The Great Instagram Experiment 

Over the past year I’ve being conducting an informal experiment on Instagram. Starting on January 1, 2016 I challenged myself to post a picture to Instagram every single day of the year. Even though it was challenging at times I kept up with it and never missed a day. The idea started when I saw the compilation of my 9 most liked images of 2015. Of the 9 pictures I was only in 7 of them and there was only 1 picture of me alone. Most of the pictures were of me and my boyfriend Russ which resulted in him also being in 7 of the pictures. My first instinct tugged at my low self-esteem and I instantly assumed that everyone’s favorite part of my account was my boyfriend and therefore I must be irrelevant. Before letting the negative shame spiral go too far I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and take action to change things. Whenever there is a problem I want to fix I always start by looking at what I can change or possibly do better. I considered the fact that I might not be putting in a solid effort with the app. Maybe there was a link between popularity and frequency. If I used the app more maybe I would get more attention. I had only been a casual user in the past so inconsistency might be to blame. If there was a secret algorithm that boosted visibility based on how often pictures where posted I was going to find it. I decided to give my thesis a try to see if I could win Instagram without being the hottest in the room. After a year of posts I learned a lot and got answers to all of my questions.  

At the beginning of the year when I started this experiment I investigated techniques for gaining followers and likes. For example I read a blog advising that posting pictures at the same time every day helps increase stats. It was also recommended to post pictures earlier in the day because most users look at Instagram early rather than later. Even though weekends tend to provide the most picture taking opportunities it’s not when people are actually looking at the app the most. In fact Instagram reports that week days, Tuesday morning specifically, is when the most people are using the app. It was useful information to learn. Other ways to connect with people such as using a lot of hashtags and following an excessive number of accounts to try and get them to follow you back felt a little less genuine and manufactured so I skipped those. After a couple weeks of consistent posting I did start to noticed a gradual increase in likes and followers. It was small but still an improvement.  

The more I used Instagram the more I noticed the 10% threshold. Regardless of how many followers a person had, it was difficult to get more than 10% of those followers to like a single post. When someone had hundreds of likes on a picture I would check their follower count and do the math. The ratio was almost always very similar. After looking at accounts of all different types I realized that the average post got 5% to 6% of a person’s followers to double tap. A special post, the type that will later be included in the best of the year, only got about 8% to 10% of a person’s followers to double tap. That means that about 90% of people ignore most posts. Either that or 90% of users rarely look at IG and therefore just miss a post all together. It was the great equalizer and I got some comfort to know that no matter what the follower count is we all are getting the same level of interaction.

In March I started to see the cracks in my experiment start to show. While out at a bar during TBRU I posted a picture of 4 of my friends. When the picture started to rack up tons of likes I was shocked because it broke all the rules that I had read about. There were no hashtags and it was posted late on Saturday night which in theory was the least ideal time for a post. The common denominator I was trying to ignore and overcome was staring me in the face. They were all hot. My 4 wonderful friends were and are all very good looking and incidentally I was not in the picture. At the time I shrugged it off as a freak occurrence and continued to tell myself that I would win in the end. I was certain this experiment would pay off. There must be a way to get attention on IG without being the hottest guy in the room. 

Now that the year has come to an end I looked my top 9 most liked images of the year. After 154 selfies I was hopeful that my efforts would pay off and I would end up being a bigger focus of my own account. Unfortunately when I saw the results it just confirmed what I had learned but tried to ignore over the past year. Of the 9 most liked pictures this year I was only in 5 of them with on 1 being a picture of me alone. All my diligent posting efforts resulted in me being included in even less pictures than the year before. Clearly success equals cuteness and there is no big secret to winning the IG game because it all boils down to looks. By the way that TBRU picture from March was included as one of the top 9. What I learned was that Instagram is not the level playing field I wanted it to be. Instead the app is just another reflection of our culture. A cute person (or even a dog) will rack up followers and likes much quicker than an average Joe like myself. While I consider myself to be handsome my looks don’t make me stand out from the crowd and therefore I guess I was fighting a losing battle from the start.

I must admit I’m really looking forward to January when I don’t need to post a picture every day. However after this year long process I still have a great fondness for Instagram. Even though it’s not perfect I like it better than Facebook because it’s all visual. It is and will continue to be my escape from the self-important political rants and ‘pick a number to get something special in your inbox’ bullshit of Facebook. Instagram is a shallow app ruled by hot people and I’m totally ok with that. In the end I’d much rather look at a picture of a wanna-be power lifter than read about his opinions on Aleppo.  

Instagram Stats for 2016: 

  • Number of pictures posted: 428
  • Number of followers gained: approx 600
  • Number of selfies (pictures of me alone or with Phoebe the dog): 154

2 thoughts on “The Great Instagram Experiment 

  1. I wouldnt call you average as your smile brightens any room. I think some of the likes come from “new meat” followers see a new handsome face they arent as familiar with causing likes. Great experiment and congrats on staying with it.


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