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Instagram: 'Like' it or Not

Select and use appropriate research methods to provide insight into an existing problem or unanswered question. Design and pilot test a survey, interview, experiment, or usability study, focusing on study design.
It has been said that we are in an era of constant social media usage from young adults; where people can make a living off of being an “Instagram Influencer,” or “Instagram Model,” and where “likes” seem to be a form of online currency. An investigation was conducted in order to explore how University of Washington females interacted with Instagram, identifying some of the “unwritten rules” of this platform. Additionally, the research explored the emotional connection and response one may have in association with Instagram. We conducted interviews in which our findings show that participants had stronger reactions to perceived negative attributes, such as not receiving many ‘likes’ on a post.
  • Literature review
  • Interview protocol
  • Interviews with 4 participants
  • Written research report
  • Target demographic and interview screeners
  • Edits and improvements to interview protocol
  • Analysis of emerging themes
  • Documentation of limitations and ethical concerns
As lead researcher and study designer, I crafted our topic of study and the methods in which we would conduct our research. I created and implemented our interview protocol and led synthesis of key findings and themes, later transforming them into a full report.
  • Creating interview protocol
  • Topics of interests
  • Conducting interviews
  • Identifying themes
  • Contributing to report​
  • Literature review
  • Findings synthesis
  • Design of study

01 Overview


02 Power of Instagram

Power of Instagram
It is commonplace to walk about and see backs hunched, necks arched, and eyes down trot to the glow of a small screen in one’s hands, often with their thumb mindlessly scrolling. Even life outside of social media often consists of what’s generated within our screens; take for example, viral challenges, referencing memes, writing in emojis, speaking in hashtags, and ultimately choosing to post one’s own life back into the online world. Looking at Instagram specifically, it has transformed from a simple photo-sharing app to a place where countless individuals make a living off of being an ‘Instagram Influencer’ or ‘Instagram Model’.

It’s an app that appears to have highly nuanced “hidden rules” and forms of “etiquette”, where accruing ‘likes’ seems to hold a great deal of weight.

Society is also in the midst of navigating its greatest push for mental health awareness, which appears contradictory to this generation’s online behaviors and Instagram usage.

This study is of particular importance, as Instagram is currently undergoing the testing of removing its ‘like count’ feature from photos, perhaps in the pursuit of advocating for stronger mental health and emotional stability of their users.
A series of four semi- structured interviews were conducted, with an additional look into the interviewee’s Instagram profile for their number of followers and following.
We found that users were hyper-aware of the ways the content they created would reflect on them, and considered the ways in which viewers would react to it before posting. However, when asked to discuss their behaviors and interactions with the app, their responses revealed feelings of embarrassment and dissatisfaction with oneself.
While our study is not the only research conducted on this topic, we hope to ignite conversation within our community about how UW women use Instagram and their associated emotions with the app, which may eventually expand into a greater discussion for a larger population.

03 Literature Review

Literature Review

Correlation between a low sense of peer-belonging and users of Instagram who participated in behaviors like buying followers, modifying their appearance in photos or engaging in strategies such as “like-for-like.”

The number of ‘likes’ a participant received did not affect body dissatisfaction, but had a significant effect on facial dissatisfaction.

Instagram increases competition between female college students based on perceived attractiveness due to appearance. In addition to self-perception, there was also a component of the desired future perception to consider, which has been shown to impact what types of content an individual interacts with.

Instagram is different from other social-networking sites, such as Facebook, because Instagram is focused on self-presentation with non-reciprocal relationships


The study’s findings prompted our interest in “Instagram Etiquette,” as we hoped to further explore Instagram behaviors and like-seeking tactics within women.

Our team expanded on this notion by investigating not only how ‘like count’, but also overall Instagram usage and time spent on the app impacted one’s emotions.

Users believe that their interactions with others’ posts will reflect how they are viewed, and therefore engage in interactions which they believe will present a favorable image of them. We refrained from asking questions that included both self-perception and behavior at once, in order to gain a better understanding of the relationships between them.

With this understanding, we aimed to include questions which allowed us to compare how participants engaged with people they know versus those they do not on Instagram.

04 Method Description

Method Description
The interview protocol we created was made with the intention of performing a semi-structured interview. We provided enough questions to generate a roughly 30-minute interview with our participants. Our protocol was divided into three sections, the first being exploratory, and the latter focusing on the themes of “Instagram Etiquette” and “Instagram and User Emotions”.

Interviews can be prone to participant bias and discomfort due to the potentially probing questions. We chose to combat this by conducting our interviews in the familiar atmosphere of the interviewee’s home, ensuring the questions in our protocol and general nature were colloquial, while reminding our interviewees that there’s no right or wrong answer.


We chose questions for our first theme of “Instagram Etiquette,” that targeted what characteristics made for a good post and how our interviewees interacted with others’ posts. Example questions for this theme include: “What do you think a good Instagram caption consists of?”, “Do you believe there is an ideal time to post?”, and “What types of content or users do you tend to comment on?”.


For our second theme of “Instagram and User Emotions,” we chose questions related to the motivations of how one interacts with Instagram and how their interactions on the app, or the app itself, made them feel. Questions we felt best represented this theme include: “What motivates you to open Instagram?”, “How does spending the amount of time you do on Instagram make you feel?”, and “How do you feel about Instagram removing the ‘like count’ feature from posts?”


We interviewed four pilot participants for this study, ensuring that each participant was within our target group: female-identifying undergraduate students at the University of Washington, who were active on Instagram (Table 1).

Screen Shot 2020-11-08 at 5.52.12 PM.png

05 Results


Through our interviews, we were able to identify a few emerging themes surrounding our research topic, which can be found in the table below (Table 2).

Screen Shot 2020-11-08 at 5.58.52 PM.png

Our preliminary research is of significance as it generated several emerging themes that we feel could be expanded on, or more aggressively targeted during future research studies using a larger, more randomized selection of participants.

06 Revisions


Lack of Purpose

Our original interview protocol did not include an introduction that explained the purpose of our study, thus we added a brief statement which shared our research question, thanked the participants for their time, and explained their rights and protections as a participant

Social network concept


We also made the decision to remove questions we deemed to be irrelevant as they pertained to phone usage years ago.

Girl Holding a Phone


Instances of asking how our participants “interact” with something were cut, and instead we explicitly stated examples of interactions to make the questions clearer.

Social network concept


We removed the question, “Do you own a smartphone?” and several subsequent ones, as this was already a requirement of our study.

Holding Phones

Too Formal

The initial introduction for “Theme 1: Instagram Etiquette,” was long and formal in wording. We felt the explanation did not meet our goal of being colloquial and fostering comfortable conversation, thus decided to cut down the text and reworded the introduction to be more informal.

Job Interview

07 Limitations


Credibility of our interviews was not a primary concern, as we simply asked about the participant’s personal experiences. However, we were conscious of the potential issues that could arise from participant bias, where an interviewee may be inclined to provide inaccurate information to protect their image. To combat this, we were hyper-aware of interviewee comfortability and reviewed all questions in advance to eliminate discomfort and leading questions.


The transferability of the feedback we received from our interviewees is likely low and unrepresentative of the greater UW female-identifying undergraduate population. This is because we conducted interviews with a small sample of participants, and our interviewees were conducted with participants we already knew, thus creating the issue of convenience sampling. This as a limitation within our current study, but can be changed for future research if this study were to be conducted again.


Because the dependability of the study relies primarily on the context within which the research occurs, we attempted to ensure that our interviews were conducted in a similar manner and atmosphere (interviewee homes) for each interviewee. In order to mitigate issues with confirmation, we analyzed our findings from the interviews individually first, then reconvened as a group to share our findings. This allowed us to see differences across participants, notice details we might have otherwise missed, and identify areas that needed further discussion.


Our primary concerns pertaining to ethical dilemmas in this study focused around the issues of participant discomfort, emotional risk, and privacy. While the topic of Instagram behavior may not seem particularly sensitive, it is unusual for a user to be asked to provide an in-depth analysis of their day-to-day usage of the app. For this reason, and the fact that society tends to place a negative connotation around over usage, particularly with young women, we were vigilant of the manner in which we conducted our study, and the wellbeing of those who partook in it.

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