Free Hashtag Research Tools and Tips for Instagram, LinkedIn, and More

Hashtag research guide with free tools and practical tips

If search engines have keywords, social media networks have hashtags (#). When added to a post, hashtags can make content searchable, categorizable, and clickable for users. But if you can use any word preceded by a # sign as a hashtag— should you?

Not every word or phrase relevant to your business or content must be a hashtag. If you search #skincare hashtag on Instagram, you'll find skincare inspiration galore.

An example of skincare hashtag on Instagram

But, as you’ll notice in the image above, some posts that show up on search are unrelated to #skincare.

Users are unlikely to click or engage with such posts even if they show up on their social media feeds. This defeats the purpose of hashtag use, which is to widen social media reach and boost discoverability.

Besides, using unrelated hashtags simply because they're popular can risk your credibility as a brand. Your posts also don’t reach the intended audience and end up being seen as spammy, hurting your engagement numbers even further.

Just as Instagram recommends!

Instagram's recommendations for using hashtags

Conducting thorough hashtag research is the only way to stay on the radar of ever-evolving social media algorithms.

With proper hashtag research, you will know how to better select/create hashtags for different marketing goals, where to put them, and how to define a hashtag marketing strategy to keep your social media game strong.

Let’s dive in!

What is hashtag research?

Hashtag research is a method of finding and analyzing specific hashtags to determine their use for a social media platform, such as Instagram or X.

This method digs deep into a hashtag's collective performance data over time to determine engagement, reach, and popularity. It can help you identify popular and relevant hashtags for the type of social media content you want to share.

When doing hashtag research, you also consider the following:

  • How the hashtag compares to other related hashtags

  • How competitors are using it

  • How many posts are tagged with it

5 types of hashtags for social media

There are broadly five types of hashtags you can use for social media marketing:

1. Branded hashtags

Branded hashtags are simply hashtags unique to a specific brand or business. They are one-of-a-kind hashtags created by the brand to promote a particular product, service, or campaign.

Some exemplary branded hashtags are Nike's #JustDoIt, Apple's #ShotoniPhone, and GoPro's #GoPro.

I'm highlighting GoPro's example here. Besides using its 'brand name' as the hashtag, GoPro uses many other hashtags for different reasons, including the #GoProAwards hashtag to encourage users to share photos and videos taken with GoPro gear.

Inspiration for your hashtag research: how GoPro uses hashtags

GoPro embeds the Instagram posts tagged with #GoProAwards on their microsite (see image below) using Flockler. This is a great way to boost engagement and collect user-generated content (UGC) to offer social proof and attract more customers.

GoPro showing social media on their website based on hashtags

2. Events hashtags

Event hashtags are special words or phrases used on social media platforms to categorize content related to a one-time or annual event.

Such hashtags can include the event's name, slogan, location, or date to provide updates, spark conversations, and drive engagement. 

For example, the Met Gala or the Met Ball is the annual fundraising event held for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute in New York City. It uses the event name followed by the year to create the event hashtag.

For 2023, the hashtag was #MetGala2023, and it helped the gala gain long-term exposure globally, even in Germany – months after the event.

3. Location hashtags

Location hashtags are phrases or keywords used on social media networks to highlight and categorize content related to a specific geographical location. This location can be a major country, city, neighborhood, or even a specific place to eat, drink, etc.

These types of hashtags are perfect for the travel, leisure and hopsitality sector. But also a great way to put you on the map regardless of your industry, because 51% of Gen-Z, 47% of Millenials, and 45% of Gen X look for inspiration for travel, products, and experiences based on locations. So connecting your brand and your products to specific iconic locations with hashtags is a great free growth hack.

On Instagram, for example, people often use #nyceats to highlight local food events and places to eat in New York City.

An example of the use of the #nyceats hashtag

4. Community/Industry hashtags

Community or industry hashtags are specific words or phrases used on social media platforms to categorize content related to a specific industry, community, or niche sharing similar interests.

For instance, many bibliophiles use #bookstagrammer on Instagram and #booktok on TikTok to share content around books, from reviews to recommendations based on scenarios and tropes.

5. Campaign hashtags

Campaign hashtags are often phrases created to promote a cause, marketing campaign, or event on social media. They are typically created around a challenge to encourage users to engage and participate in the campaign by creating relevant content.

CocaCola's #ShareACoke campaign and the ALS Association's #IceBucketChallenge are some popular examples. I personally love Lay's #DoUsAFlavor campaign, first launched in 2012 to generate buzz among the 18-34 demographic on Meta (formerly Facebook). It has since become a yearly contest for people to share their flavor ideas and win awards.

How to do hashtag research for Instagram?

I'm going to show you a three-step process for researching well-performing hashtags. This one requires only manual efforts, no tools.

1. Start with a root hashtag

Your root or core hashtag will depend on factors like industry, competitors, content type, or location. The root keyword for a big brand like Nike is #Nike or #JustDoIt. But let's say you're a small business selling handcrafted shoes in Chicago.

What will be your root keyword?

You can go for #handcraftedshoes to attract only relevant traffic to your account. It’s also direct and relevant to the business.

Example of the #handcraftedshoes hashtag

You should also use #handcrafted or #chicagoshoes to target a broader and local audience, respectively.

An example of doing hashtag research on Instagram

2. Find relevant hashtags

There are a few manual ways to do a hashtag search related to your topic or content. Let's begin with the obvious one: The search bar.

How to do manual hashtag research

Google Search Operators: While not direct, another method is a quick way of finding relevant but popular hashtags. This one uses Google's advanced search operators to find top-performing hashtags for a specific topic.

All you need to do is type "site: <domainofthesocialmediaplatform> <core hashtag/topic/keyword>" in the search bar and hit enter.

Case in point: Let's say you're running a small jewelry business and want to find the best hashtags in your industry. So, you enter the following query.

Doing hashtag research on Google

With 124 million tagged social media posts, you can see how popular the #jewelry hashtag is. This method works well for people who are more comfortable doing Google searches than hashtag searches on social media.

3. Test and assess the shortlisted hashtags

Once you've made a list of relevant hashtags, start rolling them out. This will help you collect sufficient data to use Instagram’s native social media analytics, Instagram Insights. As you keep collecting more data, track and test each hashtag against the following factors:

You can set up a spreadsheet to track and evaluate the hashtags' performance over a certain period and repeat the process to keep them relevant.

Doing hashtag research manually is a tedious process. Instead, outsourcing the hashtag planning to a free hashtag generator tool will be quicker and much less painful. Flockler’s Instagram Hashtag Generator Tool can generate trending hashtags in less than a minute to boost your engagement by 3- 5 times. 

How to effectively use hashtags on Instagram and other social media platforms

Here are some best practices to consider for hashtag use on social media.


  1. Instead of adding too many hashtags, consider spreading them out to avoid clutter. This will also help you avoid being seen as spammy if you use more than ten hashtags.

  2. Use a combination of trending and industry-specific hashtags for a broader reach while still engaging your target audience

X (Formerly Twitter)

  1. X recommends using no more than two hashtags per post, but there is no upper limit to the number of hashtags you can use.

  2. Besides the Tweets, you should also include hashtags in your Retweets and Replies to maximize reach.

  3. Do not add space or punctuation in the hashtag. Doing so can negatively affect its performance

  4. If a trending hashtag is relevant to your content, join the conversation by hashtagging posts with it.


  1. Don't plug the hashtags at the bottom of your LinkedIn post. Spread them throughout the content or comment section once you've published the post.

  2. Only use 3 to 5 hashtags most relevant to your content. Hashtag stuffing is particularly scorned and seen as spammy on LinkedIn feeds.

  3. Avoid using acronyms or lowercase for hashtags. Instead, use the complete phrase with proper capitalization to ensure readers understand the context well.

  4. If using the 'Creator Mode,' include niche-specific keywords to your profile. For example, if you're a social media marketer, you can add #socialmediamarketing as one of your hashtags. This will help LinkedIn users discover you when searching for that tag.

Best Instagram hashtag generator

Flockler's free Instagram hashtag generator uses artificial intelligence to source and provide the most popular hashtags relevant to your content. It lets you generate hashtags in two ways:

  1. You can find the best hashtags from related content

  2. You can find hashtags from another hashtag

Enter the content in the box, click the "generate your hashtags" option, and get a list of trending hashtags.

Let me show you the tool in action. In the image below, I’ve added a description of a small business selling fresh baked goods in the content box.

How to use a hashtag generator to find hashtags

Here’s how the tool interpreted the content and suggested relevant keywords.

Hashtags generated from content you place into a hashtag generator

I can see how a location hashtag like #newyork and #bakery can help me attract local audiences to my shop. However, it’s too broad. So, I will narrow it down a little with the second method.

#freshbakedgoods is contextually relevant to my business, so let’s explore some keywords related to it.

How to find hashtags from a hashtag

The following hashtag suggestions give me insights into what my target customers might be searching for. This is a good place to start.

Hashtags generated from another hashtag

Next, let’s run the above hashtags quickly and see how they perform on the platform. I’m testing #freshbakedgoods and analyzing the ‘Top Posts’ to identify the right hashtags for the business.

Three key observations:

  1. 30,392 posts are hashtagged with #freshbakedgoods

  2. Top posts are mostly by a bakery business or someone supporting the business

  3. Most of the posts, like the one below, use #bakedfreshgoods or some variation of the keyword like #bakedfresh or #bakedfromscratch.

An example of a post you will find while doing hashtag research with a generator

Suffice it to say, a combination of location hashtags like #nyc and relevant hashtags like #freshbakedgoods or #madefromscratch will work well for my Instagram hashtag strategy.

Hashtag Research FAQs

1. How many Hashtags should you use on Instagram?

Instagram says you should use between 3 to 5 hashtags on a post. However, to improve post visibility, you can use up to 30 tags on a single post, either in the caption or first comment.

2. How do you find hashtags?

Here are two of the best ways to find relevant and top hashtags on social media:

3. Why should you add hashtags to your Instagram posts or videos?

Adding hashtags to your Instagram posts and videos will make them searchable and help the algorithm understand what they're about. This contextual information will push your content to appear on relevant hashtag feeds and help you get discovered.

With Flockler, you can gather and display social media feeds from your favourite channels. See the full list of supported content types and sources

Flockler helps marketers like you to create social media feeds and display user-generated content on any digital service. Keep your audience engaged and drive sales.

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