How I Hacked the Instagram Algorithm Like a Teen

How I Hacked the Instagram Algorithm Like a Teen

Not much is known about the new Instagram algorithm, but whether you like it or not, it’s here to stay. We’re in a time of flux, where some users have it, some users don’t, and everyone is just trying to figure out how they can make the Instagram algorithm work for them. Here’s what we do know: similar to Facebook, the new Instagram algorithm feed favors posts with high engagement, meaning that the more likes and comments your post receives, the more people will see your post!

With Instagram engagement down 33% this year, now is the time to get creative about how you can hack the Instagram algorithm to make it work for you. Recently, I discovered the weird ways that teens use Kylie Jenner’s Instagram posts to get more likes on their profile, and I decided to see if I could use their methods to hack the Instagram algorithm. And, well…it worked. Once I started using Instagram like teens do, my posts started performing better in the Instagram feed and I was able to double the likes on my Instagram photos. Here’s a look at the weird world of Instagram teens:


How Teens Built a Sharing Economy of Likes

One glance at Kylie Jenner’s Instagram account, and you’ll notice tens of thousands of one-word comments on every photo: “lb, lb, lb, lb, first, lb, first, first, lb, row.” It’s fascinating. This photo of Kylie Jenner’s dogs has over 300,000 comments, and I’d guess that 90% of them just say “lb.” What does it mean, and why are teens doing it?

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“Lb” is short for “like back,” and it acts as the motto of an unwritten teen code. Teens use Instagram very differently than adults and businesses do; they favor likes and comments over followers, and will frequently delete photos if they don’t get enough likes. To help each other out, they’ve gathered around the teen Instagram queen Kylie Jenner (and her sister Kendall) to create a sharing economy of Instagram likes.

If you’re a teen and you want to get more likes, all you have to do is visit a recent post on Kylie Jenner’s Instagram and click to view the comments. For every person that comments “lb,” (which is nearly all of them) just go to their profile, like a photo, and they’ll like one of your photos back. Repeat this until your thumbs get tired, and you’ll have racked up the likes in no time. It’s shocking how quickly teens reciprocate with likes, it’s as if they’ve created this community where they understand each other’s insecurities and want to help each other out. That, or they just want more likes on their Instagram photos and will do whatever they can to get it.

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In Kylie Jenner’s comments you’ll also find a few other phrases besides “lb” that refer to a more specific likes-for-likes scenario. There’s LB’s little sister, “cb”, which means “comment back” and is used less frequently. Next is my personal favorite “first,” which means “first photo” (and is not, as I originally thought, teens thinking they have the first comment on an Instagram post). And last but not least is “row,” which references an entire row of three Instagram photos. One teen I talked to mentioned that she “has to be sneaky doing it, because often your friends will grill you for it,” because they monitor the “activity” tab on Instagram to see who is liking what photos. It sounds exhausting. 

How I Hacked the Instagram Algorithm Using Kylie Jenner’s Teen Army

This teen LB phenomenon has been happening for years, with Kylie tweeting her disapproval of it way back in November 2012, but the teens haven’t stopped. Originally created as a vanity metric, I decided to use Instagram like a teen to try and hack the Instagram algorithm.

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First, I started by just liking other teen’s photos, which was a little weird at first, but then it became addicting once I realized that I could get as many likes on a photo as time I was willing to spend. But being an adult, I don’t have unlimited time on my hands, and I wanted to speed up the process. My hypothesis was that if I was able to generate a lot of engagement on my Instagram post shortly after posting, it would signal to Instagram that it was quality, engaging content and my post would be moved higher up in people’s feeds and be shown to more people.

With that in mind, after posting a photo to Instagram, I made my first comment on Kylie Jenner’s Instagram (sorry, Kylie). I chose to comment with “first” instead of “lb,” because I wanted to direct the likes only to my most recent photo. After commenting, I watched the likes roll in, with about 5 likes from people who didn’t follow me per minute. Teen code says that I was then supposed to like their first photo back, which I tried my best to do. Because Kylie gets tens of thousands of “lb” comments, my comment was quickly lost and the likes dried up after a few minutes. Because of this, I found that it’s better to take a minute or two to go and like other teens’ photos first, and then they’ll return the favour almost instantly.  In order to keep engagement steady, I would go back to Kylie’s comments and like a few teens photos every hour, and get some more in return.

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One of the photos I experimented with, doubling my average likes on Instagram

My goal wasn’t to just get likes on Instagram, because likes from random teens are not valuable to me. Instead, I was trying to generate a short burst of engagement soon after I post in an effort to trick Instagram’s algorithm into promoting my post to the top of my followers’ feeds. And it worked: the posts I tried this with all received 50-120% more likes than my average posts, and I noticed that my Instagram posts had a longer lifespan than usual, with the photos receiving a steady amount of likes for 3-4 days after I posted. Likes on my photos went from around 110 likes per photo to 220+, with only about 20 of those likes from teens, meaning that the vast majority of my Instagram engagement was from my real followers. So while likes from random teens may not be valuable,  if they’re able to help you gain more exposure with your real audience, then it may be a weird Instagram strategy to consider.

Is this the right strategy for you?

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If you’re using Instagram for business, commenting “LB” on a teen’s Instagram photo probably isn’t right for you. Remember: while the activity feature on Instagram may not be a popular feature with adults, it’s still there, and people are able to see what you’re “liking” as a brand. For tips on how to increase Instagram engagement for business, you can check out this blog post. But if you’re using Instagram for yourself, and you really want your followers to see your latest selfie, why not kickstart your post by liking a few teen photos? The adults won’t notice.

Later helps you schedule Instagram posts for optimal times, so you don’t have to rely on Kylie Jenner to succeed. 

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  • Sue B. Zimmerman

    This is not a strategy I would suggest for business – I believe that attracting the right followers is more important that likes and followers who are not your target audience

    • taylorloren

      Hi Sue! I agree, and say the same thing in the post. Nonetheless I think it’s good to learn more about how the younger generation is using Instagram and what they find valuable 🙂

  • Hey Aprill

    This is the craziest, yet most genius Instagram hack ever X_X

    • taylorloren

      so crazy, right!?

  • Chris Prakoso

    LB, ROW 😉 This is brilliant! Congratulations on deciphering the codes! I’m definitely going to try it out today. Thanks for the tip!

  • Gundars Strazdins

    Although a method, that I would rather describe more like a “cheat”, I was thinking how this could help my business account. Didn`t get any answer.
    Personal accounts – some might find it useful, but unless you sell some Skittles or teen clothing, this strategy is pretty dubious.

    • Dave Shrein

      I just spent 5 minutes doing what is described. I was surprised at how many “scenic” photos I could find of teens that I wouldn’t mind showing up in my activity feed. So rather than me, a 34 year old man, liking a picture with some random 16 year old in it, I like a picture they took of a sunset or of a beach vacation… any photo that is consistent with what I routinely like.

      • taylorloren

        that’s a good idea! 🙂 yes – definitely have to be aware of the subject matter

      • Bike Pretty

        ooh, that’s a great tip!

    • taylorloren

      Hi Gundars – yes, as I say, this isn’t the right idea for business. It’s supposed to give more insight into how the future generation is using Instagram instead – will take your feedback into consideration as we try out new content ideas!

  • Kimberly Springer

    Interesting strategy indeed! While some biz owners will knock this tactic I’m keeping my eye on these future marketers. They are on to something whether we like it or not. They know where the traffic is and they know how to position themselves. Now, how to make something like this work for a business? Need to get a focus group going with these geniuses :).

  • Brandon Lumpkins

    Indeed, the reciprocal economy is strong on Instagram, being the first to give a like, personalized comment, and maybe a follow will always yield a positive result to grow your Instagram. However, I wouldn’t recommend this hack for any business or brand simply because it’s no different from buying fake followers or likes — those kids don’t provide value to your business or brand. Even on the premise of “Numbers Do Matter” on social I’d rather pay for a preset amount of followers and likes to increase engagement than spend time liking kids post. That post was insightful but not useful to most businesses and brands.

  • Angie Crabtree

    This is genius. For everyone in the comments saying “Teens are not my target audience” you’ve completely missed the point. The point is that this is a hack to beat the new insta algorithm: it only shows your posts in your followers feeds if they have high engagement initially (and you want your pics to show up in your followers’ feeds because they’re your target market). I actually think the new algorithm is helpful because if I have a photo with high engagement, it will show up in my followers feeds even if they check they’re Instagram hours later. My best strategy when I first started was to post during the time of day when people are typically browsing their instas (for example, during lunch or after work) but now that I have followers from all over the world, it doesn’t work anymore. The new algorithm will help this if used strategically. Thanks Taylor for investigating this.

  • Dakota

    I feel like this article really missed the mark and agree with another commentor who compared this to buying followers or likes. I dislike even the “follow for follow” behavior that many brands engage in. It makes me much LESS likely to follow an account if I see they’re following a thousand-plus people. The “lb” behavior is clearly hard to detect, but I would not follow an account that did that either, regardless of how interesting their product was. Add to that the fact that Kylie herself has asked for the behavior to stop… I’d personally consider it unethical.

    • taylorloren

      Hi Dakota – thanks for your feedback! We’re trying out some new content ideas, so in addition to writing about instagram for business we’re also publishing content about culture and social media. I wrote this post because I thought it’s a super weird phenomenon and some people would be interested in learning more about how the future generation uses Instagram. Will take your feedback into consideration, thanks again for reading! 🙂

  • Everett Warmack

    I work for a nonprofit that actually works with teens. I’d love to chat if anyone has any ideas about how to focus this in on a specific area of teens around one city or in a school.

  • kgal1298

    Yeah this is a hard one to accomplish if you are running certain brands for sure, but never the less good to know.

  • Follow My Gut

    very very interesting hack! But seriously is that what those darn words meant??? I really thought they were saying they liked it or wanted kylie to know they were trying to be the first on her photo. Oh my gut…it’s official…I’m old #joke #notajoke

    • taylorloren

      i thought the same thing!

  • Christine Cravens

    “If you’re using Instagram for business, commenting “LB” on a teen’s Instagram photo probably isn’t right for you.” Isn’t that most of your customer base? Your articles are usually very helpful for my business and a valuable spend of time. This one, however, has me wondering how I’ll ever get those five minutes back.

    • taylorloren

      Hi Christine – thanks for the feedback! Glad to hear you find most of our articles useful 🙂 We’re trying out different types of content, specifically about social media in our culture, which is why this post is different. I value your feedback!

  • Celia

    Interesting post. What happens when you stop “lb”ing on others posts? Are you penalized dropping back to the bottom or does it keep you in a higher bracket for future posts?

    • taylorloren

      I don’t think it penalizes you, because after a few minutes of high engagement your posts will start performing well in the Instagram algorithm organically. At least in my case that’s what happened 🙂

  • taylorloren

    Hi everyone – thanks for your spirited discussion! I just want to emphasize what I wrote in the post, that this strategy isn’t the best one for business, but for your personal account I think it’s interesting. Regardless, I wrote the post because I think it’s a fascinating look into how the future generation uses Instagram. Thanks for your comments! 🙂

  • Megs from Garlic Friday Design

    How scary investigating the mind of a teenager!!! It all sounds super exhausting to me!

  • Alexandra Maria Rodriguez

    And all this time I had the wrong perception of “first”… lol. These teens never ceased to surprise me and maybe it’s time to start imitating them. Thank you for the scope!

  • Robinson Joseph

    Hi, tried it today on @lucierobinsonphoto – looks like it helped but I am uncertain because we have a big dispersion on reactions – and Saturday morning is the best time to post – but looks that it might bring another 15% – 20% more than expected based on photo posted. Thanks a lot and keen waiting another “hacks” – really well spent money… Starting to love the community around Later 🙂

  • Kim Jansen van Rensburg

    Thanks Taylor!

  • Antonio Caggiano

    Hi Taylor, thanks for your post but it doesn’t worked for me as I’m definetely in decrease of engament since the new IG Algorithm was introduced (not sure it it has to do with less followers, ghost followers or what ever). Tried your method using “Lb” and “First” about ten times every hour and the result was that it recognized it as “continuous repeat” and I was blocked for 23 hours so I’ll have to check for other strategies. Many greetings.

    • Robinson Joseph

      Strange thing, Antonio, since I was doing it several times every hour (not writing “lb” but liked the “lb” writers – and not having any penalty at all… Maybe there is more important (as Taylor said) to like them first and wait for their response.

  • Zaakirah

    Wow! I love this! I definitely think teens are always ahead of the game!

  • Imani Talib

    This is awesome! You all have the best posts.

  • Secret Style

    Brilliant tip! To get a bit of engagement why not!

  • Lauren Grebinski

    Hey Taylor! Did you (or anyone reading this) have any problems getting blocked from posting comments on Instagram for 23hours when using this strategy?? I did and I’m wondering if anyone knows how to properly execute without IG blocking you.

  • Tania Michele

    I’m going to give this a try today and see what happens! Thanks for sharing the hack!! xx

  • Drake Nicholson

    Very nice article , Its so interesting reading this kind of article 🙂