COLUMBIA, Mo. — What sparks your Instagratification? A new study suggests that the average Instagram user prefers seeking out entertainment images, rather than political or controversial pictures.

Researchers at the University of Missouri recruited 30 Instagrammers to participate in a study that examined engagement tendencies on the popular social media platform, hoping to gain insights that could help news organizations.

Instagram photo being snapped on phone
A new study suggests that the average Instagram user prefers seeking out entertainment images, rather than political or controversial pictures.

Co-authors T.J. Thomson and Keith Greenwood were able to identify three distinct types of users in their research, which allowed them to made broader generalizations about user behavior.

Feature lovers,” as they termed one set of users, were enamored by content that was exciting and adventurous; “news hounds” were those who most strongly connected with political and cultural images; and “optimists” were those who looked for content that was uplifting, funny, or positive.

News hounds lost out in the platform’s battle for popularity, but that didn’t necessarily relegate videos and images of journalistic relevance to online irrelevance. Rather, newsworthy images that were presented in a powerful and aesthetically-pleasing manner were found to be ripe for the sharing.

“Most users in our study preferred simple, clean images,” explains Greenwood in a university release. “So news organizations might draw in more engagement from users if they post images that are representative of the story they’re telling, but are still friendly to the eye.”

Other tips for companies that want to boost engagement included posting images with fewer participants, no watermarks or stamps, and in less familiar locales.

“We suspect that because these familiar landmarks are often seen by these users and are shared in other media throughout the community, Instagram users are more drawn to photos that show a place they wouldn’t see every day,” says Greenwood. “Photos of exotic, faraway places also reflect many positive characteristics that people relate to, such as beauty, adventure and uniqueness.”

Thomson believes that images related to news stories of a political or controversial nature tend to fair poorly on the image-sharing platform for two reasons.

“Some users said they felt badly about ‘liking’ a photo of a tragedy, while others said they turn to other sources when they seek serious news stories,” he notes, while adding, “Many people view Instagram as an oasis where they can escape from the troubles and concerns of everyday life.”

Those are findings that every journalist— from the beat reporter to the war correspondent and everyone in between— can take to heart.

Greenwood and Thomson published their findings in the journal Visual Communication Quarterly.

About Daniel Steingold

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