There's no shortage of advice on the internet regarding how to be popular. The challenge is piecing it all together. Here is a summary of the top ten Google search results. The good news? All ten suggest popularity can be improved. The bad news? There is no true consensus how.
I f you're reading this article, chances are you wish you had more in common with the "in crowd." That's not surprising. People who are popular seem to have it all—looks, friends, style, talent, influence...
As you probably already noticed, there's no shortage of advice on the internet regarding how to be popular. The challenge is trying to piece it all together in a way that makes sense. So to make your life easier, I've gone through the top ten Google search results on how to be popular and summarized the main recommendations below.
The good news is all ten authors suggest popularity can be improved. They all agree that by adopting certain attitudes and behaviors, while avoiding others, anyone can give their social status a boost. The exact attitudes and behaviors, however, vary from one article to another.
Before we get to the “how” of popularity, though, let’s first look at what it really means to be popular.
O f the top ten articles on the subject, only one provides a clear definition of the term popularity. According to Amanda Haworth, a popular person is "someone who is admired, appreciated, loved, and is someone who others want to hang out with" (5). This view—that popularity involves being well-liked and having lots of friends—is also supported by most of the other articles on the list.
For example, one WikiHow article states: “if you want to become popular, focus on being a likable person who others genuinely want to be around” (2). In a similar vein, Stephanie Vozza claims popular people “are held in esteem by others [and] have a large social circle” (9). And according to clinical psychologist Dr. Randi Gunther, popular people are “socially desirable,” possessing the ability to “attract and excite others” (4).
Of all the views of popularity expressed above, Dr. Gunther’s is unique because it introduces yet another characteristic of popular people—not only are they well-liked, they also “excite” others. Unfortunately, not much is said about the exact manner in which popular people excite others and none of the remaining articles specifically refer to this trait. Perhaps the most closely related idea mentioned is that popular kids are usually perceived by others as “cool” (5, 7, 10).
The one exception to the view that being liked is central to being popular is found in an article by Jeff Goins. Although he starts by acknowledging a link between being popular and being liked, he arrives at a refreshing conclusion not shared by any of the other authors. According to Goins, when we stop trying so desperately to be liked, we begin to realize that popularity “isn’t about people liking [us] at all” (7). He suggests it has more to do with leaving a mark and making a difference by doing the work we were born to do—no doubts, no questions, no apologies. Bet you never thought of popularity like that!
A careful reading of the articles reveals a few other defining features of popularity. For example, public recognition is considered important (1, 2, 7). According to one WikiHow article, however, being popular is not just a matter of being known; it’s also about knowing many people on a personal level and being on good terms with them. Being accepted (7, 9) and respected (2, 6) are also presented as key components of popularity.
Now for the million dollar question—how do you become popular?
Most of the top-ranked articles suggest that at the very least you need people to like you. But before that can happen, you first need them to notice you. So how about we start there?
I f you want other kids to notice you, the advice from three of the top-ten articles is to get more involved at school (1,2, 10). For example, you could join a team or club. One of the articles actually suggests you do both in order to meet a wider cross-section of people (1). The article How to Become the Coolest Girl at School takes it a step further. The authors recommend that you “try to do an after-school activity every day if possible” (10). You’re probably thinking, “That’s a lot!” but according to one WikiHow article, the more activities you’re involved in, the greater your chances of being seen and known (1).
Can’t decide which activities to get involved in? A few authors suggest choosing those that you genuinely like even if they seem “too nerdy” (1, 10). On the other hand, one WikiHow article suggests you might get better results if you join clubs that the popular kids are already involved in (2). That way, you’ll have more opportunities to rub shoulders with them and hopefully get their attention.
Can good grades increase your popularity at school? Apparently, it can! According to a few of the articles reviewed, actively participating in class and scoring well on tests won’t just earn you points with the teachers. It can also help you earn positive attention and respect from your peers (1, 10).
Of course, your efforts to be noticed need not stop at the end of class. Based on the recommendations from several authors, you actually increase your chances of becoming popular when you get more involved in activities outside of school. For example, you can attend parties, school dances, sporting events, pep rallies, and the like (1, 2, 9). You can also take the initiative to host social gatherings yourself (5).
Another way to get people to notice you is to work on your personal appearance. Did someone say makeover? Oh yes they did! According to three of the authors, changing your hair, makeup, and wardrobe can help you turn a few more heads than you usually do (1,2,10). But they all have a word of caution—don’t go wild! Your hair should be kept well-groomed and your makeup tasteful.
As for clothes, it certainly helps to find trendy pieces that are in style. But based on what one article says, there’s no need to copy what everyone else is doing, especially if it doesn’t feel right to you (1). Instead, it is suggested that you find a look that makes you comfortable and when you do, own it!
When it comes to popularity, getting noticed is just one piece of the puzzle. Most of the top ten articles say you’ve also got to work on being liked, accepted, respected, and “cool.” To do that, you’re going to need the right set of personality traits and excellent social skills.
C onfidence seems to ranks high on the list of traits necessary for popularity (1, 2, 4, 10). Suggestions for building self-confidence include getting in shape, eating healthy, practicing good hygiene (10), becoming good at a particular skill (1, 5), and learning to love yourself (1). Of course, if none of that works right away, the advice from one author is to simply “fake it till you make it”(1).
A related trait that is also recommended is boldness. According to one WikiHow article, becoming popular is going to require that you “take a few chances” in order to be seen and make friends (1). Jeff Goins agrees that to be popular we need to be “daring” and “fearless,” but for a different reason. Unlike the authors of the WikiHow article, he doesn’t see boldness as necessary for getting attention and making friends—quite the opposite! He believes we need boldness to actually stop caring so much about being seen and liked. According to Goins, when we stop worrying about our status we are free to be ourselves, take risks, and create a legacy, which he believes is the basis of popularity. It is this indifference to what other people think of us that Goins believes requires boldness.
Another personality trait you might want to develop is positivity (4, 10). As one article plainly states, “no one wants to be friends with someone negative” (10). According to Amanda Haworth, when you maintain a positive attitude and avoid a complaining, pessimistic one, people are more likely to enjoy your company (4).
One way to be more positive is to cultivate a good sense of humor. According to Haworth, this will help others feel at ease around you (4). Having a good sense of humor is more than simply telling jokes and laughing at those told by others. According to Tejvan Pettinger, it also involves “not [taking] ourselves too seriously” (6). One article suggests that even when someone makes a nasty comment about you, it’s best to “laugh it off, pretend that it wasn’t hurtful at all, and be bubbly” (10). The article claims that in such a situation, people will appreciate the fact that you are able to laugh at yourself...but not all the other authors agree.
Laughing off a mean comment and pretending it’s not an issue would be considered a very passive response by Amanda Haworth. She describes people who do this sort of thing as peacekeepers—they try to avoid conflict in order to keep the peace. On the other hand, peacemakers are not afraid of confrontation. They take active steps to resolve conflicts instead of letting everything slide. Haworth suggests that if you want to be popular, you should aim to be a peacemaker instead of a peacekeeper as this will help you to form healthier, more lasting friendships.
Of course, there are several other personality traits that would serve you well on your quest for greater popularity. Other traits recommended in the top ten articles are empathy, openness to new ideas (4), charm (8), charisma (3), and an easygoing nature (5).
A lthough personality is important, nine of the ten articles also suggest sharpening your interpersonal skills if you want to increase your popularity. Being friendly and building relationships are considered essential for success (1,2,3,5,10). Most of the authors seem to agree that the key to forming new relationships is being kind to others and making them feel valued (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9,10).
While the encouragement from most of these articles is to simply make new friends, the article How to Become the Coolest Girl at School suggests a more focused approach. The authors recommend that you make friends with kids who are already popular and that you try to have as many popular girl friends as popular guy friends.
Now I know what you’re going to say: “Making friends is hard!” But take it easy for a sec. Most of the authors make it clear that you can develop strong interpersonal skills if you are willing to put in the effort. Here are some of their main recommendations:
Nine of the ten articles say you should try to start conversations with other people. Ramit Sethi and Stephanie Vozza both provide clear examples of how to do this. They suggest using a simple opening line, introducing yourself, asking questions, and continuing the discussion based on what the other person says (3, 9). As for the content of the discussion, some of the other authors warn against controversial topics such as religion and politics (1), expressing fixed or rigid ideas (4), and speaking negatively about people or things in general (5).
If you want to become one of the popular kids in school, the advice from several authors is to be mindful of your body language (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10). The WikiHow article How to Be Popular says instead of hunching, you should “walk with your head high and your arms at your sides instead of crossed over your chest” (1).Although there are many other ways of improving your body language, there’s no need to go crazy with it. Rather than worrying about your foot direction, or how straight your back is, Ramit Sethi recommends focusing on a few simple actions that people pay more attention to. These include smiling more, speaking slower, using appropriate hand gestures, maintaining good eye contact, and increasing the energy of your voice and movement (3).
Three of the ten articles emphasize authenticity as a key part of becoming more popular (1,4,5). This trait may be expressed in two ways, one of which involves being your true self. Several of the articles recommend that you “be yourself for real” (1), “let your personality show” (2) and be your “natural self” (6). One author even advises against trying to be popular, claiming that when you try to impress others you end up hiding your real self and “pretending to be someone you are not” (6). This, he says, produces an “insincerity in [your] thoughts and actions” which others will be able to detect. On that note, the second way you can be authentic is by showing sincere interest in others. Dr. Randi Gunther claims you should be “genuinely interested” in other people and approach with a “genuine desire” to get to know them (4). Amanda Haworth suggests you should be “genuinely nice” (5) and both Ramit Sethi and Brian Tracy say you should offer “genuine compliments” to others (3, 8). Showing genuine interest also involves paying attention to other people, listening to their concerns, showing empathy, and offering help (5). If you’re not sincere in doing these things, your peers will likely pick it up and you may be labeled as “fake” (5).
Are you on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat? Of course you are! Social media is an integral part of life in the 21st century. Interestingly, only two of the top ten articles comment on this form of social interaction but they both claim that it’s a great way to improve popularity. The article How to Be a Popular Girl suggests joining the platforms that are most commonly used by your schoolmates. This will give you more opportunities to find out what matters to them, interact with them, and build new relationships (2).
Although the two articles encourage the use of social media, they give very different advice on how it should be done. One suggests you should “take plenty of pictures and post them right away,” making sure to “show that you can make cute camera poses” (10). By contrast, the author of How to Be a Popular Girl believes you should focus on having meaningful interactions when your peers are online.
W hile you might be eager to try out the suggestions above, you must be careful not to go overboard. All ten articles encourage some form of moderation. So while you want to be friendly, you should try not to come across as “too pushy” (10). While you want to be “nice,” you don’t want to seem like a “pushover” (5). And though you want to be cool, “don’t try to act really cool” says one article or others will see right through your efforts. According to Jeff Goins, the key is to “stop trying so hard” (7).
Tejvan Pettinger states that popular people are “effortlessly popular.” Goins suggests this is part of what makes them seem “cool” (7). So the last thing you want to be is desperate. As Dr. Randi Gunther shows, trying too hard may be seen as a sign of insecurity (4), which can drive people away.
All ten articles suggest you likely need to make changes if you want to increase your popularity. However, some changes are not recommended. For example, one author advises that you not sacrifice “something big like your morals” just to please others. You are also warned against taking extreme physical risks just to grab attention (1), and against potentially harmful behaviors like bullying, gossiping, smoking and drinking alcohol (2, 5). The goal, according to Dr. Gunther, is to improve on the person you already are; not to change into someone else (4).
B ased on what we’ve gleaned from the top ten articles, it’s clear that popularity is a very subjective concept. Yet, we assume that when we say someone is “popular” everyone understands what we mean...and that their understanding is the same as ours. That may be one of the reasons nine out of the ten authors did not even bother to include a definition of the word. It almost seems unnecessary to define a term that is so commonly used and, we assume, universally understood.
But are we always on the same page when it comes to our definition of popularity? Having examined some of the top-ranked articles online, it’s clear the answer is no. True, there are some aspects of popularity that the majority of the authors agree on. For example, most of them believe being well-liked is essential to being popular. There is also a general agreement that to be liked, you need to get noticed, develop good social skills and not try too hard. But as we’ve seen, the authors don’t always agree on how to achieve these goals. Quite a bit of trial and error may therefore be needed to figure out which recommendations work best for you.
One recurring piece of advice given by several authors is to “be yourself” (1, 2, 6, 10). But this appears to contradict much of the other advice that they themselves give. Think about it. If you follow some of the basic suggestions—let’s say you start smiling more than usual, you change the way you dress, and you start making a greater effort to meet people—then clearly, you’re no longer just “being yourself.” Whether you admit it or not, you are actually changing who you are, who you’ve been for a long time, in order to become popular. And I would dare to argue that if simply “being yourself” was getting you the results you wanted, you probably wouldn’t have spent the last few minutes reading this article.
Based on all the advice reviewed, it appears popularity is more about balance than anything else. There always seems to be a “but”—be nice but not too nice, be helpful but not too helpful. It’s clearly a balancing act. But how do you know when you’ve hit the spot, when you’ve done just enough to reach your goal and any further effort will just send you over the edge? None of the authors really touch on this. Maybe it’s not something they can teach you but something you have to learn on your own—like riding a bicycle. Everyone tells you to balance, but ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out how to do it.
As far as figuring things out go, Amanda Haworth offers an interesting suggestion. She recommends “studying highly popular Hollywood creations like superheroes” in order to learn how to be popular (5). As she acknowledges, superheroes are generally “nice.” But what about the other characters we generally associate with popularity—characters like Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl) and Regina George (Mean Girls)? Would imitating their behaviors also make you popular? You may be inclined to think so but most of the articles suggest otherwise.
The popular girls in movies and TV shows are usually portrayed as dominant and superficial at best, and snobbish and vindictive at worst. But according to the advice of several authors, traits such as these are best avoided if you want to be popular. For example, it is recommended that you avoid bragging (1), gossiping (2, 5), bullying (2), sarcasm (4), and egotism (4, 6). So where does that leave us? Should we conclude that the onscreen portrayal of popularity is grossly inaccurate? Or have these authors simply chosen to neglect this less than savory side to popularity? Clearly, this is an area that needs further consideration.
Another aspect of popularity that does not receive much attention in the top ten articles is the perception of being “cool.” According to Jeff Goins, the only author who delves into the topic, we describe people as cool when “they do their work effortlessly,” when they seem to be popular without even trying (7). The reason for this, he explains, is that they don’t compete for attention or worry about what other people think of them. They don’t try to fit in with the status quo nor do they apologize for who they are (7). But while these behaviors might make you seem cool from the standpoint of Goins, will they also make you well-liked?
The other articles encourage you to give thought to how you are perceived by others...a lot of thought actually. You are urged to seek attention and try to fit in with the “populars.” It appears then, that the things you need to do in order to be liked are the very things that could prevent you from being “cool.” Is it possible to find a balance? Or do these traits simply reflect different “forms” of popularity from which you have to choose...either you’re popular because you’re well-liked or you’re popular because you’re cool?
In her article, Amanda Haworth makes an interesting observation—“‘nice’ people often seem to lack friends, while the ‘cool’ people...become the popular ones.” But who are the people we usually consider “nice?” Aren’t these the type of people who are kind, friendly, empathetic and helpful? And aren’t these the same types of traits most of the authors say will cause you to be well-liked? How is it then that the “nice” people often lack friends? Is Haworth’s observation incorrect? Or could it be that being well-liked is actually not the key to being popular? Is being “cool” the answer?
These are just some of the many questions that are left to be explored. For all we’ve learned from these articles, there’s probably twice as much we still don’t know. Perhaps the biggest drawback common to all ten articles is that they fail to take into account the dynamic nature of popularity. We are led to believe that by following the advice of the authors, anyone can improve their social status. But is that really true? Would the advice given in these articles apply equally well to males and females, Eastern and Western cultures, high school and college students? Quite likely no, but unfortunately, this is not addressed in any of the articles.
By now you would realize that there is no easy answer to the question of how to be popular in school. It really depends on who you ask. Another thing to bear in mind is that there are simply no guarantees. Popularity comes and it often goes. But if you take nothing else away from these articles, at least take the optimism of the authors. Keep working hard to reach your goal and maybe, just maybe, you will one day ‘crack the code’ to becoming the most popular kid in school!
For more information, check out our FAQ on Popularity, ‘Some Questions Answered’.
Kaye-Anne Thompson holds a masters degree in clinical psychology and has taught undergraduate psychology. In recent times, Kaye has joined her husband as a full-time writer for a number of established psychology websites.
Kaye-Anne Thompson holds a masters degree in clinical psychology and has spent several years conducting psychological assessments of students in her home country, Jamaica.
She has also taught in the undergraduate psychology program at two local universities and served as a member of the Special Education Unit in the Ministry of Education.