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Experiment: How Many Hashtags To Use on Reels?

While it’s possible to add up to 30 tags in your Instagram Reels caption, more isn’t always more. So what’s the perfect number?

Stacey McLachlan October 30, 2023
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We don’t just do social media experiments to kill time over here at Hootsuite HQ: we do them to serve the people. So when one of our readers asks us to figure out how many hashtags to use for Reels, we get to work.

Reels continue to be one of Instagram’s top-performing formats… but there’s no harm in getting a little hashtag help to reach even further, right?

The question, though, is how many tags are actually helpful? While it’s possible to add up to 30 tags in your Instagram Reels caption, more isn’t always more.

As we’ve discovered through rigorous abuse of my Instagram account, three to five hashtags is the sweet spot for Instagram posts. Will the same be true for Reels?

As always, there’s only one way to find out: submitting my Instagram followers to a barrage of hashtag-based tests. But in my defence, that barrage of hashtag-based tests will probably involve videos of pancakes. So.

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Hypothesis: 3-5 hashtags on reels gives you the same amount of reach as 30

We experimented recently with hashtags on Instagram posts, and discovered that sticking to a maximum of five is where you’ll achieve the most reach. Though Instagram allows you to add up to 30 hashtags to any given post, in practice, doing this will just make your content look spammy, and may actually hurt your reach.

Based on this discovery, it’s reasonable to assume that three to five hashtags will also be the best bet for Instagram Reels hashtags, too, right?

After all, the Instagram Creators account explicitly recommends keeping the number of hashtags at three to five. (Though, to be fair, this post doesn’t specifically reference best practices for Instagram Reels hashtagging.)

Instagram Creators account hashtag dos list

Source: @creators

But! Instagram Reels’ biggest creators often go beyond that five hashtag recommendation (@Gabe, with more than a million followers, seems to use 10 to 12 in his vids), so who knows what will actually be true?

Time to hit the lab!


I decided to create six Instagram Reels, which I would post twice, each time with different amounts of hashtags. (I used stock video footage, FYI!) That way, I could accurately compare apples to apples — or, in this case, waterfall video to waterfall video.

Instagram Reel new post on Hootsuite with OwlyWriter AI

Instagram Reels captions can be up to 2,200 characters long, but I kept the captions short and sweet, so that I could attribute reach to my hashtag strategy, and not keyword SEO. Because I’m a busy gal who loves to boss robots around, I tapped into the power of the Hootsuite Owly AI writer to compose the perfect captions.

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Instagram Caption

When it came time to jam-pack my caption with hashtags I used a mix of Hootsuite Composer’s AI hashtag suggestions, hashtags from this list of the best Instagram Reels hashtags, and hashtags generated by aggregator Display Purposes Only.

Hootsuite Composer AI hashtag suggestions

I used the Hootsuite Planner tool and scheduled these Reels to post at optimal times over the course of a week.

Hootsuite Calendar scheduled Instagram Reels

Then I checked back in with Hootsuite Analytics to see just which hashtag count reigned supreme.

The initial results (and a revised methodology)

I was certainly not expecting the results to be so devastating. I got zero views on anything.

This was a true shocker. Not one of my #incredible #hashtags helped my content get discovered?! But then I thought back to everything I knew about the Instagram Reels algorithm and realized I’d made a terrible blunder by doing this experiment on my Experiments Only Instagram account, @thereeldealxo.

While this impersonal account is normally a great place to test things out without bothering my real friends or infusing my followers list with paid spam bots, in this particular case, I got burned bad. Instagram was punishing me for my bad ‘Gram behavior because, really, I was acting like a scammer. I don’t have any real followers. I don’t follow anyone at all. I post rarely and sporadically. I never interact with any other accounts. And as we know, your interactions with other accounts is a key part of the Reels algorithm.

So it was back to the drawing board with this hashtag experiment. (Please remember: failure is part of science! If you’re angry about it, DM the father of the Scientific Revolution, Sir Francis Bacon!)

Beverly Hills Hotel vacation of dreams Instagram Reel

For this second take, I logged into my personal account and pulled together six more Reels. Three featured minimal hashtags; three featured the maximum. (I tried to compare apples to apples by creating content that was similar for each hashtag group—for instance, one highly hashtagged video about pro wrestling, and one minimally hashtag video about pro wrestling.)

personal account

Then, finally, I went back to Instagram to get some actual helpful information to share with you all. Time to get off the #edge of your #seat and into some results!

The actual results

TLDR: You need more than just a great hashtag strategy to thrive on Instagram Reels. But for authentic, active accounts, 30 hashtags seems to be most effective for expanding your reach with Instagram Reels.

This was a surprise to me, considering we discovered the opposite was true with our Instagram posts experiment. But reviewing the reach of all six of my Reels, the best performing videos had 30 hashtags each.

Video ContentVersion with 30 HashtagsVersion With 3 Hashtags
Wrestling512 views7 views
Japan Travel350 views8 views
California Trip7 views7 views

As you can see, there are tragically no amount of hashtags in the world that could make anyone care about my cute trip to California with my baby and bestie. (Rude.) But my wrestling content and Japan travel content clearly thrived when I applied the maximum amount of hashtags.

So obviously, the content needs to be interesting to a wide range of people for this to actually work, but if you’ve got quality, engaging content to share, it seems to me like there’s no harm in going ham with those ‘tags.

What do the results mean?

As usual, it’s important to note that this experiment doesn’t necessarily offer an absolute conclusion, and your mileage may vary depending on your specific social media strategy. But based off of my experience, here are some key Instagram Reels hashtag observations to consider.

When it comes to Reels, pile on those hashtags

Though Instagram posts seem to do better when there are fewer hashtags, Instagram Reels apparently have more reach with more hashtags (I used the maximum amount, but even upping your hashtags from 5 to 10 or 10 to 20 might help). Of course, it might have just been a case of one or two key hashtags helping with that discoverability, but it’s hard to know what those ones might specifically be.

Try to be clear, authentic and descriptive with your hashtags to capture viewers who will actually enjoy and engage with your content — tagging something specific like #indiewrestling will help you reach your target audience, while #instagood might be too vague to help you connect with the right people. And your reel could get lost in a sea of content before attracting any views.

Compelling content matters more than hashtags

Engagement isn’t something that you can just magically create with the right number of hashtags. It demands time, effort, and a thoughtful approach.

Whether I included three hashtags or 30, the posts that did the best were ones that offered something of value to viewers. (Self-indulgent vacation videos, no matter how many hashtags, got me crickets.) The lesson here? Your time is probably better spent crafting great videos or writing copy than furiously hitting “NEXT” on a hashtag generator.

Check out our guide to creating impactful visual content here, and then brush up on your editing tips here to make Instagram Reels with impact.

The rest of your Instagram behavior matters, too

As I learned from my first attempt at this experiment, you need more than just a handful of great hashtags to succeed with Instagram Reels. The algorithm takes into account the rest of your Instagram behavior, too.

Do you have a robust following who likes your other content? Are you interacting with other users on the platform? Are you posting consistently? How much do people engage with you?

The bottom line is that Instagram wants to reward creators who are engaging with the app authentically, and bringing enjoyment or value to others. If you’re not doing that, all the hashtags in the world aren’t going to save you. So study up on the Instagram Reels algorithm and try your best to be a good Instagram Citizen as you’re putting your content out into the world.

All right, time for this brave Instagram Reel hashtagger to hit the showers. But if this experiment has you hankering for even more social media exploration, check out the rest of our Hootsuite Experiments here.

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By Stacey McLachlan

Stacey McLachlan is an award-winning writer and editor from Vancouver with more than a decade of experience working for print and digital publications.

She is editor-at-large for Western Living and Vancouver Magazine, author of the National Magazine Award-nominated 'City Informer' column, and a regular contributor to Dwell. Her previous work covers a wide range of topics, from SEO-focused thought-leadership to profiles of mushroom foragers, but her specialties include design, people, social media strategy, and humor.

You can usually find her at the beach, or cleaning sand out of her bag.

Read more by Stacey McLachlan

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