Instagram Followers Don’t Equal Engagement [Study]

The size of a brand’s Instagram following doesn’t necessarily equal greater engagement, according to new research from L2, a digital think tank, and visual commerce platform Olapic.

In its second annual Instagram Intelligence Report, L2 looked at the Instagram activity of 250 major brands in nine categories – auto, beauty, consumer electronics, drinks, fashion, retail, sportswear, travel, and watches and jewelry – over the last year. Of all the brands, Nokia has the greatest engagement by far, despite its relatively small and stagnant following. Companies with the best correlation between audience and engagement – including Nike, Starbucks, GoPro, Aeropostale, and Victoria’s Secret Pink – generally share a combination of Millennial popularity, strong lifestyle branding, and iconic visuals.


One thing that helps increase engagement is a variety of content, such as mixing in lifestyle photography and celebrities, rather than solely posting product shots. Looking at the top 200 photos by engagement rate, the study saw a disproportionate number of photos from Patagonia, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Maserati. While Maserati’s strongest impression was a photo of a car, those for PBR and Patagonia were photos of Bill Murray wearing shorts covered in the beer company’s logo and a ski mountain, respectively, images that aren’t solely of the brand’s products.

Estée Lauder, a cosmetics giant that’s not viewed as a particularly young brand, saw an increase in engagement after attaching itself to an influencer. Within 24 hours of appointing Kendall Jenner as the new face of the brand, Estée Lauder’s Instagram following jumped 18 percent. Extraordinarily popular with Millennials, Kim Kardashian’s little sister is the seventh-most popular Instagrammer in the world, with a following equivalent to the population of Beijing.

An influencer doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. During New York Fashion Week last month, Michael Kors drove 1 million impressions by using dedicated hashtags in conjunction with #NYFW.

But one thing that doesn’t increase engagement is posting more often; the study actually found an inverse relationship between post frequency and engagement. The average brand posted 110 photos during the first quarter and achieved 1.15 percent engagement. During the third quarter – at which point brands were officially posting more content to Instagram than to Facebook, partially because of the former’s younger audience and less-restrictive algorithm – brands posted an average of 9 more photos, and saw engagement drop to 1.03 percent.


In general, automotive brands, particularly Mazda, have the highest engagement. But the sportswear category isn’t far behind, with above-average engagement, in addition to having a strong growth rate within its community – by far the largest, of all the industries. No brand encapsulates that better than Nike.

Nike is above-average in growth and engagement, while maintaining a massive following of nearly 13 million users. The sportswear giant also leads in brand-hashtagged posts. Starbucks and Chanel are a distant second and third, with about 20,000 less each.

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