Neon sign with "zero likes"
Art Business,  Social Media

The Worth(lessnes) of Instagram Likes

So, sometimes I “consult” friends regarding social media and Instagram in particular. Just because I work in this area and I manage business accounts, people think that I’m some sort of guru. Let me say this beforehand: I’m not!

But the information, which I see out there, information which people share based on opinions, myths, rumors and their own (often biased) experience, makes me itch in the most uncomfortable places. With this article I’d like to start a series, where I can share with you my knowledge, experience and confirmed information from the whole social media biz.

Something’s foul here

The inspiration for this post was frustration. My recent posts received engagement rates of over 20%.

Engagement rate: Number of interactions (likes, comments, shares, saves) on a singe post in relation to the number of followers.

FYI, 10% is already fantastic. So what’s the frustration about, if my posts perform so much better than average? Because those were mostly likes. Likes have ephemeral values attached to them in our modern world, like validation and self-worth. But I don’t want to talk about the psychological impact of likes. That’s simply not my field of competence.

I want to talk about the economic value of likes and that is – surprise, surprise – ZERO. You can’t invest “one like” into your business. “One like” is not a currency. And if you are an influencer and your goal is to present your likes as proof of your power over your audience, I have bad news for you: You won’t get away with this in 2020. Influencer marketing has evolved and serious social media managers learned from those experiences, where fake influencers just tried to scam them with likes, which they bought. Influencer audition is a huge thing and tools like show companies more about your account than you know yourself. So much about the safety of your data.

But the really frustrating thing is not the worthlessness of likes. It’s likes vs. comments vs. follower count. If disproportionally high numbers of likes are the only positive thing about your account stats, then something is going the wrong way. I present you my holy grail: My account stats.

My top 9 posts in the past year received from 287 to 519 likes. My follower count in the period of these crazy posts rose by… ZERO. I can’t complain about the discovery rates. But those people seemingly never hit the “Follow” button, which makes me think that those likes might come from bots, who follow specific hashtags. The entire situation bugs me.

Rethinking our posts’ values

So why are likes so bad and what is better? I already answered the first part: Likes are unsustainable and they might be fake. But let’s assume those likes come from real people: A person stumbled upon your post, double-tapped and scrolled further. You’re forgotten.

Saves. The importance of saves is a highly discussed topic among professionals. The staff behind Instagram still didn’t say whether or not saves influence the algorithm. Aside from the algorithm saves are more sustainable, because there is a small chance that your post and therefore your account will pop up in the memory of a user later on. Content worth saving usually gives people more than just a pretty picture: Tips, tricks, processes, how-tos or things that a person would show their friends.

Comments. Comments are the demonstration of a healthy audience. Sure, there are bots, who comment and there are spammers. But in general, a decent number of comments shows a loyal audience or engaging content worth talking about. How much more time does a person invest in a comment compared to a like? Rhetorical question. But you have to make your content worth it! Ask your audience sincere questions, make them want to ask questions themselves. But remember: It has to fit your profile and your communication style. Forced questions are disturbing. Also remember to answer comments.

What’s the most basic analysis, which everyone here can make? Instagram insights. I mentioned Hypeauditor before and you can get a lot of interesting stats out of that tool, but Instagram insights, which come with every account type other than business, already give you valuable information. I see that most people don’t even know how to use them properly. Let’s focus on content analysis here. You can access it by choosing “Insights” in the menu. Information about your content is the first thing that you will see.

When you tap “see all” next to your most recent posts, you can get really eye-opening insights. Pick a time period first and then try to click through the different types of sorting. “Reach” a.k.a the number of accounts which saw your post, is the default option. Ty “Likes”, “Comments”, “Saves” and the rest and just compare. I bet that you will see which posts really mattered to the people who saw them.
My favorite is “profile visits”. Which of my posts were attractive enough to make a person tap my username and look at my (mostly chaotic) profile page? And what do have those posts in common?

I’m still in the process of analysis. This works for some types of accounts better than for others. Artists often have limited capacities to experiment with their posts, because sometimes it takes us days to finish one painting or we are not always happy with the outcome. I strongly recommend studying the content management skills of Lesya Poplavskaya, if you have problems coming up with new ways to fill your feed. She’s able to squeeze out 3-5 posts from one single painting. The topic of content is something, that I would like to talk about in a separate article.

Your main task right now is to observe the stats, various stats. Just remember:

The number of likes does not determine the quality of your art or that of your posting!

This is not even about the cheesy and useless “Create for yourself, not for the likes.” This is about the strategical importance of certain values, which can help you to build a quality audience. And a wide and high-quality audience is key for any type of business.

So find those engagement stats, which help you to grow an engaged and sustainable following and work on those. Forget the likes, they’re worthless!

 Title photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash 

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