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Do Instagram Hashtags Really Lead to More Engagement?

August 14, 2017 • By

Scott Ayres

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Can Instagram Hashtags Get More Engagement?

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.

A Bit of Background about Instagram

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

Instagram users

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.

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?

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.


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

Instagram hashtags

Testing Instagram Hashtags

I posted to 4 different Instagram accounts giving 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 this 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. (This account is no longer active on Instagram)
  • @spacewalkctx – This is my small business account for my local bounce house business with 580 followers at the beginning of the test. (This account is no longer active on Instagaram)
  • @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.

What the Data Says about Instagram Hashtags

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

[Tweet “According to research by @agorapulse Instagram posts with at least 1 hashtag resulted in a 70% increase in Likes! #socialmedialab”]

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.

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!

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.

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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