Instagram Analytics: 6 Metrics You Must Track (And 2 You Don’t)
October 5, 2015 • 9 min read
Updated on November 17, 2018
I’m in my early thirties, but Instagram can still count me as one of their 400m users. That said, to the never ending taunts from my younger colleagues, I’m not what you would call a regular user of the app. They, on the hand, are constantly Instagramming, tagging friends, regramming, following celebrities (and the occasional brand) and interrupting others doing their work to show them the latest 9gag post.
If my colleagues are anything to go by, this behavior is typical of an Instagram user. According to one study, researchers concluded that as much as 90% of Instagram’s users are under the age of 35. From our own research at Unmetric, we also know that Instagram users are hyper-engaged compared to other social networks. Brands have found a kind of social nirvana on the app where they generate engagement that makes Facebook and Twitter look like MySpace in comparison.
Instagram is still taking baby steps towards fully embracing the brand tsunami that awaits it, and many metrics that we’re used to on older social networks are not present on the app. While we wait for the day when Instagram welcomes brands (and their respective analytics teams) with open arms, here are six great metrics that you should be tracking on Instagram right now.
1. Growth Rate
The number of followers is not important, but the growth rate certainly is. It’s an indication of the health of your Instagram strategy. Gaining followers means that your strategy is working and people are interested in your content. Maintaining or losing followers is a sign that everything isn’t hunky dory with your strategy – in fact it’s turning people off!
You shouldn’t be looking at your growth rate in a vacuum, either. You might be adding 240 new followers every day, but if your competitor is doing three times that number then you might need to go back to the drawing board!
It’s normal for brands with a higher number of followers to have lower growth rates than brands with fewer followers. If the inverse is true, then it warrants special attention as in the case of Mercedes-Benz USA. They lead the field in terms of community size but more importantly, they are maintaining a growth rate that many brands would be envious of.
Counting interactions is great for an internal benchmark against your own efforts. You can keep a track of how many Likes and Comments your content is getting and use that data to create more of the stuff that gets results.
Comparing the number of interactions against another brand is a slippery slope though, which is why calculating engagement might make more sense for some brands.
Wait. Hold on. Interactions IS engagement, isn’t it? Well, you could say that, but we prefer to think of it a little bit differently. Counting interactions is great for benchmarking your own efforts or against brands with very similar follower numbers but not so great for benchmarking as a whole.
There are two schools of thought on calculating engagement. One way most people calculate it is to total up all the interactions and divide it by the number of followers. This gives you the engagement rate as a percentage of your followers.
The way Unmetric likes to think about engagement is to say that a Comment is more valuable than a Like. Often people are using Comments to tag their friends which notifies them about content and in turn increases the reach of the image. Getting more Comments is great for a brand’s reach, so Unmetric gives Comments more value in the engagement score calculation.
Ultimately though, the way many brands or agencies calculate engagement is likely to be the one that makes their efforts look the best. Mercedes-Benz USA will almost certainly be showing the number of interactions they get, while Subaru of America is likely to use the the engagement rate, and Lexus USA might choose to showcase Unmetric’s engagement score as a measure of its success.
4. Hashtag Usage
Hashtags are the social currency of users and brands alike. Unfortunately we can’t track the number of users that have used a specific hashtag like we can in Twitter. However, hashtags are the anchor for any brand campaign that is run nowadays.
By monitoring and collating the posts that feature specific hashtags, you can build up an idea of campaigns that have resonated well and those that bombed. Generic hashtags might also give an indication of the type of content that fans really appreciate as well.
Images with the hashtags #Sunset, #Elegance, #Style and #Performance were loved by Jaguar USA’s followers
By monitoring the hashtag usage of other brands, you might also be able to pick up some of the complex Instagram lingo that has spawned on the site. Perhaps your competitor is a little faster on the uptick but that doesn’t mean you have to get left behind if you keep track of their hashtag usage.
Mercedes uses the hashtag #instacar and #carsofinstagram which are both very popular with the car community on the app
5. Time of Day to Post
The time of day to post made this list but not for the reason you might think.
It makes my blood boil when I see well respected blogs talk about the best time to post on social media. As if there is some magical, universal time when every brand gets the best engagement. I’ve vowed to write about it, and one day, maybe I will. In the meantime I will say this: In my opinion the best time to post depends entirely on your own brand, not on an aggregate metric.
Sidenote: Yes, before any smart-Aleck come along and ask if I’ll post at 4am in the morning, let me preface it with: post at a time when common sense dictates.
Mercedes-Benz saw its best engagement on Sundays, but by comparison, Nissan got better engagement on Mondays. Both brands posted frequently enough that it smoothed out any anomalies.
Mercedes-Benz USA saw a marginal uptick in engagement on Sundays
It really didn’t matter when Nissan posted, because they got about the same amount of engagement regardless of when they posted.
Nissan got great engagement all days of the week but it was fractionally better on Mondays
Even when you break it down by time of day, the charts reveal that engagement is unique to each brand. Aggregating this data is going to remove the subtleties from which we can actually draw insights.
So further to my side note above about using common sense for posting times, Mercedes-Benz USA does actually get better engagement at 4am and 6am EST – but does that mean all brands will get the same result or does it mean that it really doesn’t matter when you post, great content will always get great engagement?
However, what the chart above has revealed is something about Mercedes-Benz’ posting strategy. They are regular as clockwork posting at 8am, 1pm, 5pm and 10pm EST. Now, do they get good engagement at 10pm because they post at 10pm or because they post most content at 10pm? Perhaps it’s because they are being regular with their content and fans know when to expect the next image from Mercedes-Benz.
From the morning, to in the late afternoon. Nissan USA stuck to its posting schedule and saw about the same amount of engagement regardless of what time of day it was posted.
Something else that many people overlook when looking at the best time of day to post is to go back and see what happened in the past. For example, during a live event like the Super Bowl, was engagement higher or lower before, during or after the match? On Thanksgiving, did engagement dip or did it go up when you posted content later in the afternoon? Were people engaging with Black Friday content first thing in the morning or later on during the day?
There’s plenty of data that you can get about posting time, just don’t expect there to be some universal best time to post that applies to all days of the week and for all brands. Use the data to see what works for your own brand or look at historical data to see patterns around specific events.
If you are concerned that you won’t be available to publish content around the clock or at the time when history says was a good time, consider an Instagram scheduling tool. There are plenty available and a quick Google search will surface some good options.
Branding is all well and good but ultimately everyone higher up the corporate food chain will want to see results from all this effort. Although you don’t need to add links to every post (of the 2,000 posts from the 11 US Auto brands we analyzed, 30% had links) there are some creative ways that you can make sure a link is given.
You can then track the traffic from Instagram in your Google Analytics account. By adding relevant UTM codes to each link you can even track down which image is sending the most traffic and converting the best.
Oh, and if you do want to send traffic back to your website from Instagram, do everyone a favour and make sure it’s optimized for mobile!
What’s not so important?
As with all things digital, social media has a tendency to throw up a million different metrics. It’s all too easy to become bogged down with analysis paralysis, a real and debilitating problem where you just don’t know where to start.
Disclaimer: It has to be said that the two metrics mentioned below are just my personal opinion and certainly not Unmetric’s official stance. Plenty of people within our own office – and even on my team – disagree with me but that’s what makes Unmetric a great place to be for data nerds, we argue passionately about this stuff with each other!
If you strongly agree or disagree, you can tweet me @peterclaridge.
Now, with all that said…
1. Number of Followers
Yawn! This isn’t 2011 any more and no one is winning any prizes for having more followers than anyone else. (Actually one forward thinker was saying this as far back as 2010). There’s always going to be a business that has more followers than you and actually it might even be better if you had fewer followers. Focus on engaging your existing set of followers better than your competitor but keep a check on your growth rates for the reasons mentioned in point 1.
Guess what? The big brands have all figured out that a great Instagram filter doesn’t automatically mean an exponential number of Likes or Comments. Almost all brands will upload their photos without applying a filter and generate great engagement.
Charts like the one below are great for showing you the breakdown of how brands use filters. Some brands will stick to a few specific filters while others will use a different filter every now and then. However, even though it looks like Sierra gets the highest engagement, only three posts out of 5,200 used it, so there’s really not enough data to say auto brands should use this filter.
It’s true that Yahoo did a study on 7.6m public photos (which may or may not have included brand photos) and found that filters that increased the contrast and correct exposure (eg. light manipulation) helped photos get better engagement.
It’s highly likely that all the brands that upload photos with a ‘normal’ filter are editing and color correcting the photos in something like Photoshop before uploading so they don’t need to add any other filter.
Future of Instagram Metrics
In the future we’re expecting to see impression and reach data from Instagram much like we get from our Facebook page Insights tab. At Unmetric, we’re also building out our capabilities to provide deeper levels of analysis on the content and strategies of brands to offer more insights to guide your own Instagram strategies.
Use the form below if you want to get some Insta analytics on your own brand and track how your competitors are doing.