How Are Likes Listed on Instagram?

It seems simple at first glance; someone likes your latest post on Instagram, and it shows up beneath your photo under “likes.” However, if you haven’t already, you’ll start to notice that things have changed about how those likes are listed for you.

Initially, the Instagram algorithm for showing who liked your post was simple. Instagram listed likes in the order they were received, with the latest likes listed first. Things didn’t stay that way for long, though, as Instagram changed the method for arranging likes.

The Order of Likes on Instagram

When you look at the likes on your Instagram posts, you’ll see that they’re displayed with two users’ Instagram handles, followed by the number of additional likes your post has received. For the first few years, those two names would be the last two people to have liked your post.

Now, the users that have their handles listed are determined by several different factors, each weighted differently by the Instagram algorithm. Let’s look at some of the factors that are considered to determine the order of Instagram likes.

Mutual Engagement with The User

The type of engagement is one of the most important factors used to determine which users are listed first in the accounts that have liked a post. Note that it’s not just “Instagram engagement,” but “mutual engagement” that matters. This refers to a person you interact with regularly that also leaves likes and comments on your posts.

How often a user sends you a direct message, and how often you reply or send them a DM helps determine mutual engagement as well. Users that like your Instagram posts that fall into this category have a good chance of being one of the two users that are listed by name underneath your post.


Another thing that’s considered by the algorithm when deciding the order of the likes on your post is if the user that liked it has tagged you in a photo before, or if you’ve tagged them. If either one has happened, that moves them up the list.

Based on Likes

This factor is easy to understand; users that are considered your biggest fans stand a good chance of appearing at the top of your posts’ list of likes. This is based on how much they have engaged with your posts in the past. Likes are essential, but it appears that comments and shares of your content may count for more with the Instagram algorithm.

The reason is simple; while it’s easy to tap the heart and leave a like on your Instagram posts, it takes more effort to leave a comment or share your post to their timeline. This is considered a stronger indicator of how interested in the content the other user is.

The Number of Followers They Have

Yes, a follower’s audience size can make a difference. As the algorithm does it’s work behind the scenes, one of the things it takes into consideration when determining the order of Instagram likes is how many followers each person that likes your post has.

Those with the most followers are moved to the top of the list, all other things being roughly equal.

Verified Accounts

Here’s something that most never think about; a user that likes your post from an official, verified account will receive more consideration from the algorithm when deciding how likes are arranged on Instagram.

How Recently They’ve Engaged with Your Content

Another thing that can affect the order of likes on Instagram is how recently they’ve interacted with one of your posts, whether it be with likes, comments, or shares.

Someone that has left likes and comments on your content in the last day will be placed higher in the order of likes on Instagram than someone that hasn’t engaged with your content in the previous week.

No Names Instead of Two?

What if you have a post with likes, but there are no names listed, just a number, like “1,243 likes”? The answer is simple; that means that no one that fits any of the above categories has liked that post. All the likes for that piece of content came from people that haven’t liked, commented, shared, or tagged you in a photo.

The Algorithm Is Complicated

As you can see, merely deciding the ordering of your posts’ likes is a hugely complicated process. It’s complicated enough to make many people throw up their hands in confusion and wonder if the struggle to understand how it works is worth the effort.

The answer is “yes” if you want more Instagram engagement, because as complicated as it is, there are some things you can do to increase the amount of engagement your posts receive.

Decide Who Your Audience Is

Unfortunately, thinking that your potential audience is “everyone on Instagram” is a sure-fire way to limit your engagement. If you post content for “everyone,” then you’re not posting content for anyone specific.

Bland, generic content has little chance to attract a loyal following.

Posts That Make Users Interested in the Content

Creating interest should be your top priority on Instagram. If no one’s interested in your content, the algorithm doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, the design of Instagram makes it impossible to determine how many users view your content and never return.

Shares, likes, and comments are all we can go by, so with no way to determine the percentage of viewers that are engaged by your content, we can only do what we can to increase those likes and comments.

Instagram is different than other platforms like Facebook, which will show you how many people your posts have reached, which you can then compare against the amount of engagement to help decide if you need to adjust your content for your audience.

This was listed second because it’s much easier to post content your audience is interested in once you know who that audience is.

Give Your Audience Content When They Want It Most

Once you have your audience identified and your content dialed-in and ready to impress, it’s time to figure out when your audience is most active. Whenever this is, that’s when you should be posting.

Another aspect of the Instagram algorithm is the fact that it not only considers how much engagement a post receives, it also examines how quickly the content received those shares, likes, and comments.

A sudden burst of engagement will boost your content and give users a chance to see it (and you) possibly for the first time, which gives you a chance to turn them into followers and fans.

Tell Them What to Do

It’s been proven that giving people that view your content a suggestion of what to do (called a “Call to Action,” or “CTA” in marketing terms) will reward you with higher engagement.

Do you want a share, like, or comment? Ask for them in the caption of your post. Giving your viewers a strong suggestion to engage with your post will increase the percentage of those viewers that do engage.

The higher your engagement, the more users have a chance to see your content, which leads to even higher engagement. This mechanism is why many users decide to buy Instagram likes because the boost in likes on your content can start a chain-reaction of increasing user participation.


You know what hashtags are, and most likely know what they’re used for, but you may not realize that you should have a hashtag strategy in place for your account.

Remember when we determined who your audience is? Once again, this is vital information to figure out, because your target audience has hashtags they use on a regular basis. Once you find out what hashtags are used by your audience, using them on your content will help put your posts in front of the very users you’re trying to reach.

The “Explore” page, by the way? The posts shown to users on that page are ordered in part by the engagement the account has; the more engagement you have, the more likely you are to appear to those that are browsing through random posts in Explore.

Slide into Those DM’s

One final thing to mention regarding how the Instagram algorithm treats your account placement is direct messages; specifically, how many times your post has been shared with someone through a DM. The more times it has been shared, and the more unique users have shared it, the higher your content will rank with the algorithm.

Luckily, this is something that you only have one means of control over, so it’s simple to manage. Post content that your audience wants to make sure their friends and family don’t miss! Instagram treats your post being shared through DM as another form of engagement, even though it’s completely invisible to you.

What’s the Story on Instagram Stories?

In some ways, Instagram stories seem to be almost separate from your regular account concerning stats; in fact, even the ordering of the list of likes on Stories is different than on normal posts.

However, any engagement you receive on your posts to your story does influence how the Instagram algorithm ranks your content when deciding what to show others.

Of course, Instagram stores work somewhat differently than regular posts, but when you have your audience targeted, you’ll be able to fill your stories with content that will keep them coming back for more.

One final note on stories; the list of stories at the top of your feed? The order of those is determined in large part by how much engagement you’ve had with the account, whether it’s watching previous stories or engagement with posts.

A side-effect of increasing your regular engagement is that your stories can be at the top of your audience’s feed, which is useful to keep them engaged. However, it’s essential that you post regular stories.

How to Grow Your Audience

If you’re serious about growing the engagement on your content on Instagram, and the number of people that follow you for more, you’ll notice two things will do that with the most efficiency.

Without Good Content, Audience Size Doesn’t Matter

Imagine two Instagram accounts. The first one posts whatever they want, whenever they get around to it. There are no hashtags, no strategy. They post whatever they enjoy, and they average a few dozen likes and comments on each post.

One day, they get lucky, and one of their posts somehow goes viral, bringing in tens of thousands of likes and comments! But it doesn’t last, because the new users that have been exposed to the content found nothing else they liked other than the viral post, so they quickly moved on.

In a matter of days, the posts on this account were back down in the dozens of likes and comments.

The second account knew precisely who they were trying to reach and made sure every post was what that audience enjoys. The user’s engagement was slowly growing, and then the user decided to buy IG likes from a reputable provider like Social Media Daily to give their content a boost in the algorithm.

They, too, saw a jump in their engagement, but unlike the first account, those new fans stuck around because they liked what they saw on the rest of the account. This continued to improve the account’s placement by the algorithm, which brought in even more new fans.

Which one would you rather be? The “one hit wonder” or the steadily-growing account? Here’s a hint; the user accounts that appear at the top of your feed are the second kind of account.

The Instagram algorithm is indeed complicated, considering many factors when deciding which content to put into the feeds of users, but with a good plan and a small boost at the start, growing a compelling, successful Instagram account can be done.