Decoded dismantles big topics into manageable insights for artists & teams.
The sheer scale of Facebook’s owned-and-operated crown jewel makes it a vital endpoint in the content race—an inspiring and overwhelming launchpad for preternaturally gifted yodelers, abnormally adorable dogs, and generational artists who set new standards across design, fashion, music and comedy. It’s a beautiful, confusing world in our pocket. With a little help from Instagram’s Strategic Partnerships Manager, Sunil Singhvi, we’re uncovering the trends, statistics, and hidden tricks of a powerhouse app helping shape the pulse of entertainment. Let’s go.
Social networks are collections of user decisions. When scaled, they become global case studies for human behavior. Patterns emerge, and the best content strategies reflect them. While Instagram’s billion monthly active users—human beings!—don’t behave like clones, common threads deserve emphasis.
When Instagram first took off, perfection reigned supreme. Superficial realism filled timelines. There’s still plenty of self-curation to go around, but Instagram has gone somewhat rogue. Impromptu, rough-around-the-edges material now has a seat at the table in an era of Finstagrams and cultural transparency. Feed filter usage has declined, while ephemeral Stories—now deployed by 400 million people every 24 hours—are a daily staple of digital life.
Indeed, “less is more” doesn’t always hold true. In the middle of his panel at AWAL’s BBC Music Introducing Live 2018 event, Will Page, Spotify’s Director of Economics, argued that “fans interpret silence not as you being busy, but as you taking vacation.”
Hip-hop/R&B fans could point to Frank Ocean’s infamous online presence, restricted to Tumblr for years, as the antithesis to Page’s comments. Likewise, Anderson .Paak’s renowned Instagram feed prioritized perfection, establishing a rare wow-factor for the multi-talented artist that, regardless of individual post metrics, left a lasting impression on many viewers.
That said, .Paak recently wiped his feed clean, and Ocean activated his IG account days ago. A$AP Rocky once lost 100,000 followers in less than 12 hours when, piece by piece, he flooded timelines with an elaborate image. Relevant metrics to consider here: The average Instagram user checks in 16 times each day. (That number rises to 21 app opens for those under 24.)
Ultimately, these examples are ~just~ data points. How you use them is your call. For every 10,000 people who do the same thing, there will always be one outlier who makes a mark and shifts the paradigm. (We explored some of the folks doing just that in a piece about Insta-Albums.)
One great way to retain attention? Experiment with everything at your disposal. The pursuit of simplicity might govern our digital world, but there’s always room for easter eggs, hidden rewards, and the dopamine rush they bring to the user experience. Some low-key features worth checking for include...
Screen Fill: Add a Stories card, select a pen color, then hold your finger down on the middle of the screen to fill. Now erase a portion of the frame fill for the reveal.
Boomerang Menu: Open your Boomerang app (we know, not Instagram, but relevant!) and repeatedly tap the screen with four fingers. Your enthusiasm will trigger a secret menu, enjoy.
Live Photo: Take a live photo. Now upload it to Stories. Hold your finger down on the screen. Congrats, you’ve made a Boomerang : )
Advanced Gradient: This is trickier. Add text to a Story and select all. Then, place and hold one finger on a color option while placing another on the right text selector. Simultaneously slide both horizontally along the screen. Nice one.
Anything Else? That’s all for now, but we recommend bookmarking the Instagram press page for product updates
Context here proves useful. According to Sunhil, 80 percent of users live outside of the US. It’s a humbling fact for stateside teams who have an eye on market expansion and overseas activations, be it through bilingual subtitles, diversified ad geotargeting, and collaborations across country lines. Regardless of location, however, almost all users tend to use their phones—drumroll please—in a vertical orientation.
According to a 2014 study on smartphone owners, this holds true (pun intended, sorry) about 94 percent of the time. The jury’s still out on IGTV, with minimal engagement from its own launch party influencers and less-than-stellar App Store downloads, but the format deserves early bets, if only because of the low effort needed to test and learn. Another Instagram feature, Live, has its own benefits: Singhvi says the typical Live post generates 10 to 20 times more comments than an on-demand video, suggesting it’s a valuable way to rally your base.
How do you know if anything above adds value? Data literacy is your friend. Knowing your own metrics facilitates digital health checks (How are people engaging today versus six months ago? How do people perceive me?) and helps identify opportunity (Where are my fans? What do they want to see from me? How many of them have bought something from me this quarter?).
As you know, Instagram provides insights to business accounts that cover profile interactions (visits, bio link clicks), profile discovery (reach, impressions), post engagement, Stories views, and audience demographics (age, location). Interpreting them correctly means the world because they help explain yours.
“It’s easy to overlook what the ultimate goal is, not just getting new fans but keeping existing fans engaged,” says Jeni Bell, Sr. Manager of Paid Marketing at AWAL. “Likes and followers don’t necessarily correlate to tickets sold or streams, either."
The most important actions artists and teams can take with this information: Establish evolving baselines, then contextualize them with qualitative observations. How does a new song impact IG followers within one, seven, and 14 days of release? How do those numbers compare between different releases? For each of those check-ins, which new followers are notable? What can you infer from comments? How can you improve your release approach for the follow-up?
It’s easy to forget that long-lasting careers usually don’t start with premature looks. A big playlist placement is a big deal, sponsorships can bring dollars in, and cosigns an help move the needle. Yet very few of those things happen (or make much of a difference) without an identifiable fanbase. Instagram is one of the best places in the world to build exactly that.
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