Instagram follower growth and engagement are down across the board, and that is OK. Brands have been seeing a slow down in their growth and engagement KPI’s for awhile now and that has really accelerated over the past few months. There are various reasons for this that we break down below, but first let’s explain why it doesn’t matter.
First off, Instagram is a storytelling platform where we argue it is about depth and not width. Meaning brands should focus on putting out great looking content that helps convey their story, personality and USP in their vertical and make sure their house is in order and looks attractive when any individual comes to consume them on the platform. The quality of consumption is more important that the quantity here and you want to make sure you don’t send someone backwards in the sales journey. By being dormant, non responsive (meaning pushing out content only but not engaging with users) or pushing out low quality imagery you are actually decreasing your chance of ever transacting with that individual. So your own content and brand side engagement are actually the most important.
Also, Instagram has a great advertising platform and you can specifically target any audience you want with your content. So we tell clients who are freaking out about Instagram follower growth and/or like and comment numbers, that they should really be focused on CPM’s and Click Thru Rates on their Ads. We have talked about the importance and value of paid social here on this blog before and we are seeing CPM’s below $5 on Instagram Ads optimized for video views, which is excellent on a platform where people spend the most time consuming content. I think it is really time for a shift in which KPI’s to focus on.
All of the above being said, we fully understand and respect the concern about engagement and follower growth being down. Let’s take a look at why this is happening:
First off, the user count continues to grow at a torrid pace. As more and more people are using Instagram, there is just more noise and only so much that can show up in feeds. For brands this means that consumers now have a lot of other distractions (more friends, celebrities, brands etc…) and it is just like having more TV channel options….it is harder to get their attention and loyalty because the supply is so high. If a user follows 500 accounts and they each post 1x per day that is 500 posts to sift thru, which just doesn’t happen from the vast majority of users. All the more reason to focus on better imagery and videos, so when they do see it, it is compelling content that they remember.
Also adding to the noise is the rapid increase in businesses using the Ads platform. As they understand the potential of Instagram, they are starting to invest more money there. The downside to each individual account is it eats up some previously available attention, but the upside is that with a small investment you can put your brand into that slot and in front of the right eyeballs, via smart targeting. Brands should be lining up! (and many are…)
Instagram Stories have also eaten up a lot of the platform attention. If each user has only a limited amount of daily time spent on IG, these unique content pieces right at the top will reduce engagements on your photos. Smart Instagrammers post many stories a day to keep their profile appearing at the top and as a direct result less of your followers may actually scroll until they reach your photos.
I explain to clients that Stories are like Netflix. They came on the scene and quickly starting chipping away at attention that was previously spent on IG proper (like traditional TV). Both have a place, but Stories/Netflix have an immediacy to them and are just so easy to access and consume. So our recommendation is that you don’t just shut down and give up. You remain committed to putting out great looking content so the quality is always high AND you experiment with Stories to join them, if you cant beat them. Make sense?
Despite all of the reasoning above, we believe you should still be scrappy and continue trying do whatever you can to capture attention and turn the spotlight on your content and account. This article form Social Media Today offers 7 ways to boost your Instagram Engagement and the key takeaways are:
1. Research and A/B split test your hashtags
2. Be active
3. Tie images in with compelling storytelling
4. Find the Right Time to Post
5. Add a Call to Action
6. Cross Promoting
7. Instagram Ads – Pay to Play
In the end of the day, it is just a shift in POV and time to deploy different tactics. You don’t run from a problem, you assess what you want to have happen and then deploy tactics to help you achieve that end goal. Having more followers and/or an extra hundred likes on your next post are not end goals, right? They are just one way to assess performance, which is quickly becoming outdated. It is like Nielsen Ratings being used to determine advertising rates on TV. An Ad might reach a lot of homes, but does anyone consume it?
Success on Instagram today comes down to great looking, quality content (no screenshots, no low quality or blurry images) depth of engagement (meaning closing our the comments and commentary you actually do get, even if less than before) and targeted exposure (advertising and Influencer and brand collaborations). Focus on these religiously and quality followers, likes and engagement will follow.