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The Instagram Rule Of 11 And Beyond

Social Media And The Modern Culture Of Likes

The internet is full of formal and informal rules, laws, and guidelines; it is a country with an uncodified constitution, where interaction between individuals rides on a delicate set of principles which even those who profess to be masters in the art do not fully understand. From Godwin’s law, which states that the longer an online discussion goes on the probability of someone invoking a comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1, to Rule 34, which observes that if something exists then there is porn of it, the commandments of digital life are many and varied.

When it comes to social media, however, one rule underscores all others. While it has a variety of incarnations across a variety of platforms, for the sake of convenience we’ll refer to it by its most popular guise: The Instagram Rule of 11.

The Instagram Rule of 11 is a fairly arbitrary threshold by which a post’s success is judged. It arises from a simple fact of design on the Instagram app; when a post on the photo-sharing site is liked eleven times, the app stops displaying the individual names of those who have liked it and shows only the number.

The rule, while it originates from what was probably a sensible but not over-considered aspect of Instagram’s design, has become a major aspect of the site’s psychology. Many users confess to deleting posts which don’t hit the magic number, and the hashtag #11likes has been used over seventy thousand times on the site as well as being prevalent on other social media platforms like Twitter, where users go to celebrate or mourn the relative success of their photographic endeavours.

While it’s amusing to watch tweens vent their rage as their like count slows to a crawl, what’s more interesting is what this phenomenon can tell us about what social media interaction means in the modern world of feeds and real-time updates. Social media used to be the place where you talked to your friends, where you connected with old acquaintances – it was a place for interpersonal communication, and it would be strange to expect people who you barely knew (or didn’t even know at all) to concern themselves with your posts.

But these days social media is a medium for global connection, where you can form bonds with people who you’ve never even seen in person. And for those with hundreds or even thousands of followers, their posts and the back-and-forth exchange of likes and comments are the only interaction with these people they’ll ever have.

Content isn’t personal now, it’s individual, and the difference is important. Jerry Seinfeld said that photographs are like other people’s dreams – if I’m not in them and no one’s having sex, I’m not interested. With a few high-profile exceptions, no one cares about the minutiae of your everyday life; you’re not posting these things for friends and family any more, you’re posting them for the world. People want original, quality content, not just the eighth photo of your baby today or another blurry picture of lasagne. If you want that 11th like you’re going to have to produce something worthwhile, and the attention of family and friends isn’t going to cut it anymore. Produce something definitive and unique, something which people will know is you but will be appreciated in and of itself.

That’s what Instagram’s Rule of 11 is, at its heart: the internet isn’t about you, it’s about what you have to offer. Ask not what your followers can do for you, but what you can do for them.


Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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The Instagram Rule Of 11 And Beyond Reviewed by Douglas Clarke-Williams on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Rating: 5
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