Hashtags on Twitter and Instagram: What’s the difference?

Hashtags have been around for a long time. The first hashtag was an innocuous question asking if the pound symbol would be a good way to represent topics on Twitter. That happened way back in 2007. If you’re like me, 2007 doesn’t immediately seem like that long ago, but stop and think about it for a minute. At the time of writing, hashtags are over nine years old already. So why is it that my most common question as a social media consultant is still “What the Tartfiddle is a Hashtag?” (case in point, that article is five years old!)

How Hashtags are Used on Twitter

On Twitter hashtags are all about giving context to the tweet. They can be part of the tweet, or may be “tagged” on at the end. Some have said a hashtag is like a label on a file folder, it tells you what’s inside. The hashtag #SocialMedia might be added to a tweet with an article link when the headline/description doesn’t immediately sound like a social media article. Adding the right hashtag will help you to be found in conversations about that topic, or get you included in tweet streams for that hashtag, or help the right people engage with your content. Whether you’re searching or trying to be found on Twitter, hashtags will help. On Twitter, hashtags are commonly used for:

  • politics and advocacy: #CDNPoli, #StopHarper, #YesWeCan
  • fun and games: #BadFuneralHomeSlogans, #1LetterWrongMovie
  • conferences and events: #WeTheNorth, #GreaseLive, #SXSW, #YMMFire
  • tagging a specific location: #Halifax, #Canada
  • contests: “Use this hashtag to be entered”
  • general topic collections: #SocialMedia, #InBoundMarketing
  • indicating their state of mind in twitter-speak: #ThinkImGonnaPuke
  • shareable marketing campaigns: #ShareACoke, #TweetFromTheSeat

How Hashtags are Used On Instagram

While pretty much all of the hashtags on Twitter will transition well to Instagram, you can’t always take all your Instagram hashtags to Twitter. First of all, you are limited to 140 characters on Twitter, but you have up to 30 hashtags you are allowed to use on Instagram. On Twitter, it is recommended you use one to three hashtags only. On Instagram, it is recommended you use all 30 if you can. You may think that sounds and looks a bit spammy, and sometimes you’d be right. However, if you write a good description on Instagram, the hashtags will be hidden behind the “…more” button, so it doesn’t look as bad as you might think.

Here are some hashtags that are common on Instagram but are rare on Twitter:

  • #WOMD or #WhatsOnMyDesk: literally showing a picture of the projects you’re working on today.
  • #InstaCool, #InstaFun, #InstaQuote, #InstaPic: You can put #Insta in front of just about anything to find a community who are sharing #InstaCool pictures.
  • #CatsOfInstagram, #Catstagram, #Caturday, #InstaCat, #OfficeCat: You can replace “cat” with “dog” or pretty much any other animal to find a community of animal lovers.

Some of these hashtags have developed because of the photographic nature of Instagram. We tend to share different types of photos on that platform as compared to Twitter and logically some original hashtag conventions have developed out of that.

If you’re clicking on that “share to Twitter” button, you’ll want to ensure any insta-specific hashtags don’t transfer over to Twitter, but I don’t recommend you use the Twitter button on Instagram. There is a better way to post your photos from Instagram to Twitter.

How to Find the Right Hashtags for Your Business

Whether you’re thinking about Twitter or Instagram, the best thing to do is look at other accounts within your industry to see what they are using. The great thing about Instagram is when you start typing a hashtag it will show you some of the most popular ones┬áthat match what you’re typing so you can see which ones are more commonly used. For example when I type #clown I see it has been used 1.2 million times, but #clowns only 480,000 times. If I can, I’m going to use #clown because it’s more widely used and more likely to bring me people interested in #clowns. (See what I did there?)

Research is the key to making hashtags work for your business. Not only will you need to think about industry tags, you will also need to look at the hashtags around which your ideal audience is congregating. So, go look at the accounts of people who follow you and see what hashtags they are using and engaging with. That is how I discovered many of the ones I use regularly on Twirp Communications’ Instagram.

Where NOT to use Hashtags

Interestingly, Pinterest is dead set against hashtags. Some even say your pins are penalized if you try to use them. Whether or not that is true, there is no benefit to using them on that platform.

Hashtags have no actual function on Snapchat as yet. Your audience there will understand what you’re talking about, but you can’t search by hashtag, or click on them to see who’s using them.

The jury is still out on using hashtags on Facebook. While they function as a link to others who are using the same hashtag, only those posts you would normally have access to will show up. For example, if you click on a hashtag in a post on a friend’s page, you will only get to see the posts by Business Pages and other friends who are using the hashtag. The post must be public for it to really become part of the larger hashtag conversation and so much of Facebook is still hidden behind privacy walls that hashtag use is quite limited.


How are you using hashtags? Are you using the same ones on both platforms or do you have a different strategy for each? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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