Besides being one of the most popular platforms (having gathered over one billion users), Instagram is also considered the king of social media engagement.
It only stands to reason that brands would want to get the most out of their Instagram content strategy.
In this Instagram study, we will tackle the issue of Instagram engagement from all angles: from the platform’s power to the concept of the perfect post.
So what are the content rules and how does the perfect Instagram post look like? 🤔
Keep reading to find out what 7,433,417 posts say and how you can create engaging Instagram posts. ⇣
Table of contents
- Instagram lost one-third of last year’s engagement rate per post - declined from about 3% to 2%.
- The larger the Instagram profile, the more it posts.
- 76.1% of brands think images are the best content type for Instagram
- Carousel posts have received a higher engagement rate per post - up to 5.13%
- Brands use fewer hashtags when posting videos (between 3 and 9 hashtags)
- The perfect post caption has under 10 words and over 20 emojis
- “Heart-eyes”😍 emoji is the most used on Instagram
- Contests, giveaways, and DIY posts perform better than regular posts.
No time? Here’s a PDF version of this research so you read the Instagram content strategies later on 👇
In this Instagram study, you'll discover:
- Instagram engagement in decline - We answer the much anticipated questions about the decline of engagement on Instagram for all of 2019, as well as the reason behind this.
- What types of posts brands publish - We look into whether brands prefer posting images, videos or carousels, as well as how often they post.
- What is the best type of Instagram content - We’ll show the data for the highest engagement rates per post.
- How long should an Instagram caption be - We find out if there is any difference in engagement between posts with captions that have under 10 words, 10 to 30 words, or over 30 words (excluding hashtags).
- Do emojis help Instagram performance - we see if emojis are indeed more engaging, and if “the more, the merrier” applies in this case.
- Does asking questions make your audience more responsive - we saw if including questions in brand posts encourages people to answer more.
- Which are the best performing posts from niche types of messages - We take a good look at messages that have to do with categories such as promotions, giveaways, tutorials, DIYs, events, contests.
At the moment, the Engagement rate per post stands at about 2%, while months back it was reaching 3% - but this is normal.
Instagram Engagement has been dropping since November - December of last year, but the date coincides with the platform’s announcement that they will start deleting fake accounts. Which they seem to be doing.
76.1% of brand posts are using images instead of video or carousel posts.
An overwhelming majority of brands turn to images as the default type of post. However, that’s not always the best decision.
Carousel posts tend to have a higher engagement rate per post - between 1.65% and 5.13%, depending on the profile size.
With one exception, carousel posts perform better than images or videos - an average of between 0.25% - 0.51% higher engagement. Surprisingly, images actually have the lowest engagement rates.
The exception to the above, profiles who have between 50k and 100k followers have had a better engagement rate when posting videos (2.24%).
If your Instagram account is of medium size, your best bet is to go with those video posts.
Profiles with over 100K followers have posted an average of 241 posts this year, while accounts with under 5K followers only posted around 50 posts.
Larger accounts post more frequently. And the smaller the account size, the less it posts, which may have something to do with the resources available to smaller brands versus bigger brands.
Brands use fewer hashtags when posting videos.
Images and carousel posts are similar in terms of the number of hashtags used in these types of posts. However, brands tend to use fewer hashtags when they publish video posts.
Short captions of less than 10 words and adding at least 20 emojis make for more engaging posts.
The perfect Instagram content is short and to the point and is full of emojis to brighten it up.
The messages that can fit into categories like “contest”, “giveaway”, and “DIY” are more engaging than regular posts.
These 3 categories are extremely successful, while posts that are talking about tutorials or promotions perform worse than regular posts.
There have been several theories among specialists regarding the fact that Instagram engagement has been declining in 2019. This is raising questions about the platform’s ability to reel in the good leads and audience, as it used to do.
The reality is that indeed, the average engagement rate per post is much lower in 2019, but that shouldn’t necessarily be an alarm bell.
In November 2018, Instagram officially announced that it will be removing fake accounts.
If we take a look at the evolution of the average engagement rate per post from 2014 until the present time, there is an obvious decline that starts between November - December of 2018.
This means that Instagram is making good on its promise.
So regardless of the fact that the numbers might be smaller, the audience your brand actually reaches on Instagram remains pretty much the same.
In other words, Instagram still remains the most engaging social media platform. So finding out what the best Instagram content looks like is more relevant than ever.
There are many ways to creatively attract more ideal followers and keep our current followers engaged and connected to you and what you do. Here are 3 strategies that will help you turbocharge your engagement.
1. Try posting content in all 4 neighborhoods: the feed, IG Stories, IGTV, and IG Live. When you create content in all 4 neighborhoods your follows can connect with you deeper.
- Sue B. Zimmerman, Instagram Expert & Business Coach
Keeping the audience connected to the brand requires a constant Instagram presence, which can only be achieved through frequent and consistent posting.
So let’s see what is the posting strategy of these business profiles.
Profiles with over 100K followers have posted an average of 241 posts this year, while accounts with under 5K followers only published around 50 posts.
Profiles with between 50K-100K followers have posted 129 times, while profiles with 10K-50K followers have published 98 posts.
It seems that the smaller the account size, the less it posts. This may have something to do with the resources available to smaller brands versus bigger brands, especially if you consider that this statement has mostly remained accurate across 2014-2019.
By far, 2015 was the year with the highest number of posts. After that, brands have learned that “less is more” and have slightly lowered the number of posts per year.
Another pique in the number of posts was seen in 2018, but not as considerable as in 2015.
Looking into what brands have been posting among the years, a “go-to” type of post seems to be emerging.
Undeniably, images make for the majority of posts published between 2014 and 2019, making up for 76.1% of all Instagram posts.
On a monthly basis, there have always been more images posted on Instagram than any other type of content.
And that is a habit that has spread across all profile sizes.
Video posts seem to take second place, but by a huge difference, while carousel posts are the least favourite.
But to understand if this strategy is truly working we need to take a look at the engagement each type of post is generating.
The size of a brand’s Instagram profile has a big influence on the engagement rate their posts receive.
However, in all cases, carousel posts outperform the other two, reaching rates between 1.65% and 5.13%, depending on the profile size.
2. Carousel posts are a great way to shake up your feed and keep people on your post longer.
The longer someone stays, the more likely it becomes to be pushed for others. You can alternate video and photos in a carousel post adding more context to the information you are sharing.
The most important thing to remember is to show up as your true authentic self and have your own spin on what you do. The more you stand out from everyone else who does what you do, the more you will get noticed.
- Sue B. Zimmerman, Instagram Expert & Business Coach
There is one notable exception to this rule: profiles that have between 50K and 100K followers, where videos seem to work better than images and carousels, with an average engagement rate of 2.24%, as opposed to 2.03% for carousels and 1.63% for videos.
In reality, data shows that although brands prefer publishing posts with images, those are the ones that have the lowest average engagement rates per post. Publishing carousels is much more effective.
Let’s look at a breakdown of this engagement!🤔
What makes carousel posts perform so well is the fact that this type of posts gets the best median number of likes per post.
This is visible across all profile sizes, even though a smaller following doesn’t show too big a difference since it doesn’t gather too many likes in the first place.
Looking at those big Instagram accounts with a following of over 100K, this division cannot be more clear: 5,670 median likes for carousels, 5,022 median likes for videos and only 4,172 median likes for images.
Not too many people actually comment on a brand post, but apparently the chances are higher when brands publish video posts.
Looking at the median number of comments per post, we find out that accounts with a following bigger than 100K have received 74 comments on videos, which is 19 more comments than on carousel posts, and 37 more comments than on posts with images.
In fact, the largest Instagram profiles have had twice as many comments on video posts than on image posts.
3. Videos get views. If you do not yet have an IGTV strategy, I suggest you start.
Ever since the integration of video in the feed views engagement has been way up.
For example, a video I posted over a year ago got 1.7K views and 54 comments and one I posted 2 months ago already has over 5.5k views and 61 comments.
- Sue B. Zimmerman, Instagram Expert & Business Coach
By calculating the average number of hashtags used in image, video and carousel posts, we dive a little deeper into the posting strategy that most brands have.
While image and carousel posts have more hashtags, it seems that the strategy for video posts is to use fewer hashtags.
In reality, hashtags perform better when taking into account a certain formula.
Find out what is the best hashtag formula in our Instagram hashtag study.
The perfect Instagram content is short and to the point, which makes it more concise and easy to read.
Although most posts tend to be longer and have over 10 words, engagement is better in case if shorter texts.
The perfect post also shows a bit of personality with the help of emojis, which give the brand a human touch, making interactions much more human.
Most Instagram posts have between 10 and 30 words, but the data shows that it’s better to write even shorter texts. This is excluding hashtags, of course.
Writing short captions of under 10 words increases the average engagement rate per post to 3.13% for carousels, 2.54% for images, and 2.35% for videos.
Starting a conversation with the audience always seems like a good idea and often the easiest method of doing so becomes including questions in the post’s caption.
That’s why almost half - meaning 45.7% of brands - include at least one question in their posts.
Most of these posts contain images - 73.6%
However, this strategy is not working as well as we thought, as most of the time the engagement rates are lower in the posts that include questions: the average engagement rate decreases from 2.64% to 2.45% for carousel posts and from 2.19% to 1.94% for video posts.
In the case of image posts, however, the engagement rate per post increases slightly, from 2.38% to 2.41%.
This means that the 0.03% difference in engagement rate would not be a significant enough result to render successful the tactic of including questions in Instagram posts.
These special characters brighten up the post and humanize the brand. The proof is in the numbers.
Emojis increase the engagement rate per post with an average of between 0.5 % and 1.32%, depending on the type of post:
- For images, the engagement goes from 2.15% to 2.72% when adding emojis
- For carousels, the engagement goes from 2.52% to 3.06% when adding emojis
- For videos, the engagement goes from 1.88% to 3.20% when adding emojis
So if they work so well, how many emojis should brands use? Also, how many emojis are too many emojis?🤔
Most brands tend to use one or two emojis. Actually, the more the number of emojis in single posts increases, the fewer posts we can find.
But brands shouldn’t be afraid of using lots of emojis. Data show that the best performing posts have:
- 23 emojis in video posts for peak performance
- 24 emojis in carousel posts for peak performance
- 20 emojis in image posts for peak performance
Since using emojis in Instagram posts works so well, let’s get an idea of what emojis are favorites on Instagram.
If you’re wondering what is the most popular Instagram emoji, it’s the “heart-eyes”😍, followed by “sparkles”✨, “heart” ❤️ and “camera with flash”📸
Here are the top 10 most used emojis on Instagram, ordered by the number of posts in which they appear:
Are any of these emojis a surprise?
Besides the regular content, brands also engage their viewership with special types of messages, that can easily fit into a few common categories:
- Events: by far the most written about subject in brand posts
- Diys: “Do it yourself” techniques shared on Instagram
- Contests: one of the oldest strategies, these posts still have people queuing to join
- Giveaways: great and well-received signs of appreciation from brands
- Promotions: promotion posts on brand profiles come as no surprise
- Tutorials: seemingly a great way to share some of the knowledge with the audience
Something to be noted is that the chart only includes the 6 categories in question, as uncategorized posts were not taken into account.
Posting something related to one of these 6 categories seems like a good idea, but how well do these actions really work?
Let’s take a look at the engagement these posts receive, compared to the engagement of posts that are not in these categories.
Promoting a product or a feature is a “necessary evil”. After all, it’s the whole reason brands are on social media in the first place.
However, you don’t always expect to get the highest engagement on these posts.
But it’s not that bad. Despite posts in which promotions are mentioned being less engaging than regular posts, the differences in engagement rates are not too bad:
- For images: promotion posts have an average engagement rate of 1.81% vs. 2.41% in non-promotion posts.
- For carousels: promotion posts have an average engagement rate of 2.34% vs. 2.54% in non-promotion posts.
- For videos: promotion posts have an average engagement rate of 1.84% vs. 2.10% in non-promotion posts.
So brands can easily afford a promotion post here and there.
Given how popular “do it yourself” projects are on other platforms, there’s no surprise they perform well on Instagram too.
Surprisingly, despite DIY posts being extremely engaging on Instagram, the videos are the ones that do not perform too well:
- For images: DIY posts have an average engagement rate of 2.73% vs. 2.41% in non-DIY posts
- For carousels: DIY posts have an average engagement rate of 3.23% vs. 2.54% in non-DIY posts
- For videos: DIY posts have an average engagement rate of 2.06% vs. 2.09% in non-DIY posts
It becomes pretty clear that brands should try to can include DIYs in their content calendar.
Once again, there is no surprise that these types of messages perform well. The surprise, however, is how big the differences in engagement between posts with giveaways and posts without giveaways actually are.
- For images: Giveaway posts have an average engagement rate of 3.25% vs. 2.40% in non-giveaway posts
- For carousels: Giveaway posts have an average engagement rate of 3.58% vs. 2.53% in non-giveaway posts
- For videos: Giveaway posts have an average engagement rate of 2.34% vs. 2.09% in non-giveaway posts
Giveaways have the role of making the interactions between brands and the audience more personal and palpable by tearing down the digital - real life wall, so to speak.
Always popular, contests inevitable attract participants.
- For images: Contest posts have an average engagement rate of 3.58% vs. 2.40% in non-contest posts
- For carousels: Contest posts have an average engagement rate of 3.29% vs. 2.54% in non-contest posts
- For videos: Contest posts have an average engagement rate of 1.98% vs. 2.09% in non-contest posts
Most likely, contest posts will maintain their popularity in the future as well.
Tutorials and how-tos are a great way to transfer some knowledge and could be an interesting source of information.
But while this sort of content is successful on other types of platforms, the numbers are rather low when it comes to Instagram engagement.
- For images: Tutorial posts have an average engagement rate 1.98% vs. 2.41% in non-tutorial posts.
- For carousels: Tutorial posts have an average engagement rate of 1.46% vs. 2.55% in non-tutorial posts.
- For videos: Tutorial posts have an average engagement rate of 1.56% vs. 2.10% in non-tutorial posts.
Over 40% of the posts from types of messages we looked into are talking about events, which makes this element rather important in most social media strategies.
Although as a brand you’d like a lot of focus on posts promoting or talking about an event, the reality is that the engagement isn’t much different than with regular posts.
- For images: Event posts have an average engagement rate 2.51% vs. 2.41% in non-event posts.
- For carousels: Event posts have an average engagement rate of 2.44% vs. 2.54% in non-event posts.
- For videos: Event posts have an average engagement rate of 1.96% vs. 2.10% in non-event posts.
Those few +/- decimals don’t really amount to much if you’re counting on Instagram when promoting an important event, but it won't hurt either.
Therefore, when creating an Instagram post it is important to look at every element and see how well it performs, gather all of the information and come out with a final formula that helps your brand keep engagement high.
To find out what the best Instagram post contains we looked at 7,433,417 posts from 31,033 profiles of different sizes.
Within this report, we included representative business Instagram handles with an active presence on Instagram between the 1st of January 2014 and the 31st of July 2019.
We used Socialinsider to find out metrics such as post counts and average engagement rates, while respecting the Instagram API guidelines. Socialinsider defines total engagement as the sum of likes and comments, while the engagement rate is the average engagement per 100 followers.
We wanted to know which elements influence engagement in a positive or negative way, from post types to specific content elements such as emojis, hashtags, caption length, questions or types of messages.
These profiles were divided into different sizes as follows:
- with less than 5,000 followers,
- between 5,000 and 10,000 followers,
- between 10,000 and 50,000 followers,
- between 50,000 and 100,000 followers
- with over 100,000 followers.
We included the cases in which the differences in profile size made a statistical difference.
Please note that this study was based on 2014-2019 data extracted by Socialinsider from brand posts that exist within the tool's database. Take this study as a guideline and a starting point for discovering the most engaging posts for your brand. Despite looking into a big pool of posts, certain insights might not be applicable for some profiles.
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