All the Likes: 5 tips to make your Instagram photo popular


Photos are one of the most engaging forms of social content. In fact, a Social Bakers report from last year reported that 93% of the most engaging posts on Facebook were photos.

So social media Strategists understandably want to use a lot of photos in branded content!

The next big question then is: what photos work best?


The all-time most tweeted photo? Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars… with lots of (famous) people!

Luckily for us, Aditya Khosla, a MIT PhD candidate, recently analysed 3.2 million Flickr photos to find out what makes photos popular.
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Here are 5 science-based secrets to photo popularity:

  1. People first: showing humans in the picture works better then scenery shots. Of course, there are exceptions but where possible be sure to include people! It wasn’t explicitly revealed in Khosla’s research but  in my experience (and somewhat stereotype reinforcing), photos of females are more popular and effective than photos of males!
  2. Fashion forward: female clothing – miniskirts, bikinis, bras, swimsuits – were the objects that received the strongest positive impact in photos. This tip might be hard to utilize for B2B and tech brands though!
  3. Red rules: as reflected in the wider field of design research, red was the most common colour in popular photos. Khosla suggests red is effective because it is a striking colour that catches the eye. This is the reason behind so many red logos, think Coca-Cola, McDonalds, CNN, Canon, Virgin, Nestle, YouTube, Toyota and Disney. Colours to minimize? Green and blue tones.
  4. Cute and cuddly wins: we all know the internet loves cat photos but Khosla’s research revealed the most popular animals to appear in photos were actually cheetahs, giant pandas, llamas and ladybugs! So have your next product photo-shoot in a zoo if you want to have Liked pics!
  5. Community counts: the tips above won’t stand for anything if you don’t have a community following you. Don’t underestimate the power of social cues on the popularity of an image!


Note that this research revealed which photos have a higher chance of being liked, not shared. Could it be that the photos that get shared are different from those that get liked? Aditya Khosla suggests that perhaps peaceful images are liked, funny images are shared and scary/disturbing images are viewed but not publicly shared. Sounds like it is a topic for Khosla’s next project!

What was the most popular photo on your branded community? Does it follow these rules or is it an exception?