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Boost your social media engagement: Lessons from 8 studies of 126M posts

There is a never-ending firehose of social media. Every 60 seconds, users post 65,000 photos on Instagram; 240,000 photos on Facebook; and 575,000 tweets on Twitter.

How can you stand out? Be engaging.

Engagement is any interaction with your posts. For example, shares, likes, comments, and retweets. According to 8 studies of over 126 million posts, here are top ways to boost social media engagement:


  • Emotional
  • Social proof such as celebrity endorsements
  • Unusual or remarkable facts
  • Contests and giveaways
  • Captions less than 10 words (70 characters)
  • Emojis
  • 20–30 hashtags


  • Video > Images > Text
  • Photos with faces
  • High-quality, professionally shot images


  • Post 2–5 times per week

Keep in mind these studies are based on averages. You are unique. What works for someone else may not work for you. And what works on one social media platform may not work on another.

This is why the most important lesson is to run experiments. Then iterate based on your results.


James J. (2021, October 4). What ‘Data Never Sleeps 9.0’ proves about the pandemic. Domosphere. www.domo.com/blog/what-data-never-sleeps-9-0-proves-about-the-pandemic/

  • Every minute, users post 65,000 photos on Instagram; 240,000 photos on Facebook; and 575,000 tweets on Twitter

Dokyun L, Hosanagar K, Nair HS. (2018). Advertising content and consumer engagement on social media: Evidence from Facebook. Management Science. 64(11): 5105–5131.

  • A study of 106,316 Facebook posts across 782 companies found that engagement was highest for content that appealed to credibility or character e.g., celebrity endorsement; emotions e.g., philanthropy; or logic e.g., unusual or remarkable facts

Lozan T. (2019, November 14). 101,421,493 posts show how to write the best content on Facebook vs. Instagram vs. Twitter in 2020. SocialInsider. www.socialinsider.io/blog/social-media-content-research/

  • Researchers studied over 101 million posts from 178,463 profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
  • The highest engagement per post was on Instagram (2.26%) vs. Facebook (0.21%) or Twitter (0.06%)
  • On average, posts with higher engagement had emojis; captions less than 10 words (70 characters); and albums/carousels/video
  • Posts about contests and giveaways performed well, whereas tutorial posts performed poorly

McShane L et al. (2021). Emoji, playfulness, and brand engagement on Twitter. Journal Interactive Marketing. 53: 96–110.

  • A study of 41,141 tweets from 28 Twitter accounts (15 celebrity and 13 corporate) found that including emojis significantly increased likes and retweets

Thomas M. (2021, November 12). The number of hashtags you should use on Instagram, according to 18M posts. LaterBlog. www.later.com/blog/how-many-hashtags-on-instagram/

  • A study of over 18 million Instagram posts found that the highest average reach as a percentage of followers was for 20 hashtages (35% reach), followed by 30 (34%), 25 (32%), 15 (31%), 10 (29%), and 5 (25%)
  • Similarly, average engagement (likes and comments) was highest for 30 hashtags (4.1), followed by 20 (3.6) and 25 (3.4)

Michalski J. (2019, September 9). Instagram Study 2019: What we learned analyzing 5.4 million posts. Quintly. www.quintly.com/blog/instagram-study-2019

  • Researchers studied over 5.9 million posts from 34,100 Instagram profiles
  • Videos and carousels had higher engagement than images (49% and 25%, respectively)
  • Captions with 1–50 characters had the highest engagement
  • Posts with more than one emoji had higher engagement than no emojis
  • For accounts with 10M+ followers, posts with 0 hashtags had the highest engagement, followed by 4–10 and 1–3 hashtags
  • For accounts with less than 1,000 followers, posts with more than 10 hashtags had the highest engagement
  • Weekend posts had 27% higher engagement vs. weekdays

Bakhshi B, Shamma DA, Gilbert, E. (2014). Faces engage us: Photos with faces attract more likes and comments on Instagram. Proceedings SIGCHI Conference Human Factors Computing Systems (CHI’14). Toronto, ON, Canada. April 26-May 1.

  • A study of 1.1 million Instagram photos found that faces increased likes by 38% and comments by 32%

Li Y, Xie Y. (2020). Is a picture worth a thousand words? An empirical study of image content and social media engagement. Journal Marketing Research. 57(1): 1–19.

  • A study of 18,790 tweets from 9 major U.S. airlines found that including an image increased likes by 87% and retweets by 119%
  • A study of 14,959 tweets from 10 major Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) models found that including an image increased likes by 152% and retweets by 213%
  • A study of 2,044 Instagram photos from 9 major U.S. airlines with found that high-quality and professionally shot pictures increased likes by 10% and retweets by 20%
  • Pictures with human faces increased engagement on Twitter but not Instagram

Marmer D. (2020, October 8). How frequently should I publish on social media? A HubSpot experiment. HubSpot. blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-frequently-should-i-publish-on-social-media

  • Researchers studied 30,000 accounts with 15,000 posts to LinkedIn company pages; 25,000 posts to Facebook business pages; and 60,000 posts to Twitter
  • Regarding posting time, the highest engagement was Monday to Thursday for LinkedIn vs. no difference in day for Facebook or Twitter  
  • Regarding posting frequency, the optimal amount was 2–5 times per week for Facebook; 2–5 times per week for LinkedIn; and as frequently as possible for Twitter