The need for ‘the most’ likes on social media has taken on a psychological edge in the modern era. It’s how a good chunk of the population measure their own self-worth, it’s an addictive cycle we get ourselves trapped into. Is it possible to flip this cycle and use it to gain more likes for yourself? What makes people ‘like’ a post?

There are many simple tricks to getting more likes on Instagram without going too deep.

Sticking to a theme – i.e. fashion, food, crafts, puppies or kittens. Keep a predictable schedule. Followers will know when to expect a new post, and thus they will be more likely to see it and like it.

Use of interesting and specific hashtags – General hashtags mean your post will likely get lost, more specific hashtags will get you more targeted visibility and, therefore, likes.

Edit your images – If you don’t take the time to edit, your audience will think it’s not worth their time to like it.

Being featured on Instagram’s various lists also boost likes, for example, the Explore Page or Suggested Users. Beyond these basic moves to get more likes, there is a deeper way to connect with users to get more likes.

Be part of the Instagram community

People like to be part of a community and stay in the loop. They don’t want to miss out on anything. As a result, they’ll like a post to try and stay a part of the Instagram community they have built themselves into. If you like someone’s post, they are more likely to like your posts back than if you didn’t like any of their posts.

American entrepreneur Rameet Chawla experimented with this by building an automatic script into his Instagram feed to like every single post that popped up on his feed. Every. Single. One. He discovered that he gained about 30 followers every day, he was invited to more parties in real life, people on the street were stopping him after recognizing him, and he was receiving a whole load more messages from ‘friends’ asking him to post more, in an almost desperate way, like they wanted him to post more so they could like his posts in return. The likes he gave on Instagram seemed to be tapping into some very basic human elements – anxiety, desire, addiction and joy. There’s the first tip – like other posts and you’ll get as many likes, if not more, back, and create an almost addictive state from your followers for more posts.

Why we Like to be Liked

It turns out that the addiction to social media isn’t in our heads, and getting and receiving likes is actually causing the production of dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine creates a ‘wanting’ desire, which causes us to seek, desire and search. It is particularly stimulated by unpredictable circumstances, small tidbits of information and reward cues. Pretty much everything that defines social media. When it comes to oxytocin, ridiculous as it may seem, some people produce as much oxytocin when they tweet as they do on their wedding day. With the hormonal boost of oxytocin, we feel lower levels of stress, feelings of love, generosity, empathy and trust. Between these two chemicals, using Instagram and social media, as a whole, feels great, but it’s also incredibly addicting.

An experiment appearing in The Psychology & Marketing Journal showed participants two different types of photos – one of their loved ones and the other of their favourite brand. It turns out that their physiological arousal to the brand logo was as strong as the photo of their friend/partner/family. This follows the theory that ‘things’ are a huge part of who we are and how we define ourselves. So, while we can’t post photos of everyone’s families or best friends, we can post photos including people’s favourite brands, which is going to garner more likes for you. Imagine simply incorporating your daily Starbucks into your posts, and voila, more likes for you. Thanks, Starbucks!

There are so many things in the world today that we take for granted, if you pack your Instagram feed with posts that have something interesting to say, people are going to take note. For example, the dress photo that went viral. It was obviously black and blue to so some people, and to so many others the dress was gold and white, and that made it interesting to people. Everyone was talking about it. Researcher Murray Davis wrote a paper called That’s Interesting!, which compiled a list of 12 things that made something ‘interesting’ to people. One of these is when you take an idea that’s generally held as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ and prove it ‘good’ or ‘right’. This works best with a commonly held belief, like when everyone believed fat was bad for dieting, and Dr. Atkins came out with the Atkins diet. You could eat unlimited bacon. And you lost weight. Boom. First people reject the idea, then the explore it. And you’ve attracted worldwide interest and a whole lot of ‘likes’.

Be real

Having a human in your profile picture will increase the number of likes you get, by a whopping 38%. Eye tracking studies have shown that people are more drawn to faces on social media than anything else. The Looking Glass Self psychological concept states that we can never truly see ourselves, we gain our understanding from our reflection in others. Therefore, if you post photos with faces and people in, users will be more likely to take notice of it. They will also take more notice if you like their selfies in comparison to their other posts, leading to more reciprocal likes.

Empathy is invoked when you’re viewing faces as opposed to objects or locations, meaning you’re likely to receive more likes if you’re posting pictures or videos with real people in them. The use of emojis exhibits a similar effect because they mimic a human emotion, people feel more connected to them and thus were more likely to like the post. Adding emoji stickers to stories is a simple way to achieve this effect. We can’t forget this effect can also be said of posting photos and videos of cute animals. There is a reason ‘cat videos’ are now a thing online. Social media has the ability to chip away at everything we are insecure about, but seeing ourselves in a looking glass, recognizing it in others, and passing it on creates all these empathetic feelings that influencers and brands can tap into. If you are creating posts to tap into human empathy, you’re sure to gain more likes and followers.

In summary

The major takeaways for gaining more likes on Instagram are that if you like other people’s posts, they will like yours back. Contributing to the Instagram ‘community’ and working to strengthen and add value to relationships taps into your audience’s brain rewards system and creates a reciprocity effect. They feel obliged to give back ‘likes’, to even the scales so to speak. A sociologist sent 600 Christmas cards to complete strangers, and he received 200 back. From complete strangers. That’s the power or reciprocity. This combined with using popular brands, combined with real or mimicked human faces and emotions, is the key to boosting Instagram likes.