Do Instagram Hashtags Really Lead to More Engagement?

August 14, 2017 • By

Scott Ayres

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Intro

Can Instagram hashtags get more engagement on our posts?

As a marketer or business owner, one of your largest goals with social media is engagement. In fact it’s probably that thing you focus on the most!

Without people engaging, your posts and your pages very quickly become ghost towns.

social media ghost town

While this is true for all social media channels, we’re going to focus on Instagram and test a way to get more engagement — without having to spend money on ads.

Cha-Ching!!!

This should excite every CEO out there, including our own as we try to break the code of organic reach!

A Bit of Background about Instagram

According to TechCrunch 700 million people are using Instagram monthly! (and this number increases daily)

Instagram users

That’s a lot of pictures of coffee cups, legs on beaches, and what you had for lunch!!!

Instagram business accounts were launched in 2016, allowing businesses to get insights, run ads, etc.

This also made it easier for users to find your business on Instagram.  Read more on the benefits of Instagram for business in a great post by Constant Contact.

In addition to adding business accounts Instagram also rolled out an algorithm for the feed in an attempt to show you the content you want to see — meaning your business will need to keep people engaged in order to see your content.

If no one is engaging with you they won’t see your posts — pretty simple.

But how can we get engagement on our Instagram posts without spending a penny on ads?

That’s what our CEO Emeric Ernoult wants to know!

Agorapulse CEO Emeric

(He wears wigs nicely, don’t you think?)

Many would argue that using Instagram hashtags is the answer.

Our friends at Sprout Social recently stated:

“The beauty of hashtags for Instagram is they make your content discoverable and increases your chances of engagement.”

The “Instagram Expert” herself, Sue B. Zimmerman, stated:

“The amount of hashtags you should use is up for debate and will 100% depend on your brand and following.”

SocialFresh suggests 7 hashtags generate the most engagement, while more than 9 is perceived as spam.

Number of Instagram Hashtags

TrackMaven’s research found that engagement was  the best at 5 hashtags.

Number of Instagram Hashtags TrackMaven

Notice that both reports indicate that 0 hashtags has the lowest amount of engagement.

So like it or not hashtags are an important part of marketing on Instagram — even if they can get quite annoying. #whydidIjustuseahashtag

Hypothesis

Posting with at least 1 hashtag on Instagram will result in more engagement than posting with no hashtags.

Instagram hashtags

Using this information, I ran a test on the impact of hashtags relating to engagement on Instagram.

Plan of Attack

Using content not previously posted before, I posted to 4 different Instagram accounts. This multi-account approach will give us approximately 140 pieces of content to draw data from.

I alternated between 0 hashtags and at least 1-5 hashtags.

Once I disprove or prove that hashtags result in more engagement, I’ll run another detailed test posting with varying amounts of hashtags to find an “ideal” number.

For the study we used the following Instagram accounts:

  • @scottayres – This is my own personal account with 2220 followers at the beginning of the test.
  • @gracebiblegatesville – This is an account I manage for a local church with 315 followers at the beginning of the test.
  • @spacewalkctx – This is my small business account for my local bounce house business with 580 followers at the beginning of the test.
  • @AgoraPulse – Our business account with 920 followers at the beginning of the test.

Below is a sample of a few posts — with the results shown.

Agorapulse Instagram hashtag test

Scott Ayres Instagram hashtag test

Space Walk Instagram hashtag test

To keep this simple, I will simply tally up the number of “Likes” (Hearts) for posts with hashtags and posts without and get an average for each and use those results to determine if my hypothesis is correct or not.

Stumbling Blocks

Other than creating or finding content to post for the accounts the biggest stumbling block was scheduling content.

I’m a huge fan of scheduling out content in advance as it allows you to plan ahead and have a solid social media strategy. Plus having to simply remember to post is a nightmare and always fails.

As you likely know, Instagram does not allow apps to directly post content to their site.

Instead apps like AgoraPulse are allowed to “schedule” content within their app and then you’ll get a reminder via a push notification that will copy the text and then allow you to add the image inside the Instagram app itself.

It works, but during a test such as this with so much content posting keeping up with the notifications was/is tricky.

There were times when I had too many posts scheduled at or near the same time and missed posting a few of them. Which meant I had to reschedule them for a later time, causing the study to go a week longer than I intended.

Ugh.

What the Data Says about Instagram Hashtags

The test posts are over. I’ve tallied the results. You ready?

After posting over 140 posts across 4 different Instagram accounts, I’ve discovered that posts with hashtags resulted in a 70.14% increase in Likes compared to those without hashtags.

Instagram hashtag posts

I got these figures by simply adding the number of Likes for posts with and without hashtags for each page, removed the highest and lowest performing posts and then averaged the results. I then averaged the 4 pages to come to this overall number.

Across the 4 accounts, there were on average 14.53 Likes on posts with hashtags, and just 8.54 Likes on posts without hashtags.

Instagram hashtags

While there weren’t a ton of comments on any of the posts — a trend possibly across all of social media these days — posts with hashtags had a 392% increase in comments over those without hashtags!

Was I Right or Wrong?

My original hypothesis was: Posting with at least 1 hashtag on Instagram will result in more engagement than posting with 0 hashtags.

Based on the data, this was 100% correct, and was no surprise to me. And probably you.

It was surprising to see a 70% increase in Likes however when hashtags were used compared to when they weren’t. This tells me using Instagram hashtags is a MUST when it comes to your content strategy on Instagram.

But in order to get a baseline for further testing, this was crucial to prove.

Now we know with confidence that every Instagram post should contain at least one hashtag, My next test will be to see how engagement changes based on using 1-10 hashtags.

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