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One of the most popular recurring questions in digital marketing communities (such as our Analytics for Marketers Slack group) is whether X or Y platform’s engagement rates have changed. After nearly a decade of urging, brands have taken engagement to heart as the primary measure of success; what percentage of a company’s reachable audience has engagement with content?

Over the past month, the question of engagement rates has increased in frequency, so we knew it was time to take a peek under the hood. What’s going on with Instagram brand engagement rates?

Methodology

We extracted a list of 3,637 brands on Instagram early in 2019 for our state of social media report, and re-used that same list. Here’s some details about the methodology and dataset:

  • Accounts vary by size from a mean follower count of 12,451 at the low end to a mean follower count of 8.53 million at the high end.
    • We used arithmetic means instead of medians because a surprisingly large number of accounts have medians of 0 for many metrics.
  • Accounts are selected by staff at Facebook and made available in Facebook’s Crowdtangle software.
  • We define engagement rate as the total number of engagements on a post divided by the size of the account’s following at time of posting.
  • The final 3 days of every Instagram account’s posting are trimmed off because of the non-chronological nature of Instagram’s algorithm.
  • For this article, the timeframe of the data used was January 1, 2019 to June 28, 2019 for the main brand dataset and January 1, 2019 to June 20, 2019 for the fashion influencer data subset.
  • The total number of posts analyzed is 1,430,995.
  • Instagram Stories are not included because the API does not offer that data.

Overall Findings

What we see is a clear decrease in engagement rate, sharply so beginning in early May:

Instagram Brand Engagement Rates

The maximum average engagement rate year to date for this selection of branded accounts was 1.54% on April 15, 2019. The minimum engagement rate was 0.8% on June 23, 2019.

Where we see the change really start to take place is in early May. Since the beginning of May, average engagements have declined over time precipitously and now hover around 0.9%, a decrease from earlier this year of 1.1%. This represents an 18% decline in average engagements (mostly likes) since the beginning of the year.

Are you seeing this level of performance in your own feed?

Not Just Brands

It’s not just brands that are suffering recently. In an examination of 150 influencers in one part of the fashion industry, we noted a similar decline in their engagement:

Instagram Engagement Rates ANalytics

Here we see these fashion influencers go from a maximum of 4.3% engagement on February 17, 2019 to a minimum of 2.4% on June 20, 2019, representing a 44% decline in engagement for the same period of time. While these influencers had more than brands, they’ve felt a stronger impact from the recent decline.

Attribution?

There’s no way to tell what specifically caused the recent decline. The Facebook Developers blog has not indicated any substantive API changes, and engagement rates were relatively stable for a good portion of the year. Whatever’s behind the change, it’s hitting individual accounts and brand accounts alike.

What This Means For You

If you’re marketing heavily on Instagram, a decrease in engagement means a decrease in visibility in the Instagram feed, creating something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fewer engagements means less visibility means… fewer engagements. To break the cycle, you have a few different options:

  • Some marketers have begun promoting feed posts in their Instagram Stories to catch attention and bring specific posts’ engagement levels up
  • Some marketers, of course, simply take out ads to boost post performance
  • Some marketers use external marketing to bring up feed engagement, such as sharing posts on other platforms or linking to posts in emails, etc.

Choose a tactic based on what works for you and your audience, if Instagram is an important platform for your marketing.

We also strongly recommend that you invest time in migrating your community to a network that’s less prone to such swings due to algorithms. For example, private Slack/Discord groups, discussion forums, or email lists are all great options for capturing an audience and providing value to them that is more visible and more consistent than what Facebook’s algorithms (including Instagram) permit you in terms of visibility, and we invite you to join our Slack group, Analytics for Marketers, to be the first to know about investigations like this.


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Also published on Medium.

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