Pssst, did you hear? The Instagram algorithm likes likes… but it loves saves.

Or at least that’s what the social media marketing pros are claiming. The headlines are, shall we say, intense.

“Instagram Saves are the New Super Like!” “Forget Likes, Saves Will Grow Your Instagram.” “Instagram Saves is Literally Saving the Day.”

Influencers and brands have taken note, and we’ve seen an influx of accounts encouraging followers to save posts to Collections, or running contests that require a Save to enter.

For instance, here’s an adorable toddler influencer asking followers to “SVE” and “SHR”…

… and here’s a Vancouver-based fitness studio offering a giveaway to those who save the post and follow a few other instructions.

But does saving really do anything? Or does it just junk up our precisely organized Collections? (Stay out of my “Benson’s Best Outfits” folder, please and thank you!)

Time to put the theory — and my Instagram account — to the test to find out once and for all if saves are the key to boosting engagement… or just a bunch of hype.

What is an Instagram Save?

Before we get into if or how saves can help boost your engagement, let’s clarify what an Instagram save is.

See that little ribbon icon on the bottom right of a post? Tap that, and that post will be added to your saved folder.

Instagram saves

You can access your saved folder by going to your profile, clicking the menu icon (three horizontal lines) in the top right corner, and selecting “Saved.”

saved folder

In your saved folder, you can create Collections — “Vacation Ideas,” “Recipes,” “Haircuts to Get During My Mid-Life Crisis,” et cetera — by tapping the + icon in the top right corner.

saved collections

To sort a post into one of those collections, just tap and hold the ribbon icon. Your collections will appear at the bottom of the screen; just tap the one you’d like to sort the post into and it’ll be there waiting for you when the time comes to evaluate the best wispy pixie cut for your face shape.

Hypothesis: “Saves” help your Instagram posts get more reach than “Likes”

Okay, now that we’re all clear about what a save is… why do so many people seem to think they matter?

The theory is that the Instagram algorithm now values “saves” over likes, because it indicates the value of your content is so high that users want to tuck it away to reference again later. A like, meanwhile, is just a flash in the pan, a fleeting crush! A save is commitment.

While we do know that the Instagram algorithm takes saves into consideration when trying to determine the strength of a relationship, the idea that saves would be more powerful than likes (particularly when it’s sort of a less obvious and rarely used feature for many users) seems a little off-brand.

Though many influencers and social media reporters have been posting about the power of saves lately, we shouldn’t just blindly trust those sources. (No offense, influencers! Please tag us!)

Instead, let’s put the theory to the test.

Methodology

To test out whether saves boost engagement on a particular post, I used Hootsuite’s scheduling tool to schedule six posts to go out over the course of two days on my personal Instagram account.

Three of the captions would be explicitly asking people to save the post. Three of the captions explicitly asked people not to save the post, and to instead just interact with the post as they might normally.

To try to even the playing field, content-wise, and make sure I wasn’t accidentally skewing the results by featuring better content on “save” posts than “non-save” posts, within these six posts, I created thematically and visually similar pairings:

  • Two photos of dogs in sweaters, sourced from free stock photo site Unsplash, one with a “please save” caption and one without
  • Two photos of smoothie bowls (also from Unsplash), one with a “please save” caption and one without
  • Two graphic, text-based designs made with free design tool Canva, one with a “please save” caption and one without

thematically similar images for saves experiment

And to make sure that the time of day wasn’t skewing results (because we know that there are best times to post on Instagram), I posted the save and non-save posts at the same time on different days. On Tuesday, posts went out at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 4 p.m.; the other three went out on Wednesday at the same hours.

Hootsuite publisher planner

Results

I’ll cut to the chase: posts that were saved had a much higher reach than non-saved posts… but that did not necessarily translate to more likes, comments or shares.

Let’s dig in with some detail.

First up: it’s a battle of the breakfast bowls! I posted two beautiful shots of smoothie bowls, with detailed captions explaining what I was trying to do with this experiment because I am an ethical scientist and also I didn’t want everyone to think I’d been hacked. (Normally my content veers more towards the “unhinged illustrations” or “my renovation is ruining my life” category, which people are more likely to quietly block than save to treasure for a lifetime.)

To determine which of these posts were most engaging, I decided to use an engagement calculator that measures engagements by impressions. We’ll take the total engagements (in this case, I’ll consider that to be a like, comment, or share) and divide by the number of people who actually saw it to get an “engagement rate.”

smoothie bowl

Seventy-seven people saved this smoothie bowl photo, as requested. It wound up reaching 612 people, according to Instagram’s in-platform analytics. It also received 49 likes and 3 comments. (There were no shares in this case.) That works out to an engagement rate of 8% for this post.

Let’s see how the non-save breakfast bowl post compares.

smoothie bowl non-save photo

This post had zero saves, as I requested. (Great listening, everybody!) It still reached 430 people and got 32 likes and 5 comments. No shares. That’s an engagement rate of… 8%.

More people saw the post that had a high save rate, but the percentage of viewers who liked or commented remained the same for both the saved and non-saved post. Hmmm.

Okay, onto the dog-eat-dog comparison. Which of these pug photos — save or no-save — received more engagement?

I asked people to save this dog in a sweater photo, and 80 people obliged. I also received:

  • 78 likes
  • 3 comments
  • 13 shares

In total, this post had a reach of 770… which means the engagement on this entry was 12%, if I’ve crunched those numbers right.

dog in sweater non-save photo

I begged people not to save this dog photo, and they didn’t. It still garnered:

  • 75 likes
  • 1 share
  • 4 comments

It also reached 522 people. The engagement rate for this bespectacled pug works out to be 15%… slightly higher than the “save me” post of the same pug in a different outfit.

For the last comparison, let’s see how my two graphic typographic posts fared.

graphic typographic save post

I could not have been more clear that I wanted people to save this one, and 98 people listened. (Thank you, my sweet guinea pigs!)

This was out of 596 people who saw the post in total. It received the fewest likes of all my posts this week, however — just 25 — and 4 comments. There were no shares for this one. That means it only had a 4% engagement rate.

graphic typographic non-save post

One jerk saved this post, despite my very clear message not to, but sometimes one has to let go of control and let the internet do what it’s gonna do. It had a reach of 488, and garnered 38 likes, no shares, and just one comment. The engagement rate? 8%.

For posterity, here are the Hootsuite analytic results tracking the top likes and comments:

Hootsuite analytics results post table

And here are the stats from Instagram’s in-platform analytics:

Instagram in-platform analytics

Instagram in-platform analytics continued

But more helpful is probably this chart I’ve made that condenses the cold-hard averages for each type of post. (Pulitzer committee, when the time comes to give your data journalism award, you know where to find me.)

Average Reach Average Number of Comments Average Number of Likes
Saved Posts 659.3 3.3 50
Non-Saved Posts 480 3.3 46.3

* I didn’t calculate average shares here because there really was just the one post that got a few, which would skew the results by quite a bit.

What do the results mean?

Overall, each of the posts that were “saved” did have a significantly higher reach (by approximately 38%) — they did wind up in front of more eyeballs.

However, that didn’t necessarily translate into other valuable interactions: likes, shares, and comments.

(Another unintended result of this experiment: my mom learned how to save things on Instagram. Not sure how that will affect your social media strategy going forward, but I just thought you should know.)

Asking followers to save may actually be a “hack” to get your content featured in more feeds. Those brands asking people to save their posts to be entered into a contest? They are probably doing the right thing, because typically the goal of an Instagram contest is to increase brand awareness and followers — and saves do seem to get your posts in front of more eyeballs.

That being said:users may soon tire of being asked to “save” posts that aren’t actually “saveable, making their collections disorganized and rendering the feature useless. So use this hack sparingly, and only when the primary goal of your post is to increase brand awareness.

And note: a healthy Instagram strategy can’t survive on reach alone. Ultimately, you still need to have great, engaging content if you’re going to make the most of that reach and build long-term relationships with your followers.

If high engagement rates are what you’re after, here’s the truth: The real secret to great engagement is to build a holistic social media strategy and content calendar around compelling content that inspires people to like, comment, share, and, yes, save too. After all, if people are seeing your posts and not enjoying them, what’s the point?

But all that being said… this was a very small sample size that took place over the course of a week on my personal account of 1,600 followers, so please take this lesson with a grain of salt. Or, better yet, do your own experiment to find out how your own posts fare.

Want to read more about Hootsuite’s intrepid reporters putting their own Instagram reputation on the line? Explore all of our social media experiments here.

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