Instagram might be a platform for people, influencers, and brands to market chosen personas and lifestyles to their online community, but that doesn’t mean that the reasons why we like their content are anything but human.

In fact, there’s a science behind why we engage with certain content over others. Research found that viewers can determine the “gist” of what they’re looking at “with over 80% accuracy” within 36 milliseconds, which means you have less than a second to make a literal impression.

Psychologically, people want to build and maintain relationships over social media – where the act of “liking” a photo has become a mode of reinforcing closeness or encouraging someone to return the favor. Sharing a photo/video is as vulnerable of an act as sharing personal information 1:1 nowadays.

Even though Instagram content is often perceived to be “misleading” or “inauthentic,” people are still drawn to photos that appear as close to real life as possible. Dan Zarrella, a social media scientist, discovered that photos with no filter actually perform better than ones that do. Therefore, things like over-saturation, lack of depth, and photos without human faces don’t garner as much engagement.

Next time you’re trying to “get those likes,” remember to just keep it human.


Annie is a Creative Circle candidate and freelance creative strategist/copywriter working and living in Los Angeles. She knows digital media as well as she knows her own horoscope (she’s a Virgo), having worked at the likes of BuzzFeed and Mashable. She has created branded content strategies for the top Fortune 500 brands, which means she knows the true meaning of “going native.” If you want to work with Annie, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.

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