Post engagement is sought after as the most important goal on social media, and with good reason; on sites like Facebook, higher engagement means a broader reach and more people seeing your messages. Engagement also means trust and brand recognition. Of course, engagement is so valuable precisely because it’s so hard to get; if it was as easy to obtain as followers, it wouldn’t be nearly so useful.
Engagement is hard to get on Facebook, in particular, due to the site’s algorithms essentially demoting branded content in favor of the organic content of friend-to-friend interaction. Meanwhile, it’s easy to get on a site you probably guessed from the title of this article; Instagram.
The research firm Forrester monitored a selection of top brands on several social media platforms over the course of hundreds of posts. The numbers are stark; if you wanted 700 likes on your Facebook posts, you would need over 1,000,000 fans. Every social media site had less than 0.1% engagement, with one exception.
In the Forrester studies, Instagram came out with a huge lead; a brand with 1.2 million fans received not 700 likes, but over 36,000. The brand in question was Red Bull, and the comparison was easy; they posted the exact same video on both Facebook and Instagram. On Facebook, 2,600 people liked it. On Instagram, 36,100 people liked it, in the same time.
Serving Content, Hot and Cold
Facebook and Instagram are something of a study in contrasts.
- Facebook applies a complex algorithm to determine who should see your posts on a post-by-post basis. Instagram displays all posts made by any account you follow, in chronological order.
- Facebook has over a billion active users, while Instagram has only ~200 million.
- The average age of the Facebook user is closer to 40, while the average Instagram user is 27.
- Facebook as a platform emphasizes interaction and text, while Instagram promotes the purely visual content.
- Facebook marketing is all about posting the same content several times to promote it to a wide audience, while Instagram frowns upon any sort of repost at all.
- Facebook has spent years being hailed as an innovative new marketing channel, while Instagram is relatively new on the scene.
It’s all part of the cycle of life online. Facebook was once the young and hip site for refugees of the corporate takeover of MySpace, which in turn was once young and hip.
Act Now, Before it’s Too Late
Instagram is incredibly powerful for businesses looking for pure engagement with visual content, but a large part of that power comes from its relatively small saturation. Imagine, if you will, that each brand sends a corporate spokesman to a convention hall, with one explicit goal; shout as loud as possible to as many people as possible and convince them to take a business card.
In this odd metaphor, Facebook is a massive hall the size of Rhode Island, packed full of people. It seems ripe for the picking, but all of the high stages, jumbotrons and loudspeakers are already taken. A small business sending their new spokesman is relegated to a corner by the bathrooms and has shouted themselves hoarse.
Meanwhile Instagram is a much smaller convention hall with a much smaller attendance, but many of the stages are still open. Any brand can enter now and shout on par with the spokesmen from Coke and Ford.
What does this pained metaphor mean? If you want to use Instagram for business, get in and start now. It’s been identified as a prime target, so the influx of marketers is going to build into a tidal wave. One of two things will happen; either Instagram will start limiting brand content in a way similar to Facebook, or users will stop engaging with brands on the same level as the sheer amount of branded content becomes overwhelming.
How to Use Instagram Properly
If you’re looking to get into Instagram for marketing – which you should, haven’t you been reading this post? – you need to do it properly.
- Learn the Platform. Instagram may seem like an easy platform to just jump in and succeed, but if you’re doing it without a plan, you’re wasting your efforts. Just like any good marketing channel, you need to become familiar with the tools and analytics, the audience and the content. It may be beneficial to create a personal account to use for a while, just to get a feel of how people use the site.
- Crosslink Facebook and Instagram. Chances are decent that you’re already producing image and video content when you post on Facebook. After all, visual media is powerful no matter the platform. You can take advantage of this to link your Facebook page with your Instagram profile, to cross-post content when you create it. You’ll be able to see a direct comparison then between both platforms.
- Make Videos. Instagram videos are the longer version of Vines in our multimedia age; they have a limit of 15 seconds and they’re easy to create on the site itself. You won’t be able to post full YouTube videos, but you can create a quick trailer to drum up interest. Poke around and see what successful videos are doing, and see if you can adapt any of their strategies to your content.
- Don’t Forget Hashtags. Facebook hashtags are virtually worthless, but on Twitter and Instagram, they’re an important method of discovery for new content. Make sure to tag each image and video you post with a handful of relevant, active hashtags. If you want your content to be discovered, use common tags that already exist. To link to part of an ongoing campaign, create specific brand hashtags. Just make sure, if you’re cross-posting on Facebook, to strip most or all of the hashtags from the FB side of things. They do you no good there and clutter up your post.
- Use the Network. Instagram is a social network, so make sure you’re using it like one. Post content. Follow the people who follow you – it doesn’t hurt. Interact with content relevant to your business, or even just content you like. Don’t forget to comment, both on your own posts and on those of others.
- Be Creative. The key to success on Instagram is to create visual content that is both interesting and compelling. Telling a story without words, creating artistic content and avoiding advertising is all par for the course. Don’t forget to streamline your content for mobile; any text should be easily readable on a small screen.