The Instagram Rule of 11

Why is the number 11 important on Instagram? Is it the number of posts per month? The number of words you should use to describe an image?

None of the above.

The number 11 represents a simple but important tipping point. Once you earn 11 likes on Instagram for a photo that you’ve posted, the service shrinks down the likes from a list of your friends’ handles to a number. I’m sure Instagram was simply applying good design principles to its Web interface, but unbeknownst to the platform, it has created a powerful form of social validation. The number 11 now represents when your Instagram image has hit a certain level of credibility.

Admittedly, I am not that cool on Instagram, since some of my images don’t hit this threshold, but for many users this simple milestone is important. In a study MRY conducted on Millennials’ technology behavior, one young woman noted passionately the need to reach this number. “If I don’t hit 11 likes, I take down the post after a day — it’s just too embarrassing to leave up there. Nobody likes it.” The embarrassment of not being validated trumps the need to share the image. Another respondent spoke about how he plans his posts around what he called “Instagram Time.” Content has the highest chance of reaching the 11th level of virality during this Instagram “rush hour,” which takes place when people are commuting home around 5 p.m. to 7 p.m

The three steps of the Rule of 11, as illustrated by MRY’s Instagram posts:

mry-instagram 

These individual metrics mattered to the new consumer, and these were not isolated cases: respondent after respondent reiterated the need to reach this number. We live in a world where brands and businesses are so concerned with Web and business analytics. Advertising experts plan for this and strategize, but we often forget about personal analytics. What gauge of success makes our users, customers, and friends look good? What if brands planned for consumers’ personal validation and not just brand validation? What if we turned the mirror?

This shift redefines the way we work.

Don’t plan for broadcast, plan for the response: In most traditional strategic disciplines, we plan for the intended message and the outbound content when in fact we should be planning for the response. What are we going to say that will be the most persuasive and clear? How do we want people to react? A positive reaction, whether it’s a click, a message to the brand, or a like, is the hardest but best gauge of personal success. It means the person actually cares about what the brand has to say. We need to have an indicator of how we want consumers to react to our brand and –if we achieve this — how we will respond in turn.

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Shift from message testing to engagement audits: The entire idea of a message test is a dated concept. It relies solely on testing the coherency, impact, and persuasiveness of an outbound message, not taking into consideration the world our consumer lives in every day. What we need to learn is with what unbranded content our consumer wants to engage with. No consumer is looking to share branded messages; he or she is looking to share impactful content. We need to learn what this content looks like, co-opt it, up-level it, and redefine it.

Understand personal metrics: The simplest step is to understand the motivating factors of your audience — their personal metrics plan. Most Web analytics only measure interaction behavior and track business KPI’s against this data. It doesn’t go the extra step of asking your customer what he or she wants, or what he or she considers to be success. Are they looking for validation or a deal? Develop a plan for understanding personal goals and map these back to your business metrics. This will help people to achieve their goals as well as your brand’s goal.

Great marketing has always been about building consumer-first propositions, but we often disregard this in favor of what we the business and brand want to say. In today’s world, it’s become more important than ever to build people-first propositions. Attention spans are simply too short for us to build broadcast brands that deliver business metrics (the ever important click) alone. The control has been handed to the end user. We need to understand this dynamic and create for a new rule.

The Rule of 11 is therefore less of a hard-set marketing metric and more of a philosophical approach to brand marketing. Do we as marketers believe that what we put out there if shared by others will be liked enough to reach the magic number 11? If not, take a pause and don’t add to the clutter.

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