Instagram is the hot social platform of the moment, with more and more brands flocking to the platform to tap into the rising use of Stories and to pre-empt the platform's greater shift into eCommerce.
But could that influx already be impacting overall Instagram engagement?
I mean, that probably makes sense. In late 2017, Instagram reported that were more than 25 million businesses active in the platform, up from 15 million only a few months earlier. Instagram hasn't reported any official update to this number since, but you can bet that it's now significantly more than that - and with more brands vying for attention in feeds, engagement on brand content, overall, has to decline. After all, there's only so much time users are spending consuming feed posts each day.
And now, a new report has shown just how much brand engagement on the platform is dropping - take a look at this chart from Trust Insights' latest report.
Trust Insights analyzed 1,430,995 posts from 3,637 brand profiles (Stories were not included) in order to ascertain the overall average engagement rate. And as you can see, it's starting to dip, which, again, is logical, given rising competition. But it's also something to watch, and to note for marketers.
The concern with the rise of Instagram, at least for brands, is that we'll eventually see the same trends we saw on Facebook. Facebook started out by giving brands plenty of organic reach, but eventually, that reach started to decline, then decline further, to the point where now it's very difficult to maintain any type of non-paid connection with the majority of your Facebook Page audience.
Facebook's justification for this has been that people want to see more from their friends, and less from brands, but the beneficial side effect for the company is that it pushes more companies towards paid reach options. That could play out the same way on Instagram - and while you can't argue that people go to social platforms to see content from their friends and family, the fact that 80% of Instagram users also follow a business would suggest that business content is also what they're coming to see. Could Instagram still flip that into justification for lower brand reach, which would again increase the need for paid ads?
Really, that is how Facebook's monetization strategy works. Back in 2016, at Facebook's annual stockholder meeting, CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed the company's monetization strategy for all of its tools, detailing its established, three-stage process:
- Build a product that people love
- Facilitate organic business behavior on the app (free of charge)
- Prove additional avenues for businesses who are seeking to expand their reach and presence
That last step doesn't say anything about limiting the second, but it makes logical sense, and the specific note of 'free of charge' suggests that, at some stage, brands are going to have to pay. That stage may actually be the fourth element - limit organic activity in order to maximize revenue potential'.
Given this, Trust Insights' findings come as little surprise - though they do also note that it's not just brand profiles impacted.
Influencers are also seeing reduced reach, which could make Instagram marketing even more difficult moving forward.
So how do you counter this? By focusing on content 'which appeals to your unique audience. Really, you don't need to reach everyone, you just need to connect with those most likely to buy from your business. Maximizing your reach is one way to ensure you're catching as many of these potential customers as possible, but by focusing on your target audience, you can expand your engagement, and boost sales, by building a more dedicated community.
Either way, quality, and audience focus, is key. It may also be that more bad marketers are infiltrating Instagram, and that, overall, is leading to lower reach, with the poorer performers dragging down the averages.
But no matter how you look at it, it is worth considering, and keeping in mind that Instagram is owned by Facebook. And marketers have heard this song before.