Instagram has quickly evolved in the past few years, including major recent changes like removing the square requirement for images and opening the app’s advertising API. Instagram’s growing user base accounts for approximately 20% of global internet users between the ages 16 and 64. The boost in Instagram users has brands increasingly turning to the visual app to reach their audiences.

Industry reports on Instagram typically reference the engagement of consumers. The average per-follower engagement rate is 4.21% on posts by top brands. What we don’t hear about as often is how brands respond to the increased volume of audience interaction. We know that on other networks, seven in eight social messages to brands go unanswered within 72 hours—creating a huge opportunity space for brands that want to lead the pack in engagement on Instagram and elsewhere.

What Is Instagram Engagement?

Instagram engagement is the total number of comments and likes received on a single image or video or multiple Instagram posts through a specific time frame. Getting users to actually interact and not just scroll by your post is what determines real engagement.

But there’s also another angle that you can measure to understand how users interact with your Instagram posts. From the brand side, Instagram engagement comes in two primary forms:

  1. Managing incoming messages and @mentions
  2. Finding opportunities to make new connections

While you have to publish photos and videos directly from its app, Instagram engagement can be measured and analyzed easily through Sprout Social’s Instagram management tools.

Instagram Engagement Best Practices: Managing Comments & @mentions

Like any social network, Instagram is an opportunity for open communication between brands and consumers. From questions about business hours to requests for technical support, brands will find the comments they receive on Instagram are an opportunity to demonstrate that they value customer care regardless of platform. Whether consumers comment on brands’ posts or @mention them in captions and comments elsewhere, brands that are actively listening seize the opportunity to engage.

When it comes to managing comments, one brand that doesn’t hesitate to join the conversation is Potbelly Sandwich Shop. When customers made plans to meet up at a shop in the comments of this post, Potbelly made sure they knew their visit would be warmly welcomed.


Many brands use their Instagram posts to share advice and stories about their products and services. Sun Tan City took this notion one step further by first regramming a photo shared by a happy customer—showing the company values the posts its social community shares—and then adding an expert tip for enhancing product use.


People take to social media because they want to be heard. While every customer may not have a question, responding to comments and @mentions fosters a one-on-one connection between an individual and your brand. Through these interactions, brands bolster loyalty and drive further communication in the future.

After posting your photo or video on Instagram, turn to Sprout from your computer or mobile device and watch the comments roll in. You can respond to, task or mark messages as complete from the Smart Inbox or click on a comment to view the full comment thread. Responding to questions and comments on your posts will boost interaction from your audience, and let them know you care what they have to say.

Sprout’s Sent Messages Report tracks comments so brands know which posts generated the most chatter; couple this with the Instagram Profiles Report, which measures your top posts, audience growth, publishing behavior, hashtag performance, top influencers engaged and audience engagement, for insight into how effective your brand’s media is. Use these reports to make informed changes to your social media strategy, and compare time periods to determine success.

Instagram Engagement Best Practices: Community Management & Outreach

From nonprofits to celebrities to businesses, many brands on Instagram create branded hashtags to help raise awareness of the brand and key promotions or products. Monitoring these hashtags allows users to deepen engagement with their audiences by:

  • Acknowledging and encouraging users who are sharing content about their brand.
  • Identifying opportunities to right or improve a customer’s experience.
  • Finding user-generated content to curate.
  • Interacting with fans, even when the brand’s handle isn’t mentioned.

Samantha Roby, better known as Chicago Food Authority, regularly posts collages of photos that other Instagram users caption with the hashtag #chicagofoodauthority. This type of content curation through hashtag monitoring allows her to feature a wide variety of restaurants, dishes and perspectives, all while celebrating the contributions of her Instagram community.

Will someone bring me this cinnabiscuit right now?! Pretty plz. With a cherry on top 📷: @tastesbetterhere

A photo posted by Chicago Food Authority (@chicagofoodauthority) on

If you have a branded hashtag or are running a campaign, you can find opportunities to surprise and delight people using your hashtag with Sprout’s Brand Keyword monitoring. The hashtag monitoring enables users to see what photos or videos people post with their hashtag, and the comments other Instagrammers are leaving. Use Brand Keywords to find and engage in conversations by liking or commenting right from the Smart Inbox.

Beyond their own hashtags, brands can use terms related to their industry and offerings to find users whose interests and content relate to their brand. The Discovery feature in Instagram’s app is a great place to search for and identify relevant hashtags and interact with people using these terms. By liking posts and leaving thoughtful comments—not self-promotional, but substantive—brands can use Instagram to cultivate a stronger community and drive brand awareness.

Users can quantify and qualify their engagement efforts using Sprout’s Instagram analytics. Sprout’s reports give insight to a variety of metrics on the profile and post levels which enables users to measure effectiveness and adjust strategy. Sprout tracks likes, comments and engagement ratio for all posted media in the Sent Messages Report, and everything from audience growth to hashtag performance to top influencers that have engaged with your photos in the Instagram Profiles Report.


Learn more about Sprout’s Instagram management tools here.