12 Days of Data 2023 Day 1 Private Social Media Communities

12 Days of Data 2023 Day 2: Instagram for Brands


Welcome to the 12 Days of Data 2023 Edition, our look back at the data that made marketing in 2023. We’re looking at the year that was (and oh, what a year it was, something we’ve been saying for four years straight now…) from an analytics perspective to see what insights we can take into the next year. Sit up, get your beverage of choice ready, and let’s celebrate some data and look forward to the year ahead.

Instagram Brand Engagement for Unpaid Content

We start day 2 of the 12 Days of Data with Instagram, Facebook’s visual social media network. It used to be photos. Then photos and album. Then videos. Then Instagram live. Then Instagram TV. Then Stories. Then Reels. As competing social networks came up with new, popular features, Facebook did its best to copy them, and today’s Instagram Frankenstein monster is the result. And that’s not even talking about Threads, which is theoretically a separate social network yet uses the Instagram infrastructure and relies on Instagram for direct messaging.

Using a curated list provided by Crowdtangle (a Facebook company) and then manually inspected and augmented by Trust Insights, we started with a sample size of 7,460 Instagram brand accounts. Based on that data, we wanted to see what Instagram brand engagement looked like for 2023.

Before we go further, we define engagement as the number of interactions (reactions, comments, shares) that occurred on an unpaid, unsponsored Instagram brand post, divided by the number of followers of that Instagram brand account at the time of posting. For all the computations that follow, we use the median as the measure of centrality, rather than the mean (average) because medians deal better with outliers, especially in large social media datasets.

How have brands fared on Instagram in 2023?

Key Statistics

Let’s start with the high-level summary. In 2023, brands had:

  • A median of 789,506 followers on their accounts, an increase of 14.8% year over year
  • A median of 968 likes on their posts, an increase of 6.0% year over year
  • A median of 14 comments on their posts, an increase of 16.7% year over year
  • A median engagement rate of 0.15% per post, a decrease of 16.7% year over year

Put another way, 1 out of every 665 followers engaged in some way with unpaid brand content.

That number doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Let’s look at how unpaid brand content performed throughout 2023:

Instagram brand content through the year

As seen above, the engagement rates for unpaid brand content started 2023 at 0.25% before dropping to a median of 0.2%. Instagram has been relatively stable throughout the year.

When we examine the media types that performed best for brands, we see even more nuance:

Instagram media content through the year

For the past few years, albums (carousels) have far outpaced the engagement of photos and videos. While videos (which now include Reels) have remained in the engagement doldrums, something new started happening in the second half of the year. Video engagement got much more uneven and has hinted at being on the increase in the past few months.

So What?

For the past few years, we’ve advocated that brands spread out their efforts on different channels, as every year, brands lost ground, lost traction on Instagram. While that’s still true in an absolute sense on Instagram in 2023, it’s leveled off for the first time in years. Previously, every year started with brands at a certain point and losing 10-40% of their engagement within the year. This year, engagement held relatively steady.

Why is this the case? We’re not sure, but we can say with confidence that video began to perform substantially better in late July on Instagram and that change is what sustained the leveled-off engagement. From this finding, we infer that something significant changed.

What we do know is that Meta released a set of new AI system cards (an explainer of how their algorithms work) for Instagram in late June. Given that we see Reels/video potentially being a driver of engagement, we took the Meta Instagram Reels chaining system card and fed it to GPT-4 to develop a series of 12 concrete recommendations for marketers based on how the algorithm makes decisions.

  • Focus on Creating Engaging Content: The core of any successful Instagram Reels strategy is engaging content. This should be the top priority, as it directly influences viewer retention and interaction.
  • Optimize for Re-Watchability and Sharing: Content that viewers watch repeatedly and share widely naturally gains more traction and visibility on the platform, making it crucial for expanding reach.
  • Analyze Engagement Patterns: Understanding what content resonates with your audience is key to refining and optimizing your strategy. Regular analysis of engagement metrics will guide content creation and adaptation.
  • Leverage Similarity to Successful Content: By analyzing what works well (in terms of style, subject matter, length), you can create content that is more likely to succeed, making this a high-priority strategy.
  • Encourage Interaction with Content: High user interaction (likes, comments, shares) boosts the AI’s likelihood of recommending your content, making it a critical element of your strategy.
  • Responsive Content Adjustments: Adapting content based on user feedback and engagement metrics is essential for maintaining relevance and engagement over time.
  • Experiment with Audio Elements: Since the AI system gives importance to audio, experimenting with this element can significantly influence your content’s reach and engagement.
  • Monitor Time Spent on Reels: Understanding viewer engagement duration helps in crafting content that keeps the audience hooked, thus enhancing its performance on the platform.
  • Utilize the Remix Feature: This not only engages with the community but also potentially increases your content’s reach by tapping into the audiences of other creators.
  • Track Save and Reshare Trends: Saves and reshares are strong indicators of content’s value to the audience, and tracking these trends can inform future content strategies.
  • Content Variety and Experimentation: Continuously experimenting with different content types ensures that your strategy remains fresh and adaptable to changing trends and audience preferences.
  • Analyze Author Following Trends: Understanding trends in author followings can inform potential collaborations or influencer partnerships, which can be a valuable strategy but is generally more long-term.

Test your video and Reels strategy against these recommendations and against competitors’ content on Instagram to see if you can increase engagement more over time.


The list of recommendations was derived in partnership with generative AI using the OpenAI GPT-4 model.


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Trust Insights (trustinsights.ai) is one of the world's leading management consulting firms in artificial intelligence/AI, especially in the use of generative AI and AI in marketing. Trust Insights provides custom AI consultation, training, education, implementation, and deployment of classical regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI, especially large language models such as ChatGPT's GPT-4-omni, Google Gemini, and Anthropic Claude. Trust Insights provides analytics consulting, data science consulting, and AI consulting.

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