14 Unspoken Rules You Shouldn’t Break on Instagram

For newcomers and old pros alike, it’s hard to keep the rules of social media etiquette straight. And if you count up all the social networks we use regularly, that’s no surprise. Most of us use Facebook, where it’s easy to post things that you shouldn’t. (And equally straightforward to make yourself look like a narcissist or a psychopath.) We also use Twitter and Instagram, where it’s easy to misuse hashtags. It’s also easy to become the kind of person that everybody else wants to unfollow, or even to make a mistake that can get you fired.

You probably know the basics on how to use Instagram. You probably know how to post photos and how to find people to follow. And you may even know exactly which apps to use to make your photos look great. But do you know all of the rules, spoken and unspoken, that people expect you to follow on the platform? Fortunately for you, getting all of those rules right doesn’t have to be difficult — especially since we’ve collected all of them for you. Read on to check out the most important rules to follow on Instagram.

1. Do post photos that are beautiful, fun, inspiring, or funny

friends having fun at the cafe and looking at smart phone

Know what kinds of photos to post | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

It’s a myth that only your most serious snaps belong on Instagram. Sure, your gorgeous landscape photos and perfect travel shots are prime candidates for Instagram uploads, as are photos from your visit to the art museum, or shots of an impeccably curated corner of your apartment. The social network is also a great place to share photos that are fun and will make your friends and followers laugh. Good photos communicate something and often evoke emotions in the viewer. Those emotions don’t always have to be serious. 

2. Don’t flood everybody’s feeds with selfies

girl makes self-portrait on the smartphone

If your Instagram is full of selfies, you’ll want to change it up | iStock.com/Rohappy

Opinions on selfies seem mixed, so it’s probably wise to err on the side of restraint. Most people — aside from the most disagreeable of social media curmudgeons — agree that they’re fine in moderation. But the minute you start to wonder whether you’re posting too many, you can safely conclude that you’ve gone too far. It’s great to post a selfie when your hair looks great, or your outfit is on point, or even just because. But in most cases, it’s a bad idea to post multiple selfies in a day (or, worse, one right after the other). People will have no problem concluding that you’re narcissistic and scrolling past them. 

3. Do post photos of yourself and your friends

attractive young women of different ethnics taking a selfie

Post some photos of you and your friends | iStock.com/oneinchpunch 

So you shouldn’t post an excessive number of selfies. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t post photos that show your face or the faces of your friends. In fact, if it’s likes that you’re after, you’ll be happy to learn that photos that include faces are 38% more likely to get likes and 32% more likely to get comments than photos without faces. You probably shouldn’t post photos of your friends without their permission. But if you can snap a photo of your friends enjoying those drinks, instead of just sharing a photo of your pitcher of margaritas, the resulting Instagram post will probably do a better job of showing your followers what’s going on (and getting them to like the photo). 

4. Don’t post images of cheesy quotes

young woman's hand typing a text message on her smartphone

Avoid the cheesy quotes that we’ve all heard before | iStock.com/Ridofranz

If cheesy quotes and clichéd aphorisms are inspiring or comforting to you, that’s great. But most people will roll their eyes if they see you post one. The best case scenario is that your friends and followers will find the quote vaguely annoying. The worst case scenario is that it’ll look like you’re trying to tell other people how to handle their stress or approach their problems — which is never a good look, no matter how cute the typeface or how picturesque the background image. Equally bad? Reposting memes. 

5. Do think carefully about the hashtags you’re using

Woman using smartphone at airplane

On Instagram, hashtags matter | iStock.com/yuran-78

Almost everyone understands the basic purpose of hashtags, but almost no one knows how to use them correctly. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a good look to write as much of your caption as you can in hashtags. (That just makes you look clueless, or desperate for attention.) If you’re a blogger or a business, or just looking to grow your following, hashtags are a good way to get your photo in front of the right people. But you need to do your research on which hashtags you should be using instead of simply appending all of the tags you can think of. And always think twice before using hashtags like #nofilter or #nomakeup, since at least some of your followers are going to find them immediately off-putting. 

6. Don’t overuse hashtags

Girl touching a screen of her smartphone

Use your hashtags sparingly | iStock.com/Pinkypills 

In a similar vein, it’s not a good idea to overuse hashtags, even if your goal is to enable more users to discover your content (and decide to follow you). Instagram will let you use up to 30 hashtags on each of your posts. But that doesn’t mean that you should really be using that many hashtags. Common advice is to keep it between five and 10 hashtags and to monitor how your posts do as you experiment with different numbers of hashtags. And many bloggers and influencers have taken to hiding their hashtags in a comment so they don’t get in the way and annoy the people who are already following them. 

7. Do know which hashtags to use ironically

Woman holding smartphone

Remember to be humorous when you’re using hashtags | iStock.com/ Kikovic

Hashtags like #nofilter and #blessed are best used ironically if you don’t want to annoy your followers. (Used unironically, those hashtags are sure to stand out as a red flag to a sizable contingent of your current followers and to other users who are looking at your profile and trying to decide whether or not to follow you.) Hashtags are a great place to show off your sense of humor. In other words, you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously when adding hashtags to your posts. 

8. Don’t post collages

Man browsing the internet on a smartphone

Collages may seem like a good idea, but they rarely are | iStock.com/BartekSzewczyk 

Posting a collage that combines several images may seem like a convenient way to avoid having to pick the best shot. But despite the proliferation of apps that make it easy to assemble a collage, most people don’t think that they’re a great look for your Instagram profile. Collages might look good in a scrapbook, but Instagram photos are small enough as it is. Don’t make it harder for people to see what’s going on in your photos. 

9. Do have fun sharing #TBT photos

man photographing baby elephant

#TBT is a fun way to get more traffic on your Instagram | iStock.com/LiudmylaSupynska 

Though there’s something to be said for not posting a #TBT every single week, the hashtag generally makes Thursday a good day to post fun or timely photos from the past. Particularly Instagram-savvy users have pointed out that it’s probably not a great idea to post a #TBT first thing in the morning, which makes it pretty obvious that you’ve been waiting to post the photo. It may be okay to post a photo of yourself from years in the past — but not if the only reason you’re posting it is that you think it makes you look more attractive. The best #TBT photos are fun or funny. Again, it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. 

10. Don’t go overboard sharing photos of food

Top down view of a woman taking photo of a meal

Food photos don’t go over too well | iStock.com/ymgerman

Unless you’re a food blogger or otherwise in the business of sharing recipes and food photos online, it’s probably not a great idea to inundate your followers with photos of food. We all think that food looks great when we’re about to eat it. But before you post a photo of your dinner or your coffee shop order, think about whether it actually looks appetizing. Poorly lit photos of unidentified foods don’t make for great Instagram posts, so make sure that the photo is really worth sharing. 

11. Do post photos of your children or pets — in moderation

young family taking selfie on the floor

Post photos of your kids, but don’t go overboard | iStock.com/shironosov

Photos of cute children or adorable pets are great Instagram material as long as you don’t overdo it. If you’re a blogger who’s gained a big following by posting about your cute baby, that’s one thing. But the average Instagram user’s followers aren’t there to see tons of photos of a child or a pet. Every time you consider posting a photo, no matter how cute it is, consider whether it tells a story about what’s going on and whether it’s substantively different than the other recent photos you’ve posted. If you’re unsure on either count, skip it. Your Instagram followers probably don’t need to see every cute thing that your kid, puppy, or cat is doing.

12. Don’t post dozens of photos in a day

young man taking photograph in autumn

Limit the number of photos you publish a day | iStock.com/Halfpoint

No matter how much your friends and followers love you, you probably shouldn’t post more than two or three photos each day. If something particularly exciting is going on, it may merit a few more snaps than normal. But you don’t want to be the person that routinely floods everybody’s feeds with photos. Chances are good that everybody’s wishing that you’d calm down and learn to edit. So it’s a good idea to think carefully about how many photos you should really post. 

13. Do use filters and photo apps judiciously

man recording video with smartphone

Use subtle filters | iStock.com/OlegShvydiuk

PSA: Photos that are heavily and obviously filtered are no longer en vogue. Whether you use Instagram’s editing tools or use another app or two, filters are just meant to subtly enhance your images. They can make the colors in your photos look a little more vibrant or make the lighting look a little bit more like it does in real life. But the best filter usage is subtle and may not even be obvious to your followers. 

14. Don’t copy other people’s photos

Photographing Puerto de la Cruz City

Post your unique photos on Instagram | iStock.com/RossHelen 

Instagram is all about sharing your unique perspective. It can be difficult to figure out exactly what you should post, and everybody wants their photos to get likes. But you shouldn’t copy other people’s photos or closely mimic what somebody else is doing with their profile in an attempt to gain followers or look cool. Instagram is supposed to be a fun platform. Don’t take it too seriously.

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