We analyzed thousands of Instagram posts published by magazines: here’s what we learned
This post was originally published on September 25th 2017, and was last updated on December 13th 2017.
6 Instagram Best Practices You’ll Want to Test For Higher Engagement
Have you ever had trouble figuring out what works on Instagram?
Many people do.
In this post I’m going to share with you the results of a small scale Instagram research.
Me and my colleagues started this project at the beginning of the year.
We turned to date to uncover which Instagram best practices (if any), should brands follow to make successful Instagram posts
It was the biggest data driven project we’ve ever done and we discovered a few surprising things along the way.
We started out by selecting 15 of the most influential magazine publishers that are on Instagram: Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Allure, Elle, InStyle, Women’s Health, Sports Illustrated, GQ, Maxim, Esquire, Men’s Health.
For 3 months (90 days), we tracked every single detail of every single Instagram post:
- Post type (photo, video, multipost)
- Topic (fashion, sports, food)
- Number of hashtags in description
- Number of mentions in description
- Number of emoji in description
- Day of the week
- Time and date
- Number of likes (after 24h–48h)
- Number of comments (after 24h–48h)
- The daily progress on followers growth
- Instagram stories
After 3 months we had a huge amount of data. We began to dig through it, wondering what Instagram best practices, if followed, would result in high performing posts.
Read on and apply these ideas to your own Instagram content.
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Takeaway #1 The more followers you have, the more you’ll get
We analyzed the accounts of huge publishers.
Naturally they all started with an impressive number of followers.
When we started this project, the average was around 2 million followers/account. We left out Vogue, which dominated at 14 million.
If you look at the graph below you will see a linear growth.
You’ll also notice that the lines don’t overlap.
Why? Because all these Instagram accounts had similar growth rhythms.
None of them went through a drastic change.
Esquire started at the bottom (with 267K followers) and ended at the bottom.
They gained 19.8K new followers in 3 months.
It may sound like a lot if you compare it with the average Instagram account.
Let’s see how that compares with Vogue’s journey.
Vogue started at the top with almost 14M followers, and retained its position.
It gained over 1 million followers in the meantime.
It’s growth rate didn’t plateau during the 90 days that we tracked it for.
It got an average of 14.2K new followers each day.
In other words, Vogue needed only 1 day and a half to gain as many followers as Esquire acquired in 90 days.
The more famous you are on Instagram, the easier it is to attract followers.
This is the result of a combination of factors. First of all, you already know what works and what doesn’t, for your audience.
One other important reason is Instagram algorithm.
After you follow someone on Instagram you get suggestions to follow other accounts.
Big brands with thousands or millions of followers tend to show up as suggestions.
Instagram thinks that these profiles will appeal to you, because they appeal to many.
This creates a sort of a snowball effect that causes big accounts to grow even more.
But Instagram algorithms help big accounts in more than one way.
Since they have a big follower base they will get more likes and comments, because more people will see them.
As a result, Instagram will show their engaging content to even more people on search pages.
If you have a small follower base you may wonder how does this information help you. Don’t be discouraged.
There are things that you can do to grow, to make the mechanism work in your favor:
Focus on brand building and expanding your network. The outcome will be a natural growth. Make Instagram algorithms work in your favor.
Takeaway #2: Celebrity endorsement leads to higher engagement
We took a closer look at the top performing posts for the 15 magazines.
We looked at the number of likes and comments gathered in the 24-48 hours interval after the posts were published.
The clear winner was a picture of the Vogue magazine cover featuring Selena Gomez.
It got the highest number of likes – 309.5K and the highest number of comments as well – 3.6K.
You probably think that Vogue had the most engaging post because they have the biggest audience on Instagram (out of the 15 magazines we analyzed).
While that may have been a contributing factor, we believe that the celebrity featured on the cover was the secret of success.
Everybody knows how successful Selena is on Instagram. She was and still is, the most followed person on Instagram.
She was tagged in the post, so many of her fans liked and commented on the post. This way, some of her success passed on to Vogue.
Then we looked at the second most engaging post in our study, to see if there are any similarities between the posts.
The second most engaging post was a photo of the former president Obama. It was posted by GQ on January 20 as a tribute after Obama’s presidency came to an end.
The only similarity we noticed was that both posts featured a popular personality, though from totally different areas.
Now let’s see how you can apply this principle.
Trends come and go, but there’s one thing that always stays the same: the powerful effect that famous people have on the rest of us. When they endorse a product, it gains instant credibility.
You don’t necessarily need to work with international superstars, actors, politicians or musicians.
You could feature a local celebrity or a person that your target audience is familiar with.
It could be a well-known surfer, a talented athlete from a local team or a fashion blogger.
It’s important to know your target audience, to know what they would appreciate, what makes them engage.
Don’t post any image that you find online. Make sure you have the rights to post that celebrity shot.
Ideally you’ll have a photo in which your product is advertised, or a series of branded photos that can be used on and outside of Instagram.
Takeaway #3: Photos get more likes. Videos get more comments
In our study, the majority of Instagram posts are photos, much like outside of our study.
When we break it down to specific magazines, you can see the tendency of posting pictures, rather than video or other types of material, for most of the followed accounts.
The multi-posts were released on Feb 22, which was mid-project for us. Otherwise, the number of multiple posts might’ve been higher.
You will notice that Sports Illustrated and Men’s Health are the exceptions. Their whole Instagram activity relies on sports, and that requires their posts to capture movement.
So we looked at our data to see what post type had the best results in terms of engagement: photo, video or multi-post.
We calculated the average number of likes and comments for each post type and we realized that photos get more likes, while videos get more comments.
The average number of likes for a photo was 12k, while videos got, on average only 6k likes, so about half.
But things change when we look at comments.
Photos got only 90 comments/post, on average, while videos got about 120 comments. You can see this represented in the graph below.
Let’s face it, there are times when you don’t know whether to post a photo, a video, a boomerang or a multi-post. Luckily, now you know that the answer depends on what you are after.
Takeaway #4: Acknowledge the social and political scene
One of the things that we analyzed was the topic of each post.
We looked closely at the subjects featured in photos and videos, we read descriptions. We identified 10 general topics which represent the majority of the posts: Health & beauty, Food & drinks, Fashion, Travel, Social issues & Politics, Celebrities, Sports, Quotes, Events, and others.
The majority of the posts published by women’s magazines belonged to fashion, celebrity beauty and events.
It was often hard to pick a label because you could often apply multiple labels.
Men’s magazines published posts about sports, celebrities, food and male fashion.
Considering that our study included general lifestyle magazines, the results were not surprising. But there was one thing that did surprise us.
It was the moment when we realized that some of the most engaging posts published by women’s magazines covered political and social topics: feminism, the presidential inauguration ceremony, former president, women’s march.
I didn’t expect these topics to generate such buzz among young women.
Then we look at the most engaging posts published by men’s magazines and (surprisingly) the Fashion category won. But the social and political posts were also highly appreciated.
Based on the engagement we’ve seen on social and political posts, we can tell that these topics appeal to the millennial audience.
This doesn’t mean that you have to start political debates on your Instagram posts, or that you have to publish a lot of posts about these topics. Just learn from these magazines.
They don’t post a lot about these issues, but they don’t ignore them altogether.
I admit that in some cases it would be really weird to see such posts. Just go with your gut and feel free to experiment.
Takeaway #5 There’s no universal right time for posting
There is a correlation between when you post and the number of likes and comments that you’re going to get. We would all like to know what is the best time to post for high engagement.
This was one of the things that we looked into, hoping to find some answers.
We were somehow disappointed because we didn’t reach a definite answer.
These magazines have followers from all over the world, from various timezones. We can only say that for our magazines the optimal interval for posting was between 8 AM and 11 AM (EEST).
One other thing that we noticed was that the highest number of posts was on a Monday, and Monday was also the best day for engagement.
It’s possible that the engagement rate was higher because of the higher number of posts.
However, the best day of the week and the best time of the day may be different for your audience.
If most your followers are from Europe, you should have a different posting schedule than a publisher from America or Asia. You can find out what works for you by posting at different times of day and tracking the engagement.
Another great thing you can do it to check Instagram’s native analytics tool to research your audience.
To see Instagram’s Insights you need to switch your account to a business profile, if you haven’t already.
These insights give you all the information you need to get to know your audience: gender, age range, top locations, the average times your followers are on Instagram on a typical day and the days of the week when your followers are most active. Use this information to shape a posting schedule that is adapted to your audience.
Takeaway #6: Hashtags are not the best way to drive engagement
One of the biggest surprises we had with this study was when we analyzed the use of hashtags and its effects on engagement.
About a third of posts didn’t have any hashtag in the description.
Another 3rd featured only 1 hashtag.
Big publishers don’t use a lot of hashtags because they don’t need them to drive engagement.
We looked at the average number of likes for posts that have no hashtag and compared them with posts that have one hashtag or more.
The results were incredible:
It seems like the presence of hashtags only hurt the engagement.
Let’s keep in mind that our study was based on just 15 magazine publishers that have huge Instagram accounts. Hashtags can drive engagement. But you need to be aware that there are other things that are more powerful in driving engagement.
Your followers will always be more engaged with your content than random people who discover your posts through hashtags.
Vogue didn’t generally use hashtags in descriptions, but they got thousands of likes on their photos because:
- they got millions of followers and
- their content is interesting and relevant for their audience.
Focus on getting more followers, not on using more hashtags.
Don’t follow the herd
Instead of using the same hashtags everybody else is using, why not use Schedugr.am to post your own branded hashtags to the first comment of a post to start a conversation with your audience? After all, the last thing you want is for your branded hashtags to get lost in a sea of general hashtags within the caption of a post.
If you found this interesting and would like to read more, you should read the full report.
Did any of this surprise you? Please let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below.
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