Confession: I’m Kind of Obsessed With Instagram Likes

Shortly after getting back together with my then-ex-boyfriend, I realized it was time for us to have “the talk.” I sat him down, put my hand on his knee, looked deeply into his eyes and said, “You know, you really need to start liking my Instagrams.”

He protested that he did, in fact, like my Instagrams. I clarified that he liked some of them and kindly requested that he commence liking all of them, effective immediately. I felt this courtesy was the least I deserved as a person he claimed to cherish more than most other persons. Shouldn’t he cherish my social media presence, in its entirety, as well?

Obviously this conversation has been (kind of…) dramatized, and I don’t actually care (that much…) about Instagram likes, but the value and meaning of a like is something I probably think about more than most, because part of my job entails managing Man Repeller’s Instagram account. I would be lying if I said I didn’t do a mental cartwheel every time a photo receives a notable deluge of them, like this Chanel sports bra:

@chanelofficial sports bra!!!!!!!

A post shared by Man Repeller (@manrepeller) on

My personal Instagram liking philosophy has changed as a result. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that you should like all your close friends and loved ones’ Instagrams as an act of loyalty, even if you don’t particularly care about the photo, because you care about the person posting it! Hence my conversation with my boyfriend. Now, though, I’m even more generous with my likes. I frequently like Instagrams posted by brand accounts, or those of people I don’t know personally but admire, because I appreciate when people do so on Man Repeller’s.

It feels a little silly to admit I’ve devoted so much thought to it — after all, it’s just a finger tap — but you can’t deny the fact that likes have become a sort of currency for connection. Superficial as they may seem, they can also be a powerful gesture — a way of showing support, of engendering community, of expressing a positive opinion.

I don’t know, am I overanalyzing? I asked some friends about their personal Instagram liking philosophies to see how mine compared. One of them said, “I mainly like Instagram photos if I like the person. No likes for annoying people! If the photo is really good I’ll make an exception.” Another said, “I usually only like things posted by people I know. And the Rangers and Man Repeller.” [Ed note: lol]

When I asked Haley, she said, “I’m so inconsistent with my liking — not for any sneaky political reasons. I often just forget! I enjoy most photos in my feed, but depending on my mood, I’ll either double-tap everything, or double-tap nothing. I’m all for being generous with likes though, when I remember. Stinginess with likes seems very high school to me. There are no stakes. There is no like limit. You do not have to choose wisely!”

Curious about the perspective of other people who work in media, social or otherwise, I emailed Glossier’s Social Media Editor, Eva Alt, to tell her I was writing about it, and she sent me this:

Would not fuck with this guy.

A post shared by Elliot Tebele (@fuckjerry) on

I laughed out loud.

It perfectly encapsulates the simultaneous realness and absurdity of parsing out the different philosophies behind Instagram liking, or the fact that philosophies behind Instagram liking even exist in the first place, but here we are! And here I am, writing 500+ words on the subject.

What’s your Instagram liking philosophy? Do you even have one?

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  • Kirby

    I’m like Haley wherein I often don’t remember to like pictures. I do enjoy most of the pictures I come across (or the people who post them), but I guess instagram has become so mindless to me that I don’t even think to like things anymore? Wow that’s sad to think about because if I’m being honest I spend SO much of my time scrolling…
    On another note I do agree that liking posts from small companies/orgs is actually important because that has become such an important part of business! So when I do remember, I always try to show those that I follow some love.

  • Oh, I really don’t want to like for loyalty’s sake and I hope very much I get only likes my photos deserve. As I do not get to spend much time on IG, I certainly miss out on posts and would be quite sad if my IG friends would consider me a bad investment. 🙁

  • That last picture is hilarious. I’ve noticed that I don’t really give a damn about whether people like my pictures or not. Already at the time of posting I kind of know which pictures will be liked and which ones do not pass the threshold of people double tapping on them.

    And that’s perfectly fine, as it’s my own virtual diary. 🙂

    • Amen!

    • Robin

      same! i can totally guess if a picture will do well based on its content but also the time. I have this rule for myself that i do not wait to post a picture for a better time though, to pretend that i still have some kind of healthy relationship with likes

  • Bmo

    I tend to only like stuff from my close friends (BFFs get auto-likes), until I’ve had a few drinks. Then I’m liking EVERYTHING. Yes, including the baby pics from someone I haven’t talked to since middle school.

  • I care less about instagram likes than I do about the STORY VIEWS!! Who’s paying attention to me? Where are my friends? Look at MEEEE

    • Lol oh my god same. I hate that I’m like this.

    • Abby

      I never post on Instagram anymore, I’m 100% focused on presenting my life as a perfect hipster paradise and getting the most stories views possible. It’s completely pathetic.

      • Cristina

        I like stories more too and don’t even post on insta. I even cleared out my photos. Not for the likes/views/validation but because it’s more real, a little less edited and you don’t have to be a perfect food photog. Plus, I feel like I’m my best when you can hear the tone inflicted in my voice haha!

    • Adrianna

      I’m kind of fascinated by the group of people who view all of my stories. Every day. One guy called me ugly in high school, 13 years ago. Two people bullied me separately in middle school, and became a couple after high school. I wonder if they know about each other’s past with me and insta-stalking.

      • BK

        Same! I have genuine affection for the group of story viewers I’ve come to call my Big Nine:
        – 3 very loyal friends
        – my ex’s cool older sister
        – some girl from my history honours cohort
        – my favourite aunt
        – a guy I dated briefly in December Christmas before he ghosted
        – a 10-year-old Romanian child I have never met
        – my best friend’s mother

        • Clea

          Hahaha this is the best – especially the 10-year-old Romanian child. But so much yes – I love my group of loyals! Although I have some that IRK ME NO END – old boss who owes me wages and had blocked me on phone, facebook and every other form of contact, but now is a regular creeper. No!

          • BK

            mate get onto him about the wages

            (at the very least he’ll stop creeping, at best you might get your rightfully earned coinage)

      • Kattigans

        My boyfriends ex-gf (who is married and they dated in college so not even his most recent ex) unabashedly watches every story I post. She isn’t my friend on IG but my prof is public so she takes the time out every time I post to watch…don’t know what to think of this? And I post really dumb shit

        • Adrianna

          lol something similar happened to me, but it wasn’t IG stories. I realized my boyfriend’s college ex looked at my public instagram when she (probably) liked a post accidentally. I’m pretty active on IG, and there’s a lot of pics of my boyfriend. I’m assuming she’s moved on (they broke up 7.5 years ago), but she comes off looking weird based on her behavior when the BF and I started dating. (kept texting him, asking to see his dog)

          My exboyfriend’s exgirlfriend and I follow and occasionally like each other’s posts. (The exboyfriend and I can’t be further from speaking terms.) They dated after we did, and she was a bit of an issue in our relationship. I like that we are past all of this as adult women and can say “congrats on the new job!”

        • BK

          lol my manager at work was talking about how her husband of 17 years’ only ex-girlfriend keeps trying to add her on facebook and she just responds NO LEAVE US ALONE every time; we figured she’s either just being nosy, which is her own sad way to spend her days, or is lonely, in which case seeking out the company of an ex’s current partner is maybe the most depressing implication of one’s social life. I forget the point I was trying to make here now I come to the end of my comment. Enjoy life beyond a screen, I guess

          • Kattigans

            Haha I appreciate the story. That is thoroughly creepy. 17 years?! like girl, let it be. I’m not totally offended by my bf’s ex creeping but at least make a secret acct on IG to look at me? haha..I just don’t think she’s really learning that much other than the music I like (i post silly screenshots of my latest listens on spotify – my friends do it tooo. good way to find new music), the little birds the visit my bedroom window to chirp the day away, oh and lots of pics of nature bc I live in SF and everything here when the sun’s out is so damn pretty

    • niche

      For me, it’s about who is skipping my stories. Like how the first post has more views but later ones have less even though I posted them together. So I like to see who is missing. Lol I only do this sometimes.

      • BK

        Omg The Dwindle is a legitimate knife to my heart, especially as most of my multiple stories are usually some kind of elaborate joke and they bail before the punchline! A pox on the sociopaths who can’t even commit to my seven-part pictorial pun about meat safes

        • silla

          THE DWINDLE!! So good.

      • Do you think there’s a method behind how people show up in the story viewer lineup? Instagram won’t expose if there is or not so I’ve been trying to crack the code! I’ve convinced myself it has to do with who views your profile the most, but that could be my ego talking!

    • vss

      Yeah! Stories are better sometimes. Kills me though when I post a poll and a quarter of the people who saw it voted. I value your opinion, cherished Internet friends.

  • Rockrenee

    If we are talking about personal Instagram liking philosophies, I started to think about mine. I would not go overboard as Jerry did (hilarious btw), but I my say that I do not care about the amount of likes that my followers are giving. Dear, do not overthink the topic, be yourself and do the best to represent yourself. Lots of love (or likes, I may add) 🙂

    Rock Renee Blog

  • Linsey Stonchus

    I’m a social media marketer, primarily focusing on Instagram and have never related to something so much in my life.

  • MaryRose

    If I haven’t been on IG for awhile but I care a LOT about you I’ll go back and like the photos I’ve missed, especially true for my friends that own businesses. If what they say is true about every penny, than in social currency every double tapped produced red heart counts too.

  • Emily M

    Ah, I am more aware of likes than I’d like to be. In the first few minutes after I post a picture, I definitely find myself refreshing the page to see if enough likes are coming in to satisfy some internal “like-to-minute ratio” I have concocted. That usually only lasts for the first hour or so, then I don’t really care how a picture does! (No, this does not make sense to me, either…)

    As far as giving likes, I am VERY generous! To the point where I keep liking things I don’t mean to like (because I’m trying to creep) but my finger is so used to just double tapping 😐

    • Kiks

      You are my instagram soulmate! I could have written this comment word-for-word.

      • Chloe Pierre

        I third that. That is me all the time! However i’m really loving my content over the last year. Its fun, post-long term breakup, its totally me, slightly aspirationational & at times can seem staged but really isnt. Would you take a look and give me your honest feedback?

    • Shivani Lakshmi

      Actually Instagram started doing this thing where they’re “withholding” likes that a post gets in it’s first 10 minutes because it wants you to keep refreshing / going back to the app to see how many likes you’re getting. It’s bananas!!!!

      • BK


    • BK

      Don’t forget the second-day bump! (When you wake up the next morning and due to instagram’s weird non-linear algorithm, a new wave of people have seen your story at the top of their feed and liked accordingly)

  • Cristina

    I don’t really care because algorithms and bots and the time it takes you maximize posts for like and the whole formula just seems too Black Mirror for me. It ain’t gonna end well!
    My general rule of thumb is not like anything. Doesn’t the fact that I’m following you and see your pictures (which is a choice) validate one’s existence enough?! The double tap is just over. Can we just blink at a photo to like it?

  • Ashley S

    I see Instagram as only one facet of an overall community of women I’m inspired by.

    I don’t follow anyone or anything I don’t like, so I’m often tempted to like my entire feed whenever I get on. Liking or viewing or any other present participles is me *literally* and figuratively saying, “I see you.”

    Like a lot of young women, I feel like I’m working on something (for me, an academic career) that takes up the majority of my time. So, I use Instagram to not only see but support my own friends and other interesting women traveling the world or just living their lives.

    It’s a way to express an affinity with, or a support for, other busy women I sadly can’t see too often or might never meet at all. My “likes” are often reserved for these girls, some I know and some I don’t, like Elizabeth Taylor’s fan page, Rihanna, and brands like Omondi and Stella McCartney.

  • OMG MY GOD. I need to ask my LONG TERM (6.5 years!) boyfriend to like all my Instagram photos too. He only likes some of them… like yours WTF. UGH. (so sad hahaha)

    Charmaine Ng
    Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • Kristie

    different but once i posted a vid to facebook of pigeons legit playing pingpong and it only got 2 likes, from my 2 best friends who dont know each other. And it made me happy because I was like, “yeah…you guys actually get me.”

  • Kiks

    I get way too excited when I’m doing something (a new hair colour, a trip to a really beautiful place) and thinking about how many likes I’m going to get. It’s so sad. (I’m married and I currently live in a suburban hellscape, my day to day life really isn’t that interesting…I need my likes to live!!!)

    I am moving soon to a picturesque little town in the middle of nowhere and my insta is gonna be LIT UP with so much new scenery omg.

    (I’m joking. But I’m also being really serious.)

  • vss

    Harling, did your boyfriend start liking all your posts? I don’t heart posts unless I actually like them. Pre- Saved Tabs feature, my likes were a precious place for me to store my beautiful things. When I’m bored I scroll though my old likes to feel happy. The Discover page usually leaves me feeling angry or frustrated cause I spend too much time searching for a gem and mostly get duds. Your other story today about the brand you found on Instagram had me thinking how jealous I was of your Discover feed!

  • I follow a lot of small businesses and artists so if I’m scrolling, I’m double tapping. It’s the laziest way to show support (that “matters”..I guess). I try to comment as well because I’d rather recieve an “I love this _____” from a regular follower than a bot, spam, or scam account.

    But I’m also on the brink of deleting my Instagram for eternity soooooo idk.

  • The more insights we have about what is going on in our Instagram, the more obcessed we turn out to be! Honestly, I’m always giving likes, because I follow 1000 people but I truly like what they post, so it’s difficult not to like anything (even thought I don’t see all of them on my feed, thanks Instagram)! But I know that I’m obcessed with number of likes and followers that I receive. In terms of followers, the numbers goes up and down, and honestly if someone unfollows me, I unfollow them. I’m tired of the “follow and unfollow game”, so my obcession is not the grown of my followers, but to caught the ones that unfollow me! In terms of likes per photo, well.. that’s a different matter! For me likes mean “I like what you do!” and really want to get more and more because it motivates me to create more photos and beautiful feed! 🙂 So…. even though I have a guilty pleasure, maybe we can say that I have a healthy relationship with Instagram!

  • BK

    Harling! This has actually caused in me a visceral internal reaction AGAINST what you are saying (I know! I’m surprised too! Also, sorry!). My approach to liking things is to only ever like things I genuinely like, and hang the rest. To like indiscriminately or excessively is to create a glut of likes which then causes their value to drop. Of course, there are exceptions to this – maybe some people just like things! but as a general rule I only like things which produce in me a physical smile, a chuckle or the overwhelming urge to forward to a friend.

  • No no no no I never like a photo I don’t ACTUALLY like, even if it’s from the person I love the most. I thought likes were for photos? Like, of course I like my friends and of course they know that? But when they post shitty photos (and they do, a lot), I remain silent.

    • Me too! It’s my way of saying that Insatgram should be a place of really cool pictures

  • Maria

    I think it all comes down to the fact, that we expect (consciously or subconsciously) our followers to have the same liking behaviour as we do. But in reality the fact that you are a generous liker but your followers are not does not indicate that they are deliberately withholding their likes or your friends don’t care about you enough or whatever explanations come to our minds. And it works the other way round. As I only like photos that are pleasing to my eye or soul (no matter friend or non-friend) I genuinely appreciate each person to like a pic of mine as I respect their individual choice to appreciate something as well as scroll pass thousands of ok shots that they do not love even if it’s by their best friend (because that is what I imagine them doing based on my own like-behaviour). Whatever the actual reason we shouldn’t be shaming people (best friends, lovers and/or family members in particular) for not liking everything we do on social media, maybe they are giving thought to whether they really like something instead of generic faux-liking for the sake of maintaining a virtual like-based relationship. Or maybe they have an ulterior motive, but would we really want to live in a world were everybody likes everything, where all your followers like all your pics??

  • Jana Nysten

    Puh… I actually do not care about the likes that much either – like my account is just tiny, and I don‘t get very many… Like I have 130 „Follower“ and usually get between 20 and 40 likes. And mostly on my fitness stuff. Weird as that may be… But as aspiring PT – well maybe @janan_1001 if you‘re feeling

    (Or in case you need a serious fitness coach for busy girls 🙂 )

    But well, discussed this with a friend over coffee yesterday, and we realised we seriously needed to clean out our insta.

    Cause… you guys, do you also have like more than 2000 accounts you follow? And why do you do that? Do you even know?

    Kind of relates to Haley‘s post from the other day, wherein she was about her mind being fried.

    Own experience? After cleaning up my insta, I feel much less so. And I’m able to better find the good stuff not getting distracted by the bad stuff.

  • Basil

    I have very we followed deliberately (I mostly post pictures of my kids), but I do like getting likes and appreciate the consistent likers. My liking philosophy? Liking things that I like. This means Tracee Ellis Ross gets a buttload

  • Laura Guarraci

    I’m stingier with my likes now because they drive your insta Discovery feed. I’m sorry, but if I like every pic of my acquaintances’ and cousins’ weddings and babies I get a feed full of weddings and babies then feel bad about myself.

  • Jill Singer

    I agree whole-heartedly with this, and it translates to Facebook as well. Because I have a brand presence, I’m so generous with my likes on other journalistic entities like The Cut, Bon Appetit…and Man Repeller! You know there’s a human being on the other end who’s privately really happy when things engage.

  • YT

    i take down photos that less than 10% of my followers have liked. its a quantifier (for me) that the photo was not in fact, emperically “good”.

  • Venetta

    I’m very generous with likes even with people I don’t necessarily adore, because, well, it’s a good picture. Similarly I also don’t like all of my friends’ pictures if they didn’t appeal to me. I wasn’t aware it was a big deal until recently a friend of mine confronted me about it, so now I do like everything she posts. Eh well.

  • Charity

    Most of the time when I post a picture on Instagram I delete the app so I won’t keep checking for notifications. I’d rather log back on the next day and be surprised. Instagram stories are great for catching fake accounts that people make to keep an eye on you. I’ve issued out blocks like there’s no tomorrow

  • Yasmeen

    SPOT ON!!👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

  • Olivia

    This makes me feel SO much better! Every time I meet someone who has a like-minded instagram philosophy, I make them go through my feed and like everything. Recently one of my best friends realized that she had been slacking on my profile – her like brought me to the next numerical tier on one of my photos that was disappointingly under-liked and it felt SO good (it was my cat, and he definitely deserves the most likes).

    My sister is 6 years younger and she’s smack in the middle of the automatic likes and comments from friends. I’ve gotten my friends on the like train but not comments – it’s infuriating, but it does make me feel like I’ve really deserved that comment when I get it.

    When I get too far deep in the instagram game I feel pretty crazy, but this thread made it all worth it and I think I’m going to post that picture I’ve been holding off on now.

  • I have three kinds of likes:
    -The “truly aesthetically pleasing” like
    -The “I’m honestly so happy about you” like
    -The “we’re friends and I have to be social-media loyal” like

    When it comes to receiving them, I’m not obsseded with the amout I get in the pictures -and I’m aware some of the pics I post are’nt going to be very liked- but I think it’s curious to analyse who’s following your pics and your stories. Like these people you don’t actually talk to in person and don’t think much about but seem to overall like you