maker’s marketing tool box to break out of the follower bubble.


There is a lot of “do what I say” advice out there that isn’t quite 100% open about where they got their wisdom from. What do I mean by that?

Like watching a game of chess without knowing the rules

Figuring out hashtags is like watching a game of chess without knowing the rules.

At some point you can guess most of the rules but you can never be sure. And every once in a while you’ll be surprised by a move you had never seen before, using some seldom used rule.

And in chess the rules don’t change! Instagram can and does change their algorithms.

A lot of advice is just opinion

That’s why, if you’re looking online, there is a good deal of advice about how to get Instagram hashtags right. And a lot of it is just opinion and guesswork: Instagram doesn’t reveal much about how hashtags work in general, and they certainly don’t give details for why your particular post did or did not get hashtag reach.

A lot of hashtag advice is guesswork.

That doesn’t mean that guesswork is not useful: as a starting point for your own experimenting.

But it does mean you still need to experiment for yourself, because a lot of statistics out there are dubious.

Misunderstood statistics

There are a few “this is the way” rules out there. Often those rules come to life because someone copies a number that someone else misunderstood from yet another blog post.

Here is an example:

Many folks recommend “11” as the perfect number for hashtags to use. Here is an example. Where does this number come from?

When you dig a bit, you’ll find a blog post from Buffer where they wrote this:

With larger brands on Instagram with more than 1,000 followers received on average 21.21 interactions per post. However the more startling numbers came in with accounts with less than 1,000 followers where a post with 11 hashtags received an average of 77.66 interactions.

This blog post is from 2013. And their point wasn’t that 11 is perfect so much as that you should use more hashtags. Quoting again, from the beginning of the hashtag section:

Many experts advise against using more than two hashtags at a time and I even considered it an extreme social media faux pas to hashtag more than once. Except the data on hashtags on Instagram crushed all of those former thoughts.

So they wanted to debunk the “1 is ideal“ myth, and they got a graph where 11 hashtags are better than 0 or 1. Okay.

But, is 11 really better than 12 or 25? We don’t know they didn’t look any further than 11! (And if you look at the graph, there does not seem to be much correlation between number of hashtags and number of interactions, so I’m not sure you can conclude much from that.)

So what do we know?

All this doesn’t mean that all is lost and there is nothing to know or learn. Hashtags are useful. Do use them. What it means is this:

  • You have to do your own experiments and see what works for you.
  • Don’t get hung up on details. Using 11 hashtags isn’t 100x better than using 10 or 12.
  • If someone says “this works”, read it as: “I’ve seen this working for some people”. It doesn’t mean it will work for you.
  • If someone says “this worked for me”, then experiment with it.
  • If someone says “you MUST do this”, be skeptical. Evaluate their arguments. If they make sense, try and see.

Want to learn more about Instagram marketing—all while being skeptical? 😁 Check out our Instagram guide for knife makers!

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