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How to Get Free Instagram Likes in 2021 (Because They Still Matter)

How do you get more likes on your posts?

Well, first off: don’t buy Instagram likes. (Trust us.)

True ‘gram love don’t cost a thing. It just takes time and care to create high quality posts that are worthy of real Instagram likes from real people.

Ultimately, 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 a ton of tips to get you started.

Users can now hide like counts on Instagram. Do they still matter?

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

In case you missed it: in mid-2019, Instagram started experimenting with not showing the number of likes a post has received (a.k.a. ‘like counts’) in the feeds of certain regions.

According to Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, the move was part of the company’s efforts to protect the mental health of the platform’s community. The idea was 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.”

The move had mixed success: some people liked being free of the pressure to keep up with the competition, while others felt they’d been left in the dark about what was popular.

Instagram’s solution was to announce in May 2021 that it would now give people the option to hide public like counts — either hiding counts on all posts, or just on your own feed so others can’t see.

But whether we can see Instagram likes or not, the Instagram algorithm continues to work like it always has, according to the platform. So whether they’re visible to the world or not, here are the best ways to get people to tap that heart button.

How to get more likes on Instagram: 16 smart ways to get free Instagram likes

1. Use the right hashtags

Hashtags are a big key to expanding your Instagram audience. Use a hashtag, and your post (or Story!) will appear on the page for that hashtag.

People can also choose to follow hashtags, which means you could be showing up in a total stranger’s news feed. Surprise!

Illustrator Joe Taylor tagged this post with the likes of #illustration and #characterdesign to appear in those topic searches. 1,800-plus likes later, it’s looking like that was a great idea.

Whether you’re using product or service hashtags, seasonal hashtags, acronym hashtags or location hashtags, the consensus is that keeping it under 11 hashtags is best practice.

2. Tag relevant users

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.

And if it just so happens that their audience is likely to see your value in the process? Well, so be it.

Cool Ruggings — an account devoted to documenting cool rugs from around the world, of course — clearly tagged the designers of these hip, Brazillian-made camping chairs. It was a chance to share the love, but with the added bonus of a little bit of potential attention from those Instagram users and their own fan bases.

3. Write compelling captions

Whether you’re better off writing a novel that maxes out Instagram’s 2,200 character limit, or keeping things mysterious and punchy with a one-liner depends on your brand voice and message. But long or short, captions are a vital ingredient in a post’s success.

Great Instagram captions add context and personality, and compel your followers to take action. Don’t rush this part! Take a gander at these 264 examples of engaging Instagram captions and soak up some inspiration before you start typing.

Here, fibre artist H. H. Hooks shares the inspiration behind her latest work. (Yes, it’s another rug. We’re sorry, we’re in a mood right now!) It gives context to her cocktail image, and sparks conversation and engagement at the same time.

4. Tag your location

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

It’s even more helpful if you’re a brand with a brick and mortar location, 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.)

The Keefer Bar made sure to tag its location in this post about its new fun outdoor mini-putt — who knows what lucky golfing boozer will stumble across it?

5. Get on the Explore page

Behind that little magnifying glass icon, the Explore page 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 the first place? In short, you need a great engagement rate and an active community — and it doesn’t hurt to embrace whatever new feature Instagram is currently boosting in the algorithm. (Have you noticed that Reels are everywhere? That’s no coincidence!)

Dig a little deeper into our tips for getting onto the Explore tab here. (And just an FYI: we know this is a list of free ways to get likes, but Instagram started offering Explore tab ads in July 2019.)

6. Post at the right time

Instagram doesn’t show posts chronologically, but its algorithm does favor “recency.” This 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.

Which is… uh… when, exactly?

Well, every brand has its own sweet spot, based on its unique audience, so your own analytics will give you some guidance.

But we did a little number crunching and ran a few experiments to find the overall best time to post to Instagram, and it seems that in general, 11 a.m. on a Wednesday is a pretty good time to aim for. Start there, and tweak as you learn what’s working for your specific followers!

7. 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).

Daring diners could win a brunch experience dangling above London’s O2 stadium with this contest from Design My Night.

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

8. Post good 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.

Instead of posting just a construction shot of an ongoing project, Sturgess Architecture set up a carefully posed group photo in front of the eye-catching exterior that takes advantage of the natural light.

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.

9. Engage outside your feed

In its ongoing attempt to give the people what they want, the algorithm prioritizes Instagram 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. Get generous with the likes and comments.

10. Post user-generated content

Sharing content from your followers is a sure-fire way to generate engagement. It’s a thrill for the user to be featured by a brand they like, for starters, but it also acts as social proof, confirming for your other followers that it’s more than okay to be a super fan.

It also showcases your authenticity and connection to the community. So go ahead: smash that share button!

TV show At Home with Amy Sedaris does a “Fan Art Friday” each week, posting drawings (or, in some cases, stop-motion animations with Barbie) from its audience.

11. Post behind-the-scenes content

Get a little vulnerable and show the less-than-glossy finished product — you’ll be rewarded.

People love seeing how something gets made, taking a glimpse behind the scenes of a photoshoot, and learning about the real struggles behind the glamor shots elsewhere in your feed.

In the lead-up to a sample sale, design brand Ilana Kohn shared a charming impromptu video of an employee roller skating through the warehouse. If that’s not enough to get you to click that heart button and then buy a drapey linen jumpsuit, we don’t know what is.

12. Ask people for their opinions

“Ask a question in the caption” is common advice for bumping up engagement for a reason: it’s a direct call-to-action for followers to add a comment.

And if they’re already engaging, the likelihood that they’ll throw a like your way in the process grows. TLDR: It never hurts to ask!

Skincare brand Summer Fridays embodies its chill vibe by pairing dreamy clouds with a big question that prompted both likes and comments.

13. Host a takeover

If you’re comfortable handing over the keys to your account to a collaborator, Instagram takeovers are a great way to lure a new audience over to your page.

Of course, the brand or influencer taking over for you should be aligned with your values — you want any fans who migrate over to your page to like what they see and stick around.

Multi-platform artist community Panimation is a great example: they invite a rotating cast of illustrators and animators to hop onto their account to share their work with its audience of 65,000-plus.

14. Watch what works for your competitors

If you do have your Instagram set to see likes, you may be able to get a glimpse at what’s working (or flopping) for your competitors again. Keep your eyes peeled… or better yet, do a competitive analysis.

Make social listening part of your social media marketing strategy to gauge sentiment and identify trends across the industry. You don’t want to be left behind, or miss an opportunity to pick up where your competition may have dropped the ball.

15. Ask people to tag their friends

Doing this all the time gets a little old… but the initiation to “tag a friend” paired with the right post can result in a flurry of activity.

The key is to give them a good reason to tag a pal, whether that’s a funny punchline or a giveaway.

16. Embrace the memes

There’s a reason Instagram is full of memes and aggregation accounts: people can’t help but like and share funny gifs, poignant sayings or goofy gags.

Though some can certainly skew juvenile, there are tasteful ways for brands to jump on the meme bandwagon in a strategic, successful way — just keep the jokes appropriate for your voice, content and audience, and don’t overdo it. A little sprinkle of meme goes a long way!

Vancouver-based dog rescue Fur Bae mixes in photos of their foster and up-for-adoption pups in with cheeky, text-based “real talk” meme format. Almost as cute as the dogs themselves, really.

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