How Color and Image Expectations Affect Instagram Engagement

How Color and Image Expectations Affect Instagram Engagement

If someone told you to close your eyes and picture a photo hashtagged with  #Winter – what color would it be?  Now picture #Summer.

Does any type of image, or color in particular stand out?

Skin, Sand and Sky – The Colors of Summer on Instagram

Between June 16th and July 16th of 2015 over 1.6 million images were shared on Instagram with the hashtag #Summer. They streamed in from all over the world, sharing iconic images of our collective trip around the sun.  These #Summer tags pics featured activities like pool parties and ice cream, road trips and beach days. Fashion tips and recipes were shared.  Berries were plucked, ripe off the vine.

But the images that stood out, both in volume and in sheer number of likes and comments (related to the volume) were images featuring the tans tones of skin,  and the blues of sky and water.

How Color Expectations Relate to Hashtagged Images on Instagram 

Hashtracking’s Colortracking findings of our #Summer hashtag reports demonstrated an interesting trend that we’ve also observed when tracking destination hashtags. We like to call it the “#Burger Phenomenon.”

When you go to a #burger restaurant, you expect to eat burgers. When you search #burger on Instagram, you expect to see burgers.  Similarly when you go to the Caribbean you expect to see the shocking blue clear turquoise waters and when you search #Caribbean hashtags on Instagram, you have similar expectations.

A quick pull of the hashtag #TurksAndCaicos delivers this palette, showing a majority of expected images nearly every time. Try searching this hashtag yourself! The images with “expected” shots of clear water, likely occupy at least half the feed.

Instagram #TurksandCaicos - How to the color trends line up with expectations?

Our expectations have subtle variations. There are noticeably different blue palettes for different beachside destinations.  Compare the clear and light shades of blue in the images for the hashtag for #TurksandCaicos with the darker and grayer blues in the Mediterranean hashtag #CatalunyaExperience.

The #CatalunyaExperience hashtag shows instagram color trends in action

These color palettes are reflective of both the photographic subjects (the destination itself), and the photographer’s choice of image

People generally aim to please, and when using the hashtag associated with specific colors, they tend to deliver, browse and comment according to expectations.

Color Theory and Disruption – The Key to Engagement? 

But is the expected the most engaging? This is where all of our research takes a turn for the surprising.

While expected images and colors make up the bulk of the feed for most time/place/thing hashtagged images (and therefore the bulk of the commented and likes images)  it isn’t the images that deliver the expected that have the highest rate of engagement.

Note: Hashtracking Engagement scores take into account the number of actions (likes and comments) per user exposure. It is the images that disrupt expectations that yield the highest engagement scores. 

It’s useful to know some basic color wheel theory here,  though it doesn’t require a degree in art history to start seeing some basic patterns.

The opposite of Blue/Green is Orange/Red.

Images that are opposite of the expected color in a hashtagged image feed, present a disruption. These images stand out in the feed, even when viewed independently from the entire collection.

This seems to encourage action from viewers at a higher rate than that of expected images. For example, the most engaged images in this #CatalunyaExperience report included a bright orange sunset.

How do color trends, and color disruption, effect engagement?

Conclusion: Color Opposites – that is the colors that contrast MOST with the viewer’s color expectations, seem to yield a higher rate of engagement across all the tags we’ve tracked, including #Summer. *

The learning here that is valuable for both brands and individuals is that while we like to have our expectations met, we also like to be surprised.

Keeping your audience on their toes, and “waking them up” with a jolt of unexpected color from time to time, may have surprisingly powerful, and positive effects on your engagement.

 Interested in other ways that Instagram Colortracking can help you:

  • Track customer preferences
  • Curate color-coordinated hashtagged content
  • Power Engaging Contests
  • Improve your overall engagement?

Follow @Hashtracking and sign up for a free trial.

*Complete COLORS OF SUMMER HASHTRACKING INSTAGRAM REPORTS will be released soon. Subscribe to the newsletter to see the complete report.  Please contact Hashtracking if you have an interesting case study or are looking for expert opinions and advice on Hashtag research and tracking. 

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