Most Instagram photos you see on your feed tend to be shots taken spontaneously – and are in color, or using some sort of artsy filter.
But what about black-and-white images on Instagram? We were curious whether using the black-and-white filter would impact both engagement and impressions. After all, black-and-white photos aren’t the norm on Instagram, and they stand out compared to full-color images or ones using creative Instagram filters.
In reading tons of articles, I couldn’t find either a definitive opinion or any data to support using black-and-white rather than color photos, so my hypothesis was based on my observations.
Hypothesis: Black-and-white photos on Instagram receive more Likes than color photos.
Setting Up the Black-and-White vs Color Photos on Instagram Experiment
To gather data for this test, I used 3 Instagram accounts:
- @Agorapulse —our company account with 7,288 followers
- @Scottayres — my personal account with 8,345 followers
- @BadassSemiTrucks — an entertainment account I own with 4,537 followers
Instagram Business Accounts
They are all business accounts on Instagram, so I get all the Insights I need., The Instagram social media accounts are very diverse, so we can draw a more concise conclusion. One of the worst things you can do in your research is to study just one type of account and assume your findings apply to everyone.
Instagram Posting Schedule
Over a month, I posted a combination of color andas well as black-and-white photos on all three Instagram accounts. We will have data for 42 photos of each type total.
For the @Agorapulse and @Scottayres accounts, I didn’t use the same hashtags on each post or didn’t use them at all. On the @BadassSemiTrucks account, I used the same hashtags on every post.
I did this to remove any anomalies that might arise in such a test. Meaning I didn’t want a particular hashtag to skew the results due to its’ popularity. When I gathered the data, I found the hashtags had no bearing on the data, which is good news.
I used Agorapulse to schedule posts to the @Agorapulse and @Scottayres account, but I manually posted all pics to the @BadassSemiTrucks account. This was done to also remove any hearsay or anomalies that might be suggested or assumed based on how Instagram handles posts from apps vs. posting natively via mobile.
Data Comparing Color and Black-and-White Instagram Photos
Instagram allows business profiles to pull some great data from their posts:
To make things clearer, you need to know that:
- Impressions are the total number of times a post is seen (which can be more than once by the same user).
- Reach is the number of unique users that saw the post.
In digging through the details, we find 6 people saw this post because of hashtags, looking at the Insights from each post this was about the average, regardless of the account. This also furthers my thoughts that hashtags weren’t going to sway the data here since I wasn’t using hugely popular hashtags such as #socialmedia or #instagram etc.
For this social media experiment, I gathered data for Impressions, Reach, Likes, and Comments.
Impressions and Reach though aren’t what we’ll use to draw a conclusion, but it’s interesting data to view and compare in this test. Instead we will base that on the number of Likes. We want to know whether the difference in filter drives engagement, after all the more your followers engage with your content the more they’ll see your content in the future.
Here’s the averages of each data set per account for an overall look:
- Likes: 85.25
- Comments: 5
- Impressions: 694.31
- Reach: 540.75
- Likes: 66.62
- Comments: 1.54
- Impressions: 690.69
- Reach: 531.92
- Likes: 85.46
- Comments: 0.77
- Impressions: 739.54
- Reach: 556.92
- Likes: 66.75
- Comments: 3.31
- Impressions: 632.38
- Reach: 487.56
- Likes: 56.38
- Comments: 0.92
- Impressions: 573.69
- Reach: 438.62
- Likes: 68.23
- Comments: 0.77
- Impressions: 640.54
- Reach: 487.38
As the data demonstrates, color photos on each account performed better.
When we combine the data for all 3 accounts, we get the following data:
- Likes: 79.11
- Comments: 2.44
- Impressions: 708.18
- Likes: 63.79
- Comments: 1.67
- Impressions: 615.54
- Reach: 471.19
Color photos got 24% more Likes and 46.11% more comments.
They also got 15% more Impressions and 15.28% more Reach.
Conclusion: Instagram Color Photos Receive More Likes
You’ll recall our hypothesis was: Black-and-white photos on Instagram receive more Likes than color photos.
The results of our social media experiment proved that the hypothesis was incorrect. On Instagram, color photos got more Likes (as well as higher Reach, Impressions and Comments)
The results were similar on all 3 accounts.
When to Use Black and White Instagram Photos
Black-and-white photos do have their place and should be used in certain circumstances. A lot of that will depend on your account.
For example, an art-based account might do well with black and white. Or your branding color palette may be a sophisticated black, white, and gray. Or you’ve developed products that are best featured in black and white. Or if all you ever posted was black and white, you would have an audience built around it. (Insert example here)
A word of caution: Black-and-white photos can be somber and provide a completely different effect than the one desired.
Recently, I posted the following black-and-white image to the Agorapulse account. (I had posted the same photo in color in summer 2018.) Someone commented that they thought it was a tribute post to Ben, our co-founder, and that he had passed away!
The user deleted their comment after I clarified he was very much alive and well!
Black-and-white is somber to some people and perhaps suggests an “In memory of” type photo.
Want to learn more about our Instagram experiments? In our never- ending quest to figure out what works best on Instagram, we at the Social Media Lab have tested hashtags, Instagram stories, and even emojis.
Our results have been quite revealing and hopefully helped you, the social media marketer, get ahead of your competition.