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The Instagram Rule of 11

  |  January 28, 2014   |  Comments

Why is the number 11 important on Instagram? Is it the number of posts per month? The number of words you should use to describe an image? Actually, it's none of the above.

Why is the number 11 important on Instagram? Is it the number of posts per month? The number of words you should use to describe an image?

None of the above.

The number 11 represents a simple but important tipping point. Once you earn 11 likes on Instagram for a photo that you’ve posted, the service shrinks down the likes from a list of your friends’ handles to a number. I’m sure Instagram was simply applying good design principles to its Web interface, but unbeknownst to the platform, it has created a powerful form of social validation. The number 11 now represents when your Instagram image has hit a certain level of credibility.

Admittedly, I am not that cool on Instagram, since some of my images don’t hit this threshold, but for many users this simple milestone is important. In a study MRY conducted on Millennials’ technology behavior, one young woman noted passionately the need to reach this number. "If I don’t hit 11 likes, I take down the post after a day -- it’s just too embarrassing to leave up there. Nobody likes it." The embarrassment of not being validated trumps the need to share the image. Another respondent spoke about how he plans his posts around what he called "Instagram Time." Content has the highest chance of reaching the 11th level of virality during this Instagram "rush hour," which takes place when people are commuting home around 5 p.m. to 7 p.m

The three steps of the Rule of 11, as illustrated by MRY's Instagram posts:


These individual metrics mattered to the new consumer, and these were not isolated cases: respondent after respondent reiterated the need to reach this number. We live in a world where brands and businesses are so concerned with Web and business analytics. Advertising experts plan for this and strategize, but we often forget about personal analytics. What gauge of success makes our users, customers, and friends look good? What if brands planned for consumers’ personal validation and not just brand validation? What if we turned the mirror?

This shift redefines the way we work.

Don’t plan for broadcast, plan for the response: In most traditional strategic disciplines, we plan for the intended message and the outbound content when in fact we should be planning for the response. What are we going to say that will be the most persuasive and clear? How do we want people to react? A positive reaction, whether it’s a click, a message to the brand, or a like, is the hardest but best gauge of personal success. It means the person actually cares about what the brand has to say. We need to have an indicator of how we want consumers to react to our brand and --if we achieve this -- how we will respond in turn.


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Ian Chee

Ian Chee is the chief strategy officer at digital agency, MRY. A veteran digital marketer and strategist, Chee leads MRY's strategy team and oversees all planning and strategic output across the U.S. offices. He has nearly 15 years of experience in digital strategy, most recently leading planning across all accounts at AKQA NYC, including clients such as Chase, Kraft, and Google. Before joining AKQA, Chee led global strategy for Delta, Samsung, American Express, and the Hartford at Digitas as the agency's vice president and director of account planning. In his current role, Chee contributes strategic insight to MRY's portfolio of clients such as J&J, Visa, and Adobe.

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