There are a lot of different ways to interact with people on social media platforms: friending, follow, comment, reactions, up votes, likes, retweets, and there will probably be a half dozen new ways before the end of 2017.
On Instagram in particular there are three main ways to show how you feel about someone’s content, you can comment on their post, like their post, or follow their account. In this post I’m going to break down how these tokens of social media currency can be interpreted.
In the real world: Liking someone’s post is the equivalent of passing by a stranger on the street and giving them a casual nod or greeting. Maybe they posted a particularly good picture of their cat and you are feline crazy so you wanted to let them know it was a top notch picture. Maybe you’re excited that someone else loves the same 80s metal band that you do but don’t want to seem creepy about it. Liking is a safe way to go.
Generally speaking, likes are also one of the best metrics for identifying how your individual pieces of content are doing and whether your brand targeting is working. People like high quality photos with thoughtful composition and an interesting subject. If you have a good photo and have found the right way to reach your audience then there’s no reason why your photo shouldn’t be successful. If your photos aren’t getting that many individual likes then you should look at your profile and figure out which piece is missing: the quality of the content, or the quality of the outreach.
Comments: “I just wanted to tell you that you look really pretty today”
In the real world: Commenting on photos is a non-committal way to tell people that you like their stuff, but it could also result in an actual interaction with whoever’s photo you’re commenting on. This takes guts. It’s like going up to that stranger and telling them you like their shoes: they have a higher chance of returning the compliment. Something important to remember is that people with social media profiles are still real people. When girls get messages from strange guys saying “you’re so pretty” there’s a thin line between sweet and potential serial killer. This also applies to comments to photos that are completely unrelated to the content or that are unabashed self promotion. A human conversation will get you a lot further than a walking advertisement (which may get you banned from the site).
Comments are great for seeing what people are intrigued by or want to see more of. Oftentimes comments will be questions about where you got something or a response to the caption. They can also be exclamations if there’s something about your photo which is particularly unusual. If you get comments that are just emojis or that seem a little bit canned, they probably are. This is a form of unoffensive spam that goes around Instagram that doesn’t hurt you, but it also doesn’t help you.
Follows: “Hey, I want to know more about you”
In the real world: Following someone is equivalent to friending them on Facebook after meeting for a couple minutes and then never directly talking to them ever again. Follows mean (hopefully) that the person likes your content and they want to see what your life looks like. Maybe this means they want to see more cat photos, or more photos of you with your family, or more sunsets. Whatever your profile is, it means that they’re in for the whole deal. This is why casual users tend to have most of their followers be their friends or people they know in real life (IRL), and it’s also why follows from strangers can be so encouraging.
Word to the wise: don’t get too attached to using your follower count to measure your success. There are people who follow other people to tempt you to follow them back. There are also people who will see you solely as a content provider, and if that content changes, they’ll leave (which makes complete sense). If you’ve posted 100 photos of kittens and you start posting photos of lattes, you’re probably going to have a major loss of followers because people will be expecting cats but getting coffee instead. That’s not a bad thing, but you have to mentally prepare yourself for that because number of followers is one of the “big” public numbers that everyone can see.
Go out and communicate! Give a nod to that girl wearing a super cute dress, ask someone how they made their latte art, and find some really cool people who are doing things that you want to see more of: you might even be the one to inspire them to keep making their content.