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Instagram Matures for Brand Engagement

Instagram had a huge year in 2014. Though Facebook and Twitter remain leading platforms for marketers, Instagram is increasingly becoming the go-to social visual space.

Instagram made a splash late last year when they surpassed the 300 million user mark. As brands have picked up on the platform’s po­pularity – and ability to galvanize enthusiasts of everything from travel to fashion to adventure seeking – it was only a matter of time before Instagram became more marketer-friendly.

Last week, the photo sharing app announced carousel ads, giving brands and advertisers more flexibility in telling their stories by allowing people who view their ads to swipe left for additional images and eventually link to a mobile site from the brand (to date, URLs were just plain text, not dynamic). Instagram differs from its predecessors because it offers the elements of a high-end magazine. Stunning images and enough commenting space to tell a real story are making the platform a truly indispensable storytelling venue.

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Of course, Instagram is not just a photo-sharing app. They have normal and Hyperlapse video functions, as well, and users are taking notice. 6% of all Instagram posts were videos in 2014. That may not sound like much, but it's a 600% growth rate year-on-year. We took a look at more than 2,000 brand, media, and celebrity profiles and analyzed over 600,000 brand and media posts to get a clear picture of 2014 on Instagram.

According to the data, celebrities received 3× more interactions than the most engaging brands. Notice here that the top brands and media are garnering similar levels of interactions. With so much talk about the changes in the News Feed on Facebook, this demonstrates that Instagram is somewhat of an equalizer among other platforms in terms of interactions.

In terms of posts, media pages generate more content than celebrities and brands. But what post types, hashtags, and filters are contributing to the success of the best?

Branded Content

Despite videos being the hottest thing on social, photos are still the most uploaded/common content post type, and garner the highest volume of interactions – 13% on average.

Most Popular Filters

81% brands’ photos are posted under a normal filter (#nofilter) – which indicates that they're probably already touched-up or altered in another third party program before being uploaded to Instagram. Importantly, it also shows that brands care more about the network than the actual photo-editing capabilities. Brands know their Instagram followers are more interested in beautiful images that tell a story than any filter or shadow alterations.

Here’s a look at the breakdown by most used photo filter. It should be noted that the last five named filters were only recently added.

Across industries, Services, Alcohol, Auto, Retail, and Beauty use more filters than any other industry. Brands also stylize their videos with filters, but even less often than they do with photos – just a mere 10% of the time.

Instagram Users Like to Read

Filters can enhance photos and videos, but one of the coolest features on Instagram is the space for the description text accompanying the content. According to Jenn Herman, one of the top 10 social media bloggers of 2014 and 2015 as ranked by Social Media Examiner, Instagram limits both captions and comments to 2200 characters. Hence why Instagram serves as an excellent profile extension for media and brands alike.

Instagram users clearly do not mind reading a bit.

  • A post this long performs the best, overall
  • But, a post this long performs pretty well too. A bit longer, for sure (it can even be this long).
  • The thing is, posts that are this long, or even two or three times longer, still see really good engagement levels. Instagram followers seem to be so enthusiastic about the things they follow that they're more than willing to read a bit to learn more about the image or video they're seeing.

What about #hashtags?

Hashtags allow images to be categorized, increasing exposure and improving searchability. It's the new age of word-of-mouth advertising, on a publicly trackable platform. About a quarter of brand posts do not use a hashtag, but about half use 1 to 3. There's a pretty steep drop-off until you get to the hashtag spam zone of more than 20.

The Takeaway

By any measure, Instagram is now a major player in the social space. As we've written before, marketers will move towards engaged audiences. That’s why Instagram is so appealing. Beyond impressive interaction numbers, there is clearly a valuably invested quality of audience on the network.

The key is to incorporate Instagram into your social strategy in a way that plays to the network’s stren­gths. Post photos and videos that tell a story and feel free to provide context. Our numbers on text length show that Instagram followers are very willing to read about a how a post came to be – so use that space well!

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