Boost your business by understanding the psychology of Instagram

Instagram has been the go-to tool for any business that’s serious about growing its brand for a while, but 2018 is set to be the year where it overtakes most other social media. If you don’t want to fall behind on your competitors, then learning how to use Instagram to promote your hospitality business may your best move all year.

With 800 million monthly active users, it’s simply becoming essential for your business to have an Instagram account and an active presence. But what's more important, yet often overlooked, is making sure that your space is designed in a way that makes it remarkable, so remarkable that everyone has to take a picture and share it with the world on social media.

Social media, and Instagram in particular, have found a way of tapping into two core human needs of wanting to belong and wanting to feel significant. We’ll look into how your business can tap into these core needs in more detail below.

“I want to be in the top 9 Instagram tiles!”

The vast majority of hospitality businesses we consult tell us that they want to appear in the top nine Instagram tiles in a specific location. This appears to be the Holy Grail of brand awareness and we understand why. After all, it sends out a clear message to future customers and guests of just how popular and desirable your space is with the cool Instagram crowd.

But what does it take to be in these top nine tiles in your location?  To understand that we need to dig deep into the psycology of human behaviour.

Why do people share?

A New York Times customer insight group report(1) showed there are six reasons why an individual shares:

  Feel appreciated

Feel appreciated

  Feel validated

Feel validated

  Engage interaction

Engage interaction

  Be the first

Be the first

  Connect with like minded people

Connect with like minded people

  Allow them to feel more involved with the world

Allow them to feel more involved with the world

This study was performed in 2011 only two months after Instagram was launched, but those innate human desires to both belong and be someone that matters haven’t changed of course. The only thing that has changed since then is the sheer volume of people who use social media and the different platforms they use to fulfill those desires.

What do they share?

"Our goal is to not just be a photo-sharing app, but to be the way you share your life when you're on the go,"(2) said Instagram creator Kevin Systrom in an interview with in 2012. And he’s bang on the money because the vast majority of Instagram users share

  • their lives
  • things that excite them
  • things they’ve achieved
  • things they place value on

The introduction of Instagram stories in August 2016 provided us with even greater opportunities to share more of our day with our followers.

Who do they share with?

People like to share with their tribe. This tribe is a hodgepodge of people of family, friends and acquaintances who they know personally, and others who they don’t know personally but share a similar interest with.

Many users focus their Instagram feed clearly towards a very defined tribe. Those type of users, we’ll call them influencers, are often able to create a strong and persuasive connection with large numbers of people they don’t even know. But how is it they are able to create these persuasive connections?

The psychology of what makes social media so valuable

As explained in Robert B Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, there are 6 universal truths of influence.   

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All six principles play a role in the success of social media, but what makes Instagram such a powerful marketing tool is the way in which it uses the principles of Liking and Social Proof.


A primary behaviour to understand is that people like those like them. Put in another way, We like other people who we think are like us.  As Roger Highfield reports in the Telegraph

“We prefer people we think are similar to ourselves. It is all down to a brain region which categorises people as being like us, even if all we know about them is that they have one thing in common.” (3)

A key behaviour that amplifies this value of liking is the follow on effect of social proof.

“[O]ne means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct...We view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it" (4)

This means that if you can get people to advocate for your business on your behalf, then the impact is exponentially greater than trying to convince those customers yourself.

Marketing guru Seth Godin sums up the effect of these two attributes perfectly.

"People like us do things like this….we want to be respected by those we aspire to connect with, we want to know what we ought to do to be part of that circle." (5)

Instagram gives us the opportunity to feel part of the lives of people that inspire us and do similar things to what we do. It allows us to feel connected with those whose lifestyles we are attracted to. The greater the engagement level of the account holder with their followers, the deeper they are connected with their followers.  This grants them greater sway to influence the behaviours of a focused tribe of people, potentially helping grow your brand and selling your products or services.

How can you use this as a business advantage?  

If you want your business to be a hit on Instagram, then you really need to find ways to tap into those deeper desires of belonging to something and wanting to be someone who matters.  

To help you figure this out, we’ve developed an easy to read visual design guide on how to make the design of your space as Instagrammable as possible. To get your free copy delivered to your inbox straight away, press the "Free Instagram Design Guide" button below.

  1. New York Times Compay, Consumer insight group, Oct, 2011, The Psychology of Sharing: Why Do People Share Online?, p6 report
  2. Christine Lagorio-Chafkin,  April 09, 2012, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Founders of Instagram,
  3. Roger Highfield, 17 March, 2008, We prefer people we think are similar to ourselves. Telegraph
  4. Robert Cialdini,  2007, Influence: the psychology of persuasion, p116.
  5.  Seth Godin, July 26, 2013, Seth's Blog: "People like us do things like this", Seth Godin,