This post originally appeared in the November 14, 2019 issue of The Content Technologist with the email subject line "Are you, like, good at Instagram?" and a review of the Postlight RFP builder.

Are you, like, good at Instagram?

Seventeen issues in and I’m finally devoting the bulk of this content tech newsletter solely to social media. I’m a web and a content person, and I share the opinion that spending time creating organic content for social is not the most business-savvy move unless you can make a good case for it!

But as a person I still like Instagram. Creators are still doing innovative experiments there! I like Instagram even though it is Facebook. I like it because my friends are there and they share fun tidbits. I love the artists and motion graphics pros on Insta. I like the stories and I like the feed. Once Chris Stein from Blondie looked at one of my stupid Instagram stories and I’ll carry that in my heart forever.

Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) taps on her iphone. Ennui. [gif]

I also buy things directly from Instagram more than I shop at the mall or on Amazon. So, take from that what you will.

The alternatives to Likes

As you may know Instagram is retiring likes to improve the quality of interactions on its network. What that really means is up for debate, but. It’s happening. And you, dear creator, still need to measure content performance.

Much digital ink has been spilled on the death of Insta likes. Oh, the likes! Where will they go? How will Insta users know what is good if we don’t know whether other people like it or not? Is this more useless Zuckerberging?

Will they destroy “influencers,” aka the people who would be lifestyle magazine editors if the magazine editors actually decided to retire, share power and make opportunities for other types of innovators?

On the beach, Ingrid lowers her sunglasses and stares at her phone [gif]

I’m all about removing likes, and I’m also pro-influencers. I’m in favor of being critical about the content you consume and only pressing “like” if you actually like it, for whatever reason. I’m in favor of influencers because I cheer anyone who knows how to make money from publishing content on a new medium. The good influencers won’t be upended without like counts because if you can make a profitable content business from Instagram, you’re clever enough to pivot.

Following in the tradition of digital analytics mastermind Avinash Kaushik, I know that you never needed Likes in the first place. You probably don’t need organic Instagram unless you’re very good at Instagram content!

Without Likes, what are some metrics you can use for measuring Instagram performance if you aren’t selling widgets? You’re a content business, so you’re going to use the channel to build an audience and community on a social channel like Instagram. If you’re one of the cleverest and have patience for minutiae, you can use the Instagram close friends feature to build a subscriber list.

But to get there? Start here:

Follow-back percentage. If you are starting a new Instagram campaign or account and don’t have very many followers, you should start following people. If you join Instagram, you are joining a community and not just broadcasting out to the world.

People love being followed. Follow-backs are the whole reason social media works at all. Channels like Instagram make you feel seen in a world where it’s difficult to stand out! People will follow you back if your content is good.

However, if you follow, say, 50 people and only one follows you back, maybe you should rethink your content strategy. Immediately! People can sense if you’re selling too hard or trying to be too perfect. It means people don’t like your content if they don’t follow you back.

If you have a very low follow-back percentage (under 25%), I’d recommend listening to your audience.

Ingrid [Aubrey Plaza] cries but smiles as she looks at her phone
FYI, Chris Stein from Blondie didn’t look at my stories after that one time so he didn’t like my content. Le sigh. I’ll have to seek validation elsewhere.
  • Active engaged users. Instagram isn’t hiding your own likes from you! They’re hiding them from other people. You still have access to your own data, so make use of that! You will likely have to export some data and play around to figure out who the active users are, but they’re there.

Active Stories viewers. Determine how many people regularly view your stories. (if you’re not doing Stories you’re not doing Instagram in 2020.) Consider them your actual subscribers. Figure out what they like, why they’re there and how you can appeal to them without losing your soul.

Ingrid embarrasses herself in front of other Instagram influencers [gif]
Just remember that people notice when you try too hard.
  • Follower growth rate. Before you say “all the followers are fake” we must recognize that yes, there are bots. Tons. But there are also people. And if you’re creating content and trying to acquire new followers and build a community, you’ll have a healthy growth rate of 2-5% over time.

A plea: understand the context of your measurement before you celebrate

Please note that all of the above Instagram success metrics require some time and monitoring for analysis, like all good digital content measurement. No out-of-the-box technology is going to tell you what actually works in content creation.

My warning: any rate or relative number needs context, especially when compared to an arbitrary industry benchmark. I once had a client who kept pointing to the automated engagement rate (4%) provided by our social media tool as a metric of success. “An average Instagram engagement rate is >1%,” they said! “We are at 4%! We are so great.”

But then we had to talk through the hard truth that 1.) you have to have a lot of followers for engagement rates to be valid and 2.) all of our engagements were from friends and the client’s employees. Real talk: A 4% engagement rate with 200 followers, most of whom are colleagues, is not good.

Ingrid drinks out of a copper cup and shakes her head, "No."

Anyway, you can take my advice on social measurement or not. I’m a content person and I like and use Instagram enough. I’m curious about the little economies it births. And I decided a long time ago that my social media presence is a giant middle finger to professionalism, which is why my handle is still a Space Ghost reference and not something with my name in it.

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