What’s the Difference Between Likes and Saves on Instagram? And Why Is It Important?

In 2021, ‘save is the new like’ has been a topic on the forefront of discussions around brand marketing on Instagram. Algorithm know-how is essential for a brand’s success and a lot of us, professionals and novices alike, are left wondering what it is, how it’s metrics have changed and how we can best use them to our advantage with each app update.

Likes and saves are both Instagram engagement metrics. While a like is an original feature, awarded in passing by users to posts that pique their interest, saves were introduced in 2017 and store a post in a designated private area found in the options menu of their profile – so that it’s easy to revisit and share at a later time.

The value of likes

Likes are important for brands because they act as immediate proof to consumers of both how established a brand is and its potential for growth. Seeing a post that is visually pleasing to us on our explore page and is popular among other users motivates us to explore further.

  • Likes act as incentive to engage, follow, and potentially invest our money in a business.

Brands looking to use Instagram as a business tool will find it useful to track likes in order to see which types of posts are performing best, so that they can get more of their posts seen.

  • The more likes a post has, the higher the probability that the algorithm will push it to the top of a user’s feed and explore page.

  • This is because the algorithm will deem the post of higher interest to users who already follow the account or engage with similar content and accounts.

Tracking likes also holds benefits for future business partnerships on Instagram, as brands can use a high like count or like-to-follower (LTF) ratio as an easy-access bartering tool.

  • For example, a micro influencer’s main appeal to brands is that, despite their lower following, they have a bigger percentage of their following liking their posts than that of larger influencers. See this helpful table.

  • A good LTF percentage for brands is commonly held as 10%.

  • Sister brand to Digital Women, SocialDay, has this useful article about what influencers should charge based on follower/engagement rates

The value of saves

James Nord, CEO of influencer marketing company Fohr, likened a post being saved on Instagram with getting a ‘super-like’ in a 2019 blog post. When users save a brand’s post it signals to the algorithm interest, similar to any other engagement metric, but the biggest value and arguably the superpower of saves is their indication that users will possibly revisit the post again and share it.

  • Posts that are most likely to be saved are infographic in nature – visually appealing and informative content which is designed to be viewed again, shared or quoted.

  • Businesses can get more saves by making Instagram guides like this one by popular fashion magazine Dazed:

  • Tips, tutorials and powerful, direct captions are also most likely to inspire users to save an Instagram post. This top performing post from Ministry of Sound published over black history month is a minimalist example:

  • Brands that will find saves a useful tool are those that have already identified and established their target market, and want to boost the high engagement they already have.

Which is more important?

  • The quick answer: both of these metrics are important when tracking your engagement on Instagram, but neither is a magic key to ‘hacking’ the algorithm.

The biggest prompt to this discussion of saves vs. likes was Instagram’s decision to introduce users with the option to hide the like counts of their posts and others’ in May 2021.

At face value it was feared this would dampen engagement rates, damaging the brands and influencers who are reliant on the metric, but there’s been no evidence that this feature has had any impact on like count or overall engagement on the platform. And Instagram users still have access to insights of how well their posts are performing with like counts.

In the same vein, saves have yet to prove any more valuable than likes as an engagement metric. While saves indicate repeated engagement with a post, it’s the repeated engagement of being viewed again and shared that signals a post is of high interest to the algorithm. 

  • A saved post that is never viewed again could potentially signal less interest to the algorithm than a like does, and it certainly signals less to other users.

There is no hierarchy when it comes to engagement metrics. Both likes and saves, as well as views and comments and shares should all be considered tools of equal value to brands and businesses in informing them about the interests and behaviours of their followers.

Focusing on overall engagement and providing content that has value to both you and your followers is the most holistic strategy to brand growth – as opposed to ‘chasing the algorithm’, which can drive anyone mad if they spend long enough down the Google rabbit hole of marketing conspiracies.

Four things all brands should be doing in 2021 to maximise engagement metrics:

  1. Use a wide variety of features – especially newer ones like carousel posts and reels (which it’s likely Instagram is boosting to compete with TikTok). Carousel posts have 3x more engagement than regular posts according to social media management platform Hootsuite, and Reels have 67% more.

  2. Experiment with hashtags to get posts discovered – researching which hashtags best describe what your post is about can signal to both other users and the algorithm what’s in it, drawing more people to it.

  3. Post consistently – posting daily and when your audience is online gives your content the highest chance of showing up at the top of your followers feeds.

  4. Collaborate – one of the most effective ways to grow your brand is through collaboration with other users at a similar stage of growth to you. For example, co-authoring feed content or reels means it shows up on both creators’ profiles, and both their followers’ feeds, doubling engagement. Could you find your next business partner in the Digital Women Members Club?

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