Is Instagram Really The King Of Social Engagement?

Managing a company’s social media footprint is challenging. Even as the landscape sees more consolidation (e.g. WhatsApp), it also sees more diversity and fragmentation. It seems that for every acquisition and merger, 10 new social platforms/networks launch to take their place.

As marketers we’re wired to want to be first, fast, innovative, different, unique and game changing. But, as protectors of a company’s brand and accountable for the success of a company’s efforts in social media, we often need to temper our enthusiasm for being first, with being right. This isn’t an easy balance to maintain. The internal and external pressures are enormous. Nearly every social marketing and content leader I know is inundated with questions from internal stakeholders asking why they aren’t doing X like Y brand or how come they aren’t on Z platform. We need only to look at the number of brands looking to mirror Oreo’s “real time marketing” approach to know, headlines and internal stakeholder questions, drive actions.

There’s nothing like a provocative headline to stir up a high volume of emails from internal and external stakeholders. My inbox the past few days, has been filled up with people wanting my take on Nate Elliott’s latest report, proclaiming, “Instagram Is The King Of Social Engagement.”

Interactions With Brands' Posts - Per Forrester

That’s quite a headline. It’s almost enough to make you drop everything you’re doing in social media and transition all of your dollars and investment to Instagram.

Almost.

At the heart of a great enterprise social media strategy is the ability to answer one simple question, “why?” Yes, a 1 word question. You need to be able to answer why you’re investing in something or why you’re not. The ability to answer why, comes from having a the right filters in place to guide your social strategy.

Before I continue, it’s critical to understand that a solid social strategy can not be created via paint by numbers, nor is it something you can copy and paste from another organization. If twitter works for your organization, great. If Yelp! is critical for your organization, fantastic. What works for us at Walgreens, may not work for your company. We’re also well aware that works great for Red Bull, may not be applicable to us.

When we think about where we need to invest our time, effort, resources and dollars, we ask ourselves 3 simple questions:

  1. Does it have the potential to scale. The operative word is “potential.” Not every social platform scales immediately. And not every social platform that scales immediately has the potential to sustain that scale.
  2. Is it at the perfect intersection of our brand and our customers. It seems simple, but you have to be very honest and critical. “Perfect” is a high bar.
  3. Does the platform allow us to create content that’s:
  • Linked: Discoverable, Connected, Aggregated, Tracked
  • Liquid: Everywhere, All The Time, On Demand, Screen Agnostic, Scalable And Right Sized
  • Loved: Sought Out, Share-Worthy, Memorable

There are certainly other variables we consider, but they’re ancillary to the 3 key questions we ask first.

Being this back to the powerful proclamation that “Instagram Is The King Of Social Engagement”, we didn’t over-react, because we have a great handle on “why.” When I read the headline and accompanying research, I’m perplexed as to why this is news. After all, the law of the web has always been that you can generate high engagement on low volumes. Is that truly any different than knowing that it’s wet when it rains? It’s simply not news.

As I read the original Forrester blog post and then the onslaught of media coverage around that headline, 3 thoughts came to mind:

  1. The base for Instagram brand followers is small. This immediately skews the data. The average brand has under 1,000 Instagram followers, so getting 40 people (4%) to “like” a photo is fairly easy. With FB and twitter, brands often have 100s of 1000s of followers or in our case, millions. With a larger base, the engagement rate always goes down.
  2. “Engagement” has and continues to be a nebulous descriptor. While yes, you can double-tap to like a photo, you can’t click thru to anything in Instagram. If you try to include a link, Instagram converts it to plain-text. If you’re a business that’s not in the business of branding, but rather in the business of direct response, omni-channel retailing, conversions, etc., is liking a photo a valuable engagement? I can’t answer that for you, but it’s a question to ask yourself.
  3. As scale increases, mature ad products become important. For every person who complains about Facebook cutting organic reach to 2%, remember you can pay to reach the other 98%. Also, with Facebook’s advanced targeting, you could choose to pay to reach only a certain audience group. Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms also offer this level of maturity in their ad products. At present ads on Instagram run a brand nearly $1,000,000 a month and similar to when Apple launched iAd, Instagram must approved your ad creative. While these are still early days for Instagram, the data is very clear: advertising on Instagram doesn’t scale efficiently.

The above 3 thoughts, for us, are pretty big. Instagram could be big, it might not be. It might be great for your business, it might not. It might now be right, now, but could be ready in 6 months. Only you have the answer to “why.” But, in a world where page views are monetized, it looks like Forrester and other publications are generating a lot better return on covering this story than most present day efforts by brands in Instagram.

  • Aaron Torchio

    1.) I’m less stingy with my likes on instagram- It’s not the same level of commitment as a “favorite” on twitter. 2.) It’s mechanically easier to “like” things on instagram. I have to touch the screen anyways to scroll photos so what more is a quick double tap. Tapping a small like button on other apps is quite a task with these fat fingers… 3.) I follow less people on instagram making the content more important to me and thus more engaging.

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Digital dad to Cora and John. Love ironing, bourbon and BBQ; no necessarily in that order. Living life, like I stole it. I'm always up for a

spirited conversation. These are my thoughts and ramblings, not those of my employer.
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