Teens Are in a Mad Race for the Most Instagram Followers Possible

It's great for sharing heartwarming photos of your family and pets, but let's face it: For a certain demo, Instagram is simply another front in the lifelong war for social dominance. Who's got the best brunch? Who went on the best vacation? Who's monetizing her #belfies?

Teens are different, though. Teens seem to rack up so many more likes, and they're weirdly attached to hashtags. What gives? What do the #teens know that we don't? Business Insider's Caroline Moss decided to investigate, spending a couple weeks Instagramming like a teen. What she learned is illuminating.

She began by downloading "TagsforLikes," an app apparently popular with youngins that suggests hashtags to add to your pics, making it easier for others to find your photos. The idea: Pick up more followers. But it annoyed her non-teen friends so much that she was losing followers as fast as she gained them.

That's when the hero of the story appears, materializing beside Moss at the bus stop like a 12-year-old Internet wizard. Josh chatted her up about "our generation," then asked what she was Instagramming. Then he dropped some knowledge:

He asked me if I wanted advice, and before I could ask if Joe Weisenthal had planted him at this bus stop, he wanted to know about my cool ratio.

The cool ratio, according to Josh, is when you take the number of people that follow you and you divide it by the number of people you're following.

He told me he was following 46 people but he had 1,400 followers.

"So my ratio is pretty cool," he explained.

Understanding dawned: The point is to rack up as many followers as possible, by hook or by crook. Forget taking chill beach selfies perfectly calibrated to induce maximum envy—just game the system. She started hunting for photos with tags like #followforfollow and began following everyone who'd liked them. Once they followed back, she began systematically unfollowing them. It's not personal—it's just (Internet) business:

Unlike Twitter — where you're more aware of your follower count, who is following you, and when they stop following you — Instagram is a very secluded platform. You can't do much but post photos and click through hashtags and follow and unfollow people. It's not as personal, the relationship building potential is limited, and so teenagers treat it like a contest.

It would be very easy to laugh at teens for such a silly stunt. Then again: It's a healthier approach than a stream of #omg #yum #brunch photos. YOU WIN THIS ROUND, TEENS.

Photo via Donatella Tandelli/Shutterstock.