How to Get More Likes On Your Instagram Selfies

I had a friend coin me the “Selfie Queen of Midtown Village,” and I’m not ashamed of the title; I’m guilty as charged, and the fact is I am not alone when it comes to posting terribly awkward and highly filtered pictures of myself on the interwebs. Recently, Merriam-Webster added “selfie” as a word to the dictionary, and we here at G Philly run a weekly column of the best #GayPhilly Instagrams of the week. The vast majority of the shots that we feature are, you guessed it, selfies.

But what draws us to click “like” when we see someone give duck lips, or pose seductively, or throw some side eye? Is it the actual Instagram user? Believe it or not, a recent study by Dan Zarrella indicates that the popularity of certain selfies may have nothing to do with the person in the picture but rather a complex, intertwined series of factors involving the physical makeup of the photo and the tags that the Instagramer used to promote the selfie.

In other words: Instagram is a lot of smoke and mirrors, or, I guess, smoke and filters.

Zarrella’s study examined over 160,000 photos that were tagged with the word “selfie.” He found that Instagram users liked more selfies that used “cool colors” — blues, greens — compared to selfies that used “warm” colors — reds, yellows, and oranges.

I thought I’d try to apply this color study on my own Instagram selfies, and, not surprisingly, Zarrella seems to be correct. I compared two selfies that I took where I wore the exact same J. Crew t-shirt but in different colors:

When I wore the shirt in teal blue, my post got significantly more likes than when I wore it in orange. I noticed this trend with other #GayPhilly Instagrammers as well. For instance, check out these two selfies from @mattydoneill — one where he is wearing red, and another where he is wearing green. The results are similar to mine:

Another element of Zarrella’s study showed that certain hashtags used in conjunction with #selfie almost guaranteed greater likes. For example, by using the hashtags #141, #likeforlike, and #like4like, Instagram users had nearly a 25 percent greater chance of likes compared to not using those tags. Other high-rating hashtags include #pretty, #boy, and #daily. However, there was one hashtag that lowered the chances of likes: #drunk. The study concluded that selfies tagged with #drunk had a 40-percent lower “like” rate than those that did not.

There’s also a direct correlation between likes and filters — according to Zarrella, selfies that claimed to have #NoFilter were liked significantly more than those that used a filter — as a matter of fact, there was a 40-percent greater chance that a #NoFilter selfie would be liked compared to a “filtered” picture. Ironically, the study also found that many selfies that claimed to have no filter actually were filtered; nearly 30 percent of the #NoFilter selfies studied used filters (the most popular filters for these selfie liars were Valencia and Amaro.)

Again, I took to our favorite #GayPhilly Instagrammers to test this theory, and, indeed, it correlates quite accurately. This time, I compared two selfies from G Philly contributor @BakerBoy92. The first uses a #NoFilter tag (and it’s actually not filtered!), and the second doesn’t. His #NoFilter post was liked significantly more than his other selfie:

I also asked another #GayPhilly Instagrammer, @anhphl, to create a little lie to test the theory of the #NoFilter tag getting more likes, even if a picture was, indeed, filtered. He posted two identical selfies: One was filtered and used the #NoFilter tag, while the other actually was not filtered:

Ironically, as of this publication, his fake #NoFilter selfie has more likes than his actual non-filtered picture. This would support the notion that Instagram users really can’t identify if a picture is filtered; they just like the notion that it is not.

So, in essence, what does this all mean? In theory, a selfie that has blue undertones, no filter, and a #like4like tag would be a superstar post. It also shows that our own subconscious preferences for color and language make a difference in what we like and don’t like … oh, and that we lie on the Internet (surprise, surprise.)

It also shows that we’re easily misguided by our own sense of what’s real and what’s fake. A quick scroll through our Instagram feeds doesn’t allow our brains to properly process what we’re actually seeing. It’s that age-old conundrum; you can be anyone you want to be online, and nobody would know better. Perhaps that’s why, as a culture, we’ve flocked to this obsessively narcissistic pattern of posting these pictures. It’s a sense of escape from ourselves, from reality. And here you thought Instagram was just fun and games.

Can I get a “like” for that?