In this week’s episode, Katie and Chris preview the rough draft of an upcoming talk for the Agorapulse Instagram summit. Go behind the scenes on the talk, the research that went into it, and how we take data and try to make a coherent story about it. Please note the data shown in the episode was not final and has been substantially revised since then – if you want to see the final, register for the Agorapulse Summit for free.
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What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.
Christopher Penn 0:02
This is In-Ear Insights, the Trust Insights podcast.
In this episode of In-Ear Insights, this is a behind the scenes episode, we’re getting ready for the Agorapulse Instagram summit coming up in, I think, next week, the week of the 25th of February.
So if you want to check out, we’ll put a link in the show notes to it over at TrustInsights.ai dot AI On this episode, but we’re doing a talk at this show on AI.
Somewhat humorously called it is the graham doing it for you sort of reversal of the cliche doing it for the gram looking at at Instagram data, okay, a ton of it.
Because one of the things that has always bothered me about a lot of people doing Instagram case studies is that they look at like a handful of accounts, like 10 accounts or 12 accounts, they make these broad sweeping generalizations like this is what works on Instagram, it’s like, it’s a pretty big place, it’s a billion active users.
And 12 accounts just isn’t a large enough sample size.
So we thought we’d take you on a behind the scenes, look at some of the data that we’re processing.
And especially for, for Katie to say that makes absolutely no sense.
Katie Robbert 1:15
I can’t wait.
Christopher Penn 1:19
This is not final.
So be sure to take what we say with a grain of salt.
And if you’re listening to this, now, you’ll want to go over to our YouTube channel at TrustInsights.ai dot AI slash YouTube.
So you can actually see the the in process slides.
So before we get started, Katie, any any thoughts or comments about what you find working on Instagram?
Katie Robbert 1:43
Not you know, not off the top of my head, I still see people doing live streams on Instagram, I don’t know how popular those are, in terms of people actually tuning in and watching.
I know that Instagram still has limitations in terms of you can’t put a URL in your text in your post.
And that, to me also seems like a limitation and a miss.
And so, you know, I’m interested to see with all of these other social media platforms, where Instagram stands these days.
Christopher Penn 2:17
Yep, it is definitely sort of the the king of the hill.
Okay, so this slide has nothing on it.
Katie Robbert 2:22
Remember, this is a draft
Christopher Penn 2:24
exactly the draft.
So a couple of things about the data we chose some some choices that we made one data is from April one onwards, I figured there really a lot of stuff particularly in Instagram about things like travel and food and parties and stuff obviously came to an end or should have around April one.
So I figured let’s start from April one because that’s where a lot of the lockdowns began.
We have two sets of data, the brands, almost 4000 brands with 1.2 million posts in the last 10 months, and then almost 11,000 influencers, individual people with 1.5 million posts.
These were initially chosen by Facebook’s Facebook operates a software called CrowdTangle, which is now a journalist platform, which allows you to download back data going up to two years back for it and a provided list of Instagram accounts.
So they start they gave us the starter list.
And then we had to go in and clean it up because it’s kind of messy.
Katie Robbert 3:24
So before we move on, so you know, I’m going to start asking questions.
How? How do you determine, you know, which brands to be taking a look at? You know, what is the mix of brands? Is it all lifestyle brands, all consumer brands, b2b brands, how does that list come about?
Christopher Penn 3:41
So Facebook brand list is very heavily b2c.
So for us, we had at about 900, b2b brands that we knew of.
And these are companies that are mainly in the b2b tech and software space so that you won’t, for example, find like industrial concrete companies.
In our lists, we i i sourced those from Odyssey from just doing some basic research looking at handles that I mentioned, we have people in the analytics for Slack, Alex from markers community on on Slack, and looking so like the top 100 b2b companies on social media, there are a ton of these lists and essentially taking those handles, do a quick check them and then loading them into CrowdTangle.
And then it goes and finds all the back data.
Katie Robbert 4:25
Christopher Penn 4:27
Any other questions? Your Honor?
Katie Robbert 4:29
You know, I’m sure I will have questions.
You know, the first thing I always ask about for not just us, but for anyone is the methodology.
How did this come about? And again, that sort of goes back to my academic and clinical trial research roots of you need to know exactly what’s in the thing that you’re doing and you can need to explain it start to finish backwards forward.
So I’m always on the lookout for making sure that any kind of research has very specific concrete methodology statements.
Christopher Penn 5:00
Yep, big picture stuff is very straightforward.
So the we calculate engagement rate as the number of engagements on a post to divide it by the number of followers on that account.
And, and so the the methodology for this is for brands to sort of look at the overall engagement rates over the last 10 months.
And it’s it is essentially just a rolling average.
And what you see here is that brands have gone from about 0.4% ish, at the start of the pandemic, to just above 0.3%, it’s been a sort of a slow and steady decline.
This has been the trend for years now, back when Trust Insights was first, when it first opened our doors, brand negation rate was about 1%.
So it’s just kind of an overall slow decline.
Katie Robbert 5:46
Do you think and I don’t know if you get into this into your research career.
So if I’m jumping ahead, please let me know.
But do you think that the reason for the decline is that people’s attention is spread so thin these days that they’re not spending as much time on Instagram when they were fewer social media platforms?
Christopher Penn 6:05
That’s a very good question.
And let’s hold that for like three slides.
To give you a sense of the median follower counts in this in this study, we’re looking at, you know, 10, different sort of 10% brackets.
The top bracket, of course, has millions, you know, brands have millions of followers, the lowest has you know, it around 40,000, a median of 40,000.
What’s interesting about this, cuz we’re gonna, I want to show this next is when we look at the different deciles, the different groups perform, more or less silly, but there are some, some differences in that pack.
So the brands have the highest engagement, are still around anywhere from almost 1% to you know, point seven 1% today, so the brands that have figured out engagement, on Instagram are doing are doing pretty well, right.
And the brands who have not figured out engagement, right, you know, they’re in the 0.1%.
So you’re talking at that point, one out of 1000 people engaging with your posts.
So there’s a when you, when you split up engagement, it’s not as monolithic, you know, 0.3%, meaning it’s actually pretty diverse.
So the thing that I would say here is, if you are, take a look at your own company’s, you know, media engagement rates on Instagram and say, Where do you fit in? Well, what do these 10 brackets are you in? And then what would it take for you to jump from, you know, bracket one to bracket to bracket two to bracket, they would take that next step? Rather than thinking about how do I get to the overall median, which is still pretty low? How do you get to the next level?
Katie Robbert 7:44
Can we real talk for a second, though, because you’re you have all these, you know, 10 levels of decimals, but what the numbers we’re talking about, are still really crappy engagement rates, like you’re talking 1% engagement rate is the top of, you know, the stack.
So if you want to get to 1% engagement rate, literally, one person out of 100 interacts with your thing, probably your mom, then it’s, you’re still not doing that.
So, you know, I think it’s really interesting that you broke it out this way.
But I just want to be real to say like, we’re still not talking about great engagement numbers, like these are still pretty terrible.
Christopher Penn 8:27
These are so pretty terrible.
Believe it or not, these are 10 x better than Facebook itself.
We’ve been saying for fate.
For years, Facebook is sort of the the death of an organic engagement.
This is one of the reasons why to two questions we were having before the show started, why brands are always you know, trying to jump on the next thing, what’s the next social media platform? Because we realized that the big networks, there, isn’t there there, you know, this, you’re right, when one out of 100 people engaged, and this is like, you know, accidentally hit the like button, right? This is not, you know, serious engagement in many cases.
You know, the vast majority of this is likes, because likes plus comments, is what constitutes engagement.
It’s not great.
It’s and and if you’re at the bottom of the heap, you’re in one of 1000 people, if you’ve only got 1000 followers, it really is your mom,
Katie Robbert 9:18
it really is or it’s you as a real person engaging with your brand’s social media account.
And let’s be honest, we all do it.
You know, there’s no shame in it.
But if that’s the only engagement that you’re getting, that’s problematic.
And so Chris, you’ve mentioned Facebook.
One of the things that aside, you know, one of many things that bugs me about Facebook, is that it’s completely become the this paid platform.
The majority of my feed is now advertising.
And so, you know, organic engagement rates are pretty much non existent, like you can probably get engagement rates for your personal accounts amongst your friends.
But if you’re a brand unless you’re paying your stuff is I’m gonna show up and I’m seeing a lot of the same thing happen with Instagram, which is unsurprising because that is owned by Facebook.
Christopher Penn 10:07
You know, I think this is also why brands like slack and discord are doing so well.
Because Yeah, people want to have real conversations and not see an ad every other post, like, you know, I swept in my Instagram stories as as a consumer, every other post is an ad.
I swipe past it, but it’s still an extra stuff.
Whereas when I go to log into discord, I have none of that.
And it’s, you know, discord makes its money differently, it makes it less money from the users not from advertisers.
So when you see things like clubhouse and stuff popping up, like Yeah, because people are going, where there’s a better experience and a better experience in this case is not 50% of your time being wasted looking at ads.
Katie Robbert 10:49
Well, and with Instagram, you don’t really have a choice in seeing the ads, if you’re looking at, you know, the stories of people that you care about, you know, it automatically drops an ad in between every story.
So if you’re looking at your, you know, your interface, and you see like, Katie has a story, Chris has a story, john has a story, you think you’re just going to get those three, but they drop an ad in between one of those, and you have to engage with it some way to either make it go away or watch it through to get to the next story.
So they’ve really kind of, you know, forced you into that experience, which is unfortunate.
Christopher Penn 11:26
So to your question about is is this just in general? The answer is no.
When you look at influencers, something happened in October, and we don’t know what was late September, October, but influencer engagement actually bumped up and went from about 1.2 to about 1.4%.
Then again, if we go through, and we we go into this chart here, where the influencers, BI Desktop, the smaller accounts got a big boost in October going from 0.2 to point six, like tripling their engagement rates, whereas the bigger accounts kind of remained pretty steady throughout the same time period.
But I don’t know why this happened.
I don’t know what it is about the lower 50% of engagement accounts just got this the shot in the arm.
And it’s very interesting.
I’m wondering if you know, if you’re watching this.
And you saw your this happen in your own analytics, critical view, one of the lower engagement accounts, you know, drop a line, if you pop on over to analytics for marketers, and let us know.
Did you see the same thing happened in your Instagram data in late September, early October?
Katie Robbert 12:36
So just for clarification in this context, what how do we define an influencer?
Christopher Penn 12:44
So influencers are essentially accounts that are individuals as opposed to brands? So everyone from Kim Kardashian to you and me? And Facebook? I’m honestly not sure how they define it, other than you have more than 10,000 followers, right? That’s that’s seems to be about the bottom line benchmark for them.
Okay, a person, not a brand, and you have more than 10,000 followers.
Katie Robbert 13:15
Does Instagram, publicly publish anything about their algorithm or algorithm changes? Or any of their feature changes? I know that they were testing a B testing likes going away.
So I don’t know if those are factors in this dramatic change.
Christopher Penn 13:38
They do not.
Facebook is notoriously closed lipped about core algorithm stuff.
It’s not something they talk a whole lot about.
They talk endlessly about, you know, operations, but not about the algorithm itself.
So we don’t know.
Katie Robbert 13:53
The reason I’m wondering because I know that a lot of these platforms, LinkedIn being one of them, is that the more engagement you get with a post, the more likely it is to show in someone’s feed, if even if you’re friends with them, you might not see the post or the thing.
And so what this looks like to me is that if we’re talking about influencers, and if we’re talking, you know, for the sake of argument, people who have more than 10,000 followers, the likelihood of their fans engaging with their thing is, you know, theoretically going to go up, therefore, their stuff would be shown more, and then more people would have the opportunity to engage with it.
That to me, is a likely scenario.
Again, we don’t know for a fact that that’s what happened.
But that is what this looks like to me.
Christopher Penn 14:41
Again, we don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but we do know that it was definitely noticeable for the lower engagement accounts.
And I can’t I couldn’t tell you from memory if something happened in October because all of the months have blended together.
Whether it was a major change or not.
Katie Robbert 15:00
Yeah, who knows?
Christopher Penn 15:01
So let’s start digging into some of the things that are the folks in analytics for marketers actually suggested when I asked, hey, what are the kind of the kinds of things you would be interested in seeing in a presentation by Instagram? One of them was hashtags for brands, what is the distribution look like? And we’ve kind of tackled this two different ways, because initially, I just went into, okay, show me what media engagement or average engagement looks like for, you know, the the number of hashtags in a post what you see here, you see a decent amount of engagement really through, you know, one through four, one through five, zero through five hashtags.
And so, and then it really does fade off, there are a couple of places where you’ll see larger cohorts like around 10, and 13.
But for the most part, most brands, either don’t put a hashtag in their posts, or put, you know, they’re just a couple at a time, and they get decent performance out of that.
But then, I always think I was talking with I might have been talking with you about this last week, about sort of stratification of data, and how this represents the group as a whole.
I’m all for 1000 brands.
But what would it look like if we stratify and said, okay, what’s the difference between this and the top 10%? engagement, folks, and this is where you now see, yeah, there’s 01, and two, but also for the folks who get a lot of engagement, brand wise, you know, 10, and 15.
Hashtags do work.
So there’s a there is a difference between the general population of brands and then this this elite group.
And so there’s something to be said for, if you are in that top 10%, chances are you sharing a decent number hashtags.
Katie Robbert 16:42
And so we were talking about this a little bit last week, because you and I have been on either side of the argument of the utilization of a hashtag.
And so it hashtag historically, in social media was used for Twitter as a way for people to search because they didn’t have the search function built in when Twitter was first brought to the market.
And so other social media platforms have adopted the hashtag to do basically the same thing, you can search on a hashtag.
But the other thing that social media platforms now do is you can follow hashtags.
And so you can discover new people, new brands, etc, etc.
On my personal Instagram account, I follow hashtags that show me posts of people I don’t follow, but it’s topics that I’m interested in.
So what I do also see is that people will throw hashtags on their posts, just to be shown, even if it’s not relevant to the content, which is annoying.
Christopher Penn 17:43
So I think, at least the conclusion I draw from this, Katie, is that when we post our podcast, let’s start doing some experimentation, we can take our seo keyword list for that episode, basically put a hashtag in front of the top terms, and see what happens.
Katie Robbert 18:00
Um, you know, and we could be doing that across all different platforms, because that also brings up the question of, you know, is, is a b2b brand, right? for Instagram? And I feel like that’s a whole other conversation.
Christopher Penn 18:17
But if there’s, with a billion people, there’s at least somebody there.
And, and, and, and, by the way, that’s sort of one of our little secrets.
So don’t go telling the world.
But yeah, if you are not already repurposing your seo keyword list for hashtags and social media, you probably should, it’s because you know, that they’re popular because people are searching for it.
We started also looking again, stratification of those hashtags, what are the hashtags that are unique from brands, to the top 10% of those, you know, most engaged posts, and I see a lot of, frankly, you know, travel stuff in here, and a few other things, but there’s nothing in here that stands out as like, Huh, I would never thought to do that.
These are obviously very niche into, you know, these, these particular accounts, doing really well with these tags.
But you can, you can, it doesn’t take a whole lot of to figure out what like Earth capture and land mammals are about.
When we look at the bottom 10%, the posts that perform the worst, that you can see them fairly, fairly commerce oriented right there, they’re definitely aimed at a specific audience, and it’s not working for them.
It’s not getting the juice.
Katie Robbert 19:32
One of the things that I see a lot is that people will post a picture.
And then it’s like, you know, outfit of the day, or Instagram of the day, or I and so all those different variations.
Because what they’re trying to do is get the attention of accounts that read reshare those kinds of posts.
And so, these more generic hashtags are the things that you know, let’s say you were trying To get the attention of the Boston Globe, for example, because you wanted them to reshare your image or reshare, you know, your content, you would be tagging, Boston Globe, Boston picture of the day, you know, Boston strong, all the different Boston things with the hope of getting their attention, because emailing them directly to say, Hey, I have this really cool picture just doesn’t work anymore.
Christopher Penn 20:24
And then we look at the tags that are common to all posts of any any performance level, that you do see a lot of those brand tags and stuff that would not surprise me folks who are attempting to get noticed by the sticker brands, obviously, because this is all posts across the board, you do see much, much larger numbers of the usages of these.
One thing that stands out to me is there’s a lot of vehicle tabs in here.
And I’m not sure why.
I guess people like showing off their cars.
Katie Robbert 20:54
It’s it’s definitely a satisfying, because you see things like luxury.
But also remember, in the past year, cars were really the only, quote unquote safe mode of transportation and a lot of, you know, so flying, you know, cruises, you know, traveling by train, those are all modes of travel where people were clustered together.
So people really looking back at their cars themselves of like, this is the only safe way for me to travel, do the cross country road trip, get out of my house, whatever the thing was.
And I believe car companies really took advantage of that.
I feel like yeah, this is the best time right now for you to upgrade to one of our luxury vehicles.
So if you can’t get on a plane, why not spend that money in your car
Christopher Penn 21:40
trip, and this is a visible status symbol.
And it also doesn’t cost a whole lot to operate? Because you’re not going anywhere.
Katie Robbert 21:46
Christopher Penn 21:48
Let’s look at the same for influencers.
So those are brands, let’s look at influencers.
influencers have a sort of a U shaped bubble when it comes to hashtags, right? They anywhere from zero to five, zero to six, and then no more than 19 in general.
So influencers definitely doing the hash tag spray and pray much more so than brands.
And when we dig into the top 10%.
Across the board, there is no one answer says yeah, this is probably the 20 and above category is just as prominent as the as the none.
So for the influencers, they’re definitely out there trying to hose down Instagram with hashtags.
At the top 10% of these, these are there’s a lot of sports stuff in here.
And there’s a lot of very localized things.
And what I think is really interesting here that shows you kind of an interesting bias.
There are more multilingual hashtags, in influences than there are brands, which kind of makes you wonder, like, brands, why aren’t you doing more particularly now? A lot of brands are so we’re not small, you know, localized brands or multinational companies? Why wouldn’t they be following the same pattern as some of the influencers in the space?
Katie Robbert 23:07
It’s a really good question.
Um, you know, my, again, hypothesis, not proven, I have no data to back it up.
You know, so brands that are global tend to have multiple Instagram accounts, in those different various languages, whereas an influencer tends to have that single account, and they’re trying to meet all of the different global markets.
Christopher Penn 23:30
Hmm, good point.
The bottom of the of the barrel, vintage stuff, apparently not doing super well, and a lot of crafting stuff, and then a few political things as well.
What I thought was interesting when we look at the hash tags across the board, despite the year 2020 was, I was really surprised to not see any political hashtags in here.
For you know, either the presidential campaigns in the United States for what was happening in the UK, what was happening in Russia, I was honestly shocked, given how prominent that is in the news feed.
I may just be because Instagram doesn’t have the multiple different reactions like you know, Facebook has angry and angry got a lot of workout last year.
It doesn’t have that.
So that maybe that’s it.
I don’t know, what do you think?
Katie Robbert 24:24
I think Instagrams not the right platform for it because you can’t put a URL in the comments.
I think that you can’t link to an article, you can’t link to a news story or, you know, you can’t link to your own website.
But also, you know, Instagram is really, you know, just a glorified photo book.
You have to have some sort of an image to go along with your post.
You cannot post just text and so I mean, I personally don’t see a lot of political posts on Instagram.
I don’t know Leave the previous administration actually used Instagram all that much.
And that might be part of it is that people went to the platforms where the administration was to argue Facebook, Twitter to argue and you know, hash out everything, whereas Instagram was just kind of going by in the background of like, yeah, we’re gonna stay out of it altogether, this is not the place for it.
Because it’s really difficult to do that on Instagram, because of the limitations of the platform and the user experience.
Christopher Penn 25:36
Another question that our community has, how often should we be posting on Instagram? Well, what’s the right amount? We look at all brand accounts, the number very clearly here, you know, one or two times a day, maybe three times a day, and then that’s it.
Not a whole lot else happening after that, we look at the top 10% of brand accounts by engagement, same exact answer once, twice, maybe three times a day.
And, and really not much else.
So I understand this, because putting together a good Instagram posts with decent photography and stuff like that is a lot of work.
Even just, you know, text on background stuff still consumes time.
And so in terms of engagement, you know, once a day seems to be about the right medicine.
Katie Robbert 26:28
Yeah, I think that that’s, you know, Instagram is a lot more work than, you know, writing a tweet for, you know, sharing your link, again, it comes down to because you can’t share a link on Instagram very easily, you would have to change the link in your profile multiple times a day, which is an extra step, and can get a little bit unwieldy.
Finding a really nice image, or even creating an image in Photoshop or Canva, or something else does take a lot more work.
And so it does make sense that, you know, it’s best to sort of limited to like one really good solid post today or, you know, no more than three.
Christopher Penn 27:08
All right, on the influencer side, any predictions?
Katie Robbert 27:12
Christopher Penn 27:20
There’s there’s more obviously, with influencers, this is more of a gradual decline, you know, anywhere from one to six posts a day.
Again, if you are a professional, Instagram influencer, which is a phrase that five years ago, probably would not have thought was a viable career.
It makes sense, you’d want to be creating a lot of engagement.
And by the way, one important caveat, I need to add this to the disclosures methodology section, we cannot see reels currently, and we cannot see stories, because they’re simply not provided by Facebook software, we can see igtv carousel album and single and videos, but we cannot see those two other forms of content.
So it’s possible.
And I know this just anecdotally, for folks, they’ll put much more stuff in their stories than they will on their feet is off, but in terms of the main feed, for influence is still a decent amount of of activity.
And then looking at the top 10%.
Even here, you’ll wonder four posts a day, still is is getting engagement for that for the top 10% of engaging accounts.
Katie Robbert 28:25
It makes sense because it’s harder to string together a cohesive narrative on Instagram, because, again, limitation of the platform, you can’t post a picture in the comments, you can’t respond with a GIF.
you’re limited to just posting some sort of, you know, text in terms of response, or just the light, which is a heart.
Whereas in the stories or the reels, you can do a whole narrative.
I mean, you’ll see people with 100 different posts in their story, because they can tell a whole narrative and post links in there and other things.
And so there’s a lot more flexibility and features with stories and reels in Instagram, but the actual feed itself is still very limited.
Christopher Penn 29:17
So that’s it so far, I realized the one thing that we haven’t put in here yet is the engagement by content type, you know, album, carousel video, etc.
So I need to toss that in here.
Anything else that you know, if you were a social media manager, Katie, we like, oh, gosh, I wish I knew kind of what? What else is is are the magic ingredients for success on Instagram?
Katie Robbert 29:40
I mean, I always come back to is Instagram the right place for your brand.
What is it that you’re trying to get from Instagram? So I think I would like to know a little bit more about the demographics of who spends their time on Instagram.
The kinds of brands that are actually Seeing engagement on Instagram.
So you know, breaking it down by verticals? Those are the types of things that I would be looking for if I was doing my due diligence to say, Does my brand belong on Instagram? Or should I be spending that time and resources on other social media platforms?
Christopher Penn 30:17
I wonder if it makes sense, because it’s not something we can get data directly about? What if it makes sense to to commission a paid survey to the general general population audience asking about Instagram habits to get some of that that demographic data? Because you can’t get it from it from Facebook, they will not give it to you, for any reason,
Katie Robbert 30:36
right? No, I think I think there would definitely be some value in that.
You know, we work we partner with a company that specializes in organic social media.
And so we may, we may be able to see if they would be interested in that kind of data, see if we even have any of that data in addition, but it’s something that if I was asked the question of, where are you going to put your time and resources on social media? My first question would be like, well, who’s on those platforms? Who’s spending their time there? Is that an audience that I care about? And the answer might be no.
And that’s okay.
You don’t have to be on every social media platform to be successful on social with your brand.
Christopher Penn 31:20
So we hope you’ve enjoyed this behind the scenes, really rough draft of an upcoming talk.
Again, we’ll have the link over at TrustInsights.ai dot AI slash ti podcast, you can find the show episodes and things over there.
You’ve got questions about what we’re what we’ve shown today and you have some more details or maybe even some thoughts on it, pop on over to Trust insights.ai slash analytics for marketers.
And if you did listen to this and did look at the visuals congratulations.
If you do want to see that.
You can either go over to TrustInsights.ai AI slash ti podcast to find all the links to everything, including the embedded video, or you can watch it on our YouTube channel at Trust insights.ai slash YouTube.
Thanks for tuning in and we’ll talk to you next time.
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