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How to Get Free Instagram Likes (Because They Still Matter)

heart sunglasses, representing "Instagram likes"

How do you get more Instagram likes on your posts?

First step: don’t buy them. (Trust us.)

Second step: ask not what your Instagram audience can do for you, but what you can do for your Instagram audience.

Think of it this way: how can you make your Instagram posts more likeable?

Because the goal on Instagram is to show your best side by sharing content that people value. It takes work, but if you’re ready to up your game, we have 22 tips to get you started.

But wait, Instagram is hiding likes now. Do they still matter?

The answer is yes, of course. If you’re on Instagram, likes matter as much as ever.

Maybe even more, since some creators are reporting that followers are hitting that heart button less, now that likes are hidden.

(In case you missed it: in April 2019, Instagram started experimenting with not showing the number of likes a post has received (AKA ‘like counts’) in the feeds of Canadian users. In July, Instagram expanded the test to include Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand.)

While you can still see how many likes your posts get, you can’t see anyone else’s numbers. The idea is to make the whole experience healthier and less competitive for users. Instagram explained: “We want your friends to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.”

But whether we can see Instagram likes or not, the Instagram algorithm continues to work like it always has, according to the platform.

So how does that affect brands that rely on Instagram success? According to one survey of Canadian Instagram influencers, when asked what the worst thing about the change was, 41% reported that it has resulted in lower engagement. (The runner-up for worst thing: 16% said that the change has confused brands, who are reaching out less.)

On the plus side, 37% of influencers in the same study reported that not seeing other posts’ likes, and not worrying about their own public counts, results in “less pressure” to perform, and opened up their creative flow.

But whether you’re feeling the pinch or feeling the love, likes are still a key measure of success, engagement and reach on Instagram.

Here are the best ways to get people to tap that heart button.

How to get more likes on Instagram: 22 smart ways to get free Instagram likes

1. Post incredible photos

Lest we forget that photography was an art before it was a marketing tool, we all have to own up to the fact that sometimes our taste exceeds our skill.

On Instagram, there’s no room for “good enough” shots. Time to level up.

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1. A man stands in front of a large ship grounded by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines, on 18 April 2014. Five months after the typhoon, although many businesses and services were functioning again, electricity and housing continued to be the main issues. Many residents were still living in temporary housing conditions due to “No Build” areas preventing them from rebuilding their homes. 2. A group of men relax and drink Tuba (coconut wine) on a table off the beach in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines, on 20 April 2014. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Visayas region of central Philippines, on 8 November 2013. It was the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, claiming over 6,200 lives and displacing more than four million people. My story from the direct aftermath was awarded 1st Prize in the General News, Stories category of the 2014 World Press Photo Contest. After covering the direct aftermath, I spent the next year returning to Tacloban over multiple trips to document the recovery and rebuilding process in the community. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Hi, my name is Chris McGrath (@cmcgrath_photo) and I’m a staff news photographer with Getty Images (@gettyimages) based in Istanbul. This week I’ll be sharing some singles and stories from some of my past and present work. I was awarded 1st prize in the General News, Singles category of the #WPPh2019 Photo Contest for my image ‘The Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi’. Follow the link in bio to find out more about the winning story.

A post shared by World Press Photo Foundation (@worldpressphoto) on

Whether that means taking a photography course to develop your eye, or devoting some budget to upgrading your equipment, figure out what the pros do differently than the hobbyists.

To get you started, here are some tips and tools for editing photos for Instagram like a pro.

2. Use the right hashtags on your posts

On Instagram, more than other social media platforms, every hashtag you use has the potential to open that post—and your brand as a whole—up to a whole new audience. Give your hashtag strategy some thought:

  • Don’t be too broad (i.e., #dog) but don’t be too niche (i.e., #labradoodlesofgreenpoint)
  • Use an effective number of hashtags (studies say that posts with 9 hashtags get the most engagement)
  • Put them in the right place (i.e., in the comments)
  • Consider creating a branded hashtag

Hashtags require a deft touch, because one look can tell your audience whether you’re savvy or desperate. Read our complete guide to Instagram hashtags.

3. Use hashtags in your Stories and bio, too

It’s true that Stories don’t directly earn Instagram likes, and neither do bios, but using hashtags strategically in both is a free way to expand your reach to new fans.

Pro tip: If you want to keep things pretty, you can hide the hashtags in your Stories. Check out #64 in our long list of Instagram hacks.

4. Figure out who your audience is

Have you done your target market research? More than that, have you differentiated your Instagram audience from your social media audience as a whole?

In order to know what your audience likes, you need to know who they are.

5. Tag people and brands, when relevant

You get what you give away, as the saying goes, and that goes for attention, too. Whether you’re tagging a collaborator, a new acquaintance or your childhood hero, the goal is to highlight how much you value them, and share that value with your audience.

Of course, if this means their audience is more likely to see your value as a result, all the better.

6. Write better captions

Writing great Instagram captions sounds obvious. The tough part is figuring out what’s great for your brand. It’s going to vary, of course. (See #4, above.)

For instance, when it comes to captions, shorter really isn’t necessarily better. If you’re a semi-disgraced influencer like Caroline Calloway, maxing out your 2200 characters to detail the ins and outs of a convoluted personal narrative over dozens of posts might help you maximize a PR surge.

Meanwhile, if you’re the de facto spokesperson of a global movement, like Greta Thunberg, your audience doesn’t need a lot of explanation before you call them to action.

7. Geotag your location

More than just a humblebrag about your excellent taste in gastropubs or coworking spaces, geotagging your location is a way for more people to find and like your photos.

Meanwhile, if you’re a brand with a brick and mortar location, geotagging is especially helpful as you build up a sense of community with your regulars and… potential regulars.

Just remember to make sure your physical coordinates are correct, so that you appear on the map.

8. Post consistently

As a brand on Instagram, you don’t want to annoy your followers, but neither do you want to make them feel ghosted. A content calendar is a great tool to help you plan out the quantity of posts necessary to keep people’s attention, without losing quality.

But instead of dropping everything to post twice a day, we recommend using a social media management tool that lets you schedule Instagram posts. That way, you can save time by blocking out a few hours a week to assemble your posts, and spend the rest of the time relaxing and watching the Instagram likes roll in. (Or, you know, doing everything else on this list and running your business.)

9. Post when your followers are looking

Instagram doesn’t show posts chronologically, but its algorithm does favour “recency.” Which means that if you want to get in front of eyeballs, it’s important for you to know when your audience is actually looking at the app.

Ok, so when is that, exactly?

Your own analytics will give you some guidance. But also, we did the math and looked at 11 different industries to see what time of day is best to post on Instagram for brands looking to maximize engagement.

10. Run a like-to-win contest

Contests can take a little planning, or a lot. But a like-to-win contest is one of the simplest ways to rack up engagement in a given time period.

The key is to make sure your prize is desirable to your audience, but also specific enough that you’re attracting real fans, not opportunists (i.e., don’t give away cash, iPhones, or trips to Ibiza).

We have more ideas for Instagram contests here, along with step-by-step instructions on how to pull one off efficiently and successfully.

11. Ask people to tag their friends

This one can be tricky. Save it for posts so good that people really want their friends to see it. You also probably need to give them a reason (say, a giveaway?) to not just DM it privately.

Or, there’s the tried and true “reverse giveaway.”

(Just kidding. This is NOT a good example.)

Instagram post from @kitabikeedaofficial advertising a contest where the rule is "if the person you tag doesn't reply in one minute, they have to buy you a book"

12. Like and comment on other users’ posts

In its ongoing attempt to give the people what they want, the Instagram algorithm prioritizes posts from accounts that it thinks are “close.” How does it measure closeness? By monitoring how much accounts interact with each other.

So, if you want to expand your reach, and therefore your chances of getting likes, don’t be a wallflower: go forth and interact.

13. Land a spot on the Explore tab

Behind that little magnifying glass icon, the Explore tab is a cornucopia of beautiful, entertaining content personalized for you by Instagram. Brands that show up there get a lot of eyeballs.

But how do brands get featured on the Instagram Explore tab? In short, you need a great engagement rate to begin with.

It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg, especially if you’re just starting out. Conveniently, Instagram started offering Explore tab ads in July 2019.

14. Cross-promote your Instagram presence on other channels

Of course your brand would never post identical content across all the social media channels you use, or do any of the other things brands do that people hate

Still, it never hurts to remind your Twitter followers or the folks on your email list that they’re missing out on your Instagram content.

United Nations Twitter bio, which advertises their Instagram handle

15. Post user-generated content

Done right, user-generated content on Instagram is fun because it’s real.

This is an opportunity to generate desire and show off how much your customers love you.

16. Post behind-the-scenes content

People are nosy. Of course they want to see what you, and your organization, get up to when you’re not in your Sunday finest.

That said, show them your Monday finest, not your Saturday sweats.

17. Research what your competitors are doing

It’s not espionage, it’s inspiration. (I get it if you want to call it espionage, though.)

Now that Instagram likes are hidden it’s tougher to see at a glance which posts are successful: especially on accounts run by your enemies competitors. But with the right tools, you can do some social listening to gauge sentiment and identify trends.

And a full-scale competitive analysis can also help you keep an eye out for trends and opportunities.

18. Ask people for their opinions

“Ask a question in the caption” is common advice for bumping up engagement. But now that Instagram likes are hidden, conducting an informal audience poll might be the prompt your followers need to tap that <3.

Plus, you’re crowdsourcing some off-the-cuff focus group feedback. For free!

19. Host a takeover

Instagram takeovers—a type of cross-promotion where different brands and influencers take over each other’s accounts—are a smart way to spark interest from your followers.

Ideally, your collaborator is aligned with your values, but also brings a whole new audience over to check you out.

Sound like a good fit? Here are seven steps to a successful Instagram takeover.

20. Test out different kinds of content

Does your audience prefer inspirational quotes or infographics? Do they like video? Does Boomerang catch their eye? Use analytics tools to A/B test all of them.

21. Stay on trend

Plan ahead so that your content calendar is ready with your brand’s angle on the big dates in your niche. Whether that’s Black Friday and the Superbowl, or International Dog Day, it’s important to stay relevant to the conversation.

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Photos by Kirsten Luce @kirstenluce | Khai Khem, an aging tiger at Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo outside of Bangkok, Thailand, is chained at a photo studio for tourists. There are dozens of wildlife tourism attractions in Thailand today that keep tigers as photo props for tourists. This facility was among the worst that we visited for a story on wildlife tourism, and it’s where Gluay Hom, an injured elephant, had lived until he was purchased and moved to a sanctuary last month. Although we didn’t see any tourists pose with Khai Khem on the day we visited, this elderly tiger languishes on his chain, moving slowly and appearing underweight. I’m posting these photos on World Tourism Day to remind everyone of the dark side of the wildlife tourism industry. Without stronger animal welfare laws and enforcement in Thailand and elsewhere, there will continue to be attractions like this. #WorldTourismDay

A post shared by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

Of course, trends also rise up spontaneously, so if you wake up and everyone’s talking about, um, aliens, feel free to participate.

22. Increase your reach with paid Instagram ads

Ok, this one isn’t free. Instagram is the big leagues, with 25 million businesses and 2 million advertisers on the platform, and feeds are increasingly saturated. Which means organic reach only gets us so far.

If you’re not sure your best content is getting seen by as many people as it should, putting ad budget behind your top-performing posts is a valid strategy to grow your reach.

Save time managing your Instagram presence using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can schedule and publish posts directly to Instagram, engage the audience, measure performance, and run all your other social media profiles. Try it free today.

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