Followers and engagement

Sked Social & SocialInsider: An In-depth Look at How Instagram Engagement has Changed This Year

  • 13 Minutes
We partnered with SocialInsider to analyse a total of 62,895 business profiles, over 100,000 posts, to discover which posts work best for your brand or business.

It’s been another year of innovation at Instagram, and they’ve done a great job of coming up with new features and posting types to keep their users hooked, spending hours on images, carousels, stories, IGTV and now, Reels. 

Brands must adapt to these changes, or miss riding the engagement wave that usually follows. 

Diversity in post types on Instagram means you either need to create more content, diversify the types of content you’re putting out there, or do both. It’s difficult for a brand or business to know which is the best strategy, and how to allot resources, so we did the work for you.

In this study, we’ve partnered with the social media analytics gurus at SocialInsider. We’ve analysed Instagram post type, engagement and other data for 2019 and 2020 to discover what the latest trends are – and how Instagram has changed, given the changes in the world in 2020. 

Let’s get started! 👇

Methodology

We analysed a total of 62,895 business profiles, segmented as follows:

  • profiles under 5K followers: 25,643
  • profiles between 5K-10K followers: 7,291
  • profiles between 10K-50K followers: 15,881
  • profiles between 50K-100K followers: 5,947
  • profiles with more than 100K followers: 12,421

Summary

  • How Instagram engagement has evolved over time: A comparison between 2019 and 2020. We’ll let you in on what’s changed, and what hasn’t, and give you some insights into what to expect moving forward.
  • Measuring engagement at the impression level: We take a look at reach and interactions at the impression level. This is a great metric to guide both your paid ad spend, as well as your organic post content.
  • What types of posts get more likesEngagement, especially likes count, is king on Instagram. We’ll give you the step by step on which post types, and what kind of content is best for your brand.
  • What do people usually comment on: We’ll discover which types of posts make people want to start conversations with brands on Instagram. 
  • What type of content is more likely to be saved by users: Is your content likely to be saved by users for future reference? What content is more ‘saveable’? 
  • What’s the average reach for every type of content: Which post types reach more people? 
  • Average reach per post by profile size:  Does a bigger follower account automatically mean more reach, or is that a myth? 
  • The captions length’s influence over engagement: How long (or short!) should your caption be for the best chance at improving your engagement. 

Key insights

  • The overall Instagram engagement rate held steady for all of 2019, followed by a notable increase during the first half of 2020, only to go down to the initial rate of around 2.02% for the end of 2020.
  • For accounts under 5,000 followers, carousel posts consistently drive the highest engagement. For medium sized accounts – the best choice is video. 
  • Carousel posts with captions of 10 words or less are the most likely for users to engage with. For video posts, you’ll want to choose a caption of more than 30 words. 
  • Carousel posts contributed to a much higher overall impression rate from 2019 to 2020. Instagram seems to be pushing this type of content into users’ feeds. 
  • Carousels are getting more likes than any other media type.
  • Do you want to start a conversation with your followers? Video is consistently the best way to get folks to start commenting. 
  • Both video and carousels drive comments and conversations over images, but carousels win with smaller accounts and video with larger accounts. 
  • For larger accounts (more than 100k followers), images tend to be the kind of content that users save. 
  • Carousel posts drive higher reach rate – especially in two categories, small accounts under 5,000 followers and those medium and growing accounts of around 50,000-100,000 followers. 
  • Overall engagement on Instagram has held steady since 2019, besides a brief increase from February 2020 to July 2020, when travel was most restricted and the worldwide pandemic had more people in front of their screens than normal. 

Diving into the Numbers

To give you a baseline, the average engagement rate per post (by followers) for Instagram across all types of posts is 2.02%.

At the beginning of 2019, the marketing trends indicated Instagram’s engagement would reverse course from – and reviewing the data, it was right! 

Starting from a position of 2% average engagement rate for carousels posts, it reached a maximum of 3.0% in July 2020, thanks to videos, and eventually, changed direction again, with carousels, going down to 1.6%.

Of course, we’re talking about the peak values, which may differ depending on the type of content. 

In following the overall trends for 2020, carousel posts were the primary engagement driver for the first part of the year. In March, that swapped to video and stayed that way until November, when it swapped back to carousels. 

So why the change? 

Ready to find out how this trend could impact your marketing strategy? Do you need to focus more on social videos or carousels – and what are other brands doing? Pop a bag of popcorn and get comfy, we’re only just getting to the good part.

As the world changed in February 2020, engagement spiked well above the consistent 2.02% that had been the norm for more than a year. 

But it didn’t last that long until the engagement rate returned to a steady floating level.

This is the evolution of Instagram engagement over 2019-2020.

Instagram carousels bring higher engagement rates for small accounts 

One of the questions that’s on every brand’s minds is what type of content should they post to increase Instagram engagement

There’s no one, single recipe for choosing the right type of content. There are plenty of other variables that need to be considered when creating a content strategy

Have you ever thought about whether profile size impacts engagement – or what type of content your audience engage with? 

As you look at the size of your account, and your growth trends – consider this:

  • According to our data, for profiles up to 5K, carousels are post type that spurs the most engagement – 4.78%, followed by video, with an average engagement rate per post of 3.82%.
  • For bigger profiles, between 10K – 100K, video drives the highest engagement rates, on average of 2.88% 
  • And things seem to reverse again when we’re talking about profiles bigger than 100K, where the carousel posts on Instagram win again, with an average engagement rate per post of 1.40%, but that’s still well below the average. 

This is the status of the Instagram engagement per post by profile size.

Captions up to 10 words increase engagement on Instagram for businesses 

We’ve heard a lot of discussions regarding the caption length’s influence over engagement. But many of those arguments are emotional. Reasons like: creating a good story for the customers and connecting deeper on an emotional level with the brand.

Looking purely at the numbers, we found a different story:

According to our data, captions up to 10 words are the ones that bring the most engagement, especially when combined with a carousel. 

When using more than 10 words on a carousel post, engagement takes a nosedive to about 0.70%.

For video, a 3x longer caption length produces the best engagement results. If you’re a brand with over 10,000 followers, you should aim for around 30 words or slightly more, to promote engagement. 

A grapfic that shows the impact of the Instagram's caption length.

Carousel posts led to a higher impressions rate on Instagram

Have you ever heard of the rule of 7 in marketingSimply put, your consumers need, on average, 7 interactions with your brand before making a purchase decision.

Which leads us to our metric, engagement per impressions rate. Or, in other words, the engagement per view. 

Most people don’t engage with the same post twice – but there’s still some value into digging into this metric.

Overall, it appears there were higher values for the engagement rate per impressions in 2020, especially for carousels posts. This can uncover one of Instagram’s strategies, pushing forward this type of content into the user’s feeds.

So, if you are wondering what posts to boost on Instagram, consider using carousels.

For example, accounts under 5K followers have a significant engagement rate per impressions of 8.01% for the carousel postings.

This picture represents the engagement by impressions on Instagram.

Carousels increase the median number of likes per posts on Instagram

When objectively looking at likes per post, we’re using the median as our primary metric. We’ve already seen the battle between videos and carousels for winning your audience’s attention, but when it comes to likes, carousels win this round.

Don’t put your video editor away just yet, video still has some advantages. 

As we can see, from the smallest to the highest, the median number of likes per post reaches the greatest values for carousels, regardless of the account’s size.

Surprisingly, it’s followed by images, which got second place, and this hierarchy is kept the same regardless of the profile size.

When reviewing Instagram for small business, the number of likes per post is really low – and the best ones have more than 100k followers. This makes sense, as bigger accounts tend to have budgets to put marketing dollars behind their organic efforts.

This graphic represents the median number of likes on Instagram.

Videos increase the median number of comments for larger Instagram accounts

Now that we’ve seen how things are going with likes, it’s time for the next level. ‘Cuz as a brand, there are so many other things you’re interested in, besides likes.

Impressing the audience enough to like your post is good, but making them comment is even better. 

Since this requires a stronger connection between brand and users, and a certain level of loyalty from their side, the median number of comments will show a much lower value than the one of likes.

Here’s an interesting point regarding the median number of comments per post type: it has many waves when paired with account sizes. Which can only mean that you must plan your content based on what you want to achieve.

Let’s break it down a bit. 

  • Our data shows accounts between 5k – 10K followers have a higher chance of having their community engage through comments when posting a carousel. 
  • For medium-sized accounts, between 10K- 50K, brands have an equal chance of picking up comments from both carousels and videos. 
  • When it comes to accounts between 50K – 100K, video starts to have a slight advantage.
  • Brands that have a following above 100K have a median number of comments 4x bigger than the smaller ones.

If your goal is to build strong, long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with your audience, conversations are key.

This graphic represents the median number of Instagram comments.

Images return more saves for larger Instagram profiles 

In case you didn’t pay much attention to this type of insight so far, as a social media manager, you should start doing it.

This is also one of your consumer’s ways of telling you what they want and expect.

If you thought the other insights our data revealed were interesting, we’re glad, but wait till you see these discoveries. 

Starting primarily with images, which initially gave its status of a visually-oriented platform, Instagram has long evolved over the years. 

Once again, it seems small accounts, under 5K, get along better with carousels.

Up until 500K followers, there’s a tie between video and carousel. But after that, the situation starts on taking quite a turn. 

When we’re talking about profiles between 50K – 100K, the carousel is the one that’s winning people’s hearts, making them press that save button more often, followed by images. 

Applause, please! ‘Cuz images make quite a comeback if we look at the big profiles. 

This time big profiles over 100K break the pattern and prioritize images when it comes to content saved, though videos and carousels are not that far, having close positions one to another.

Now, after all this data, we bet you’re wondering what type of content you should post in the end. We’ve said it before, and we say it again – it all comes down to your business objectives and what you wish your customers to do. 

Once this is established, finding the right strategy to deliver your messages to your audience is the next big step. 

If you need some help, you can check some examples of social media campaigns that rocked the digital landscape and some tips on starting your own.

This graphic represents the median number of saves on Instagram.By using carousels, brands have a better chance of getting higher reach rates

For you to have the full picture (which means the whole data) when it comes to creating your Instagram strategy, we give you a couple of more metrics and numbers that may come in handy.

Nowadays, many customers are interacting with brands through stories, since they are more interactive. Not to mention the do-not-miss-this-moment feeling, by being available for just 24 hours, making posts in feed lose their appeal, therefore causing the engagement to decrease. 

Well, that’s a perfectly good explanation of why the story’s reach rate is higher than the one of the posts in the feed. But let’s go over the numbers, shall we?

Our study has revealed the average reach rate on Instagram, carousels win first place across all profile sizes.

Although every account’s goal is to grow, as a social media manager, you should know there are also some benefits of being a small account. 

As expected, profiles under 5K have the highest reach rate, and carousels have twice the potential of video for them.

But this time, accounts between 50K – 100K are the ones that caught our attention, with quite a high value for carousels. Although there’s a significant difference between the two types of posts, images are the ones on which larger profiles can count on as a second option.

Instagram's reach rate statistics segmented by type of posts and profile size

Final thoughts

Throughout this study, we’ve seen each type of post has its advantages and possible gains for your business. Only pairing the right objectives with your desired actions will get you where you want.

But remember, your social media strategy should always build your social media strategy on your past experience as well.

Although Instagram engagement works in mysterious ways, this set of data should give you a strategic direction when you start planning. What’s your ROI saying so far?

Definitions

Engagement: is the sum of likes and comments an account receives.

Average engagement rate per post (by followers): measures the level of interactions an account has through the content published, divided by the number of followers, and multiplied by 100, to get a percentage. 

It is best used when you’re comparing your data with your competitor’s performance.

Impressions: refers to the total number of views a piece of content has had. 

Engagement rate per impressions: reveals how many people liked or commented on your posts from those who watched repeatedly.

It is calculated by dividing your engagement to your impressions, then multiplied by 100.

Is especially a helpful metric for ads, with which you can see how many times they were displayed in your target’s feed.

Median number of likes, comments or saves: midpoint values for likes, comments and saves.

Reach: shows to how many people your content was delivered in the feed, counting only the unique values, as opposed to impressions. 

Average reach rate per post: it reveals how many people interacted with your posts (photo, video, and carousels) from those who have seen your posts aside from your followers. It’s calculated by dividing the engagement of a post to the reach, all multiplied by 100.

It is helpful to see the potential virality of a post.

You can find the full study here: [STUDY] Social Media Industry Benchmarks

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