I have a confession to make: Before joining the Curalate team, I had never given much thought to hashtags on Instagram. I was always much more focused on creating a cool photo than I was on actually making it discoverable. Even when posting content about a specific brand, it never occurred to me to add a hashtag so the brand could see it and potentially make me a social superstar (lookin’ at you, @tacobell).

Well, a lot’s changed since the beginning of this year. I am now a strong proponent of hashtags on Instagram. Not only are they essential in helping marketers discover valuable user-generated content that they can use to connect with their fans, but they are also a viable way to join a larger conversation. And now, Instagram is making it even easier for its users to search for and discover relevant content. Let me explain.

Great Content at Your Fingertips

Last week, Instagram launched new Search and Explore pages, giving users a more efficient way to interact with trending hashtags across people, places and tags. Here’s a brief look at the new interface.

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With this change, Instagram has made the exploration aspect of its platform more inviting, enabling consumers and brands to find top posts on trending topics. (This video from H&M, for example, currently comes up as the top result for #LoveWins, making their content relevant and visible to Instagram users beyond the brand’s core community.)

It’s certainly fair to say that over the last few months, I’ve developed a deeper interest in the way brands use hashtags on visual platforms and, more importantly, how that impacts follower engagement.

As it turns out, my colleague Joe Vela, Client Support Engineer here at Curalate, felt the same. “It’s something that I was genuinely curious about and I know our clients are curious about,” says Joe.

“If we can use data to educate Instagram users to optimize their content, my hope is that the whole Instagram community benefits.” tweet

Joe went ahead and pulled from the wealth of data we have at Curalate so we could conduct an analysis of engagement on Instagram in relation to how brands use hashtags. We took a look at posts from 20 retailers with follower sizes ranging from 30K to 2.7MM. Here’s what we learned.

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Get More Out of Instagram

Now that you know the ideal number of hashtags to use in an Instagram post (two!), it’s time to learn the best images to use along with them. More than 90% of users on Instagram are under the age of 35, making it the perfect platform to reach the millennial generation.

To learn more about how to engage this demographic with images, download our newest guide, “Marketing to Millennials: Engaging a Generation of Visual Buyers.