Instagram continues to evolve as one of the most predominant social media apps for customer interactions and engagement. Just over a one-year period, Instagram saw more than 500,000 advertisers use the network to grow business. The demand for Instagram engagement is at an all-time high, but many brands still struggle to increase conversations and keep users coming back.

There’s a reason why marketers feel like they’ve struck gold when Instagram efforts turn to success. A report from TrackMaven discovered not only does Instagram lead all social networks in engagement per-post, but by an enormous margin. Analysis of 40,000 different companies across 51 million posts found up to 70 interactions per 1,000 followers per post on Instagram.

trackmaven instagram graph

To break it down, the next highest was Facebook at six interactions per 1,000 followers per post. That means Instagram is completely dominating the market for potential interactions and social media engagement. However, data from Sprout Social’s 2015 Index revealed seven in eight social messages sent to brands go unanswered within 72 hours.

Before we highlight how you can take advantage of these social opportunities, let’s look at what makes up Instagram engagement.

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What Is Instagram Engagement?

Instagram engagement is the total number of comments and likes received on an image or video 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 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.

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Instagram Engagement: 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 engage with comments to demonstrate that they value customer care.

Brands have enormous opportunities to actively listen on social media to catch comments on a post or mentions in a user’s caption. However, using the native platform will only take you so far. You lose chances to track and listen to customer conversations without using a third-party management tool.

Increasing Your Social Listening

It’s no doubt that brands manage comments and mentions on Instagram all the time. One business that does well at listening is Potbelly Sandwich Shop. When customers asked if any celebrities ever ate at Potbelly, the handle immediately responded back. The shop sent a link to a story about an NFL player who celebrated his new multi-million dollar contract at Potbelly.

potbelly engagement example

Many brands on Instagram share advice and stories about their products and services. It’s a way to make customers feel like they understand or know the brand more closely. Additionally, brands like to showcase their happy customers through user-generated content.

This is done by regramming Instagram content to show off users promoting your product. When you regram another user’s post, you build loyalty with them. Regramming also shows your audience you’re actively engaged with them, while promoting your content across another user’s following.

The classics are always a good idea. #DoYouDenim Photo by @inspirationholic

A post shared by Gap (@gap) on

Gap took this notion one step further by first regramming a great photo of a customer wearing Gap clothing. This showed that Gap values the posts it gets through the social community. Shares can work for both individuals and brands. So it’s important to never put yourself over another as a brand on social media. Be human and engage.

Ensure Your Audience’s Voice Is Heard

People use social media to be heard. Even though every follower won’t have a question, responding to comments and mentions fosters a one-on-one connection between an individual and your brand. Instagram engagement like this grows brand loyalty and increases the likeliness of more communication down the road.

Building all of these user relations could sound like a daunting task as your followers increase to the tens of thousands. Don’t let too much engagement scare you off. Instead, after each post on Instagram, turn to Sprout Social on your computer or mobile device to listen and manage incoming comments.

demo of sprout smart inbox

Through our intuitive Smart Inbox, you can respond to, task or mark messages as complete. You may also click on a comment to view a full comment thread. This is perfect for larger agencies who handle hundreds of comments each day. Comment threads show comment history, which team member answered the question and user information.

Your responses to questions and comments on your posts will boost interaction from your audience, and let them know you care about what they have to say. You can take Instagram engagement even further with Sprout’s Sent Messages Report.

sent messages analytics report

This report tracks comments for your brand to know which posts drove the most chatter and engagement. When you pair this with our Instagram Profiles Report, you can then measure top posts, audience growth, publishing behavior, hashtag performance, top influencers engaged and audience engagement.

These features give you detailed insights into how effective your brand’s media is with your audience. Use these reports to make informed changes to your social media strategy and compare time periods to determine success rates.

Instagram Engagement: Community Management & Outreach

Whether it’s a nonprofit, agency or celebrity, there are numerous brands on Instagram. One of the best ways to boost Instagram engagement is through branded hashtags. In fact, 70% of hashtags on Instagram are branded.

These types of hashtags are used to raise brand awareness and to get audience members involved with your social media strategy. Monitoring branded hashtags allows users to deepen engagement with their audiences by:

  • Acknowledging and encouraging users who are sharing content about their brand.
  • Identifying opportunities to 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.

Pizza > Most things 📷: @supervicky55 #chicagofoodauthority

A post shared by Chicago Food Authority (@chicagofoodauthority) on

Track & Manage Your Instagram Campaigns

Using hashtags on Instagram can also help you run a campaign. Monitoring hashtag performance is essential for any brand who wants to visualize just how much engagement they’re receiving for their campaign. You can surprise and delight Instagram users who include your hashtag in a post.

With Sprout’s Brand Keyword monitoring features, you see what images or videos people post with the specific hashtag. Not only that, but you get the comments from other users on the specific piece of Instagram content right in your Smart Inbox. This gives you full transparency into your Instagram engagement strategy.

instagram hashtag reporting

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 and identify relevant hashtags. You can also take that time to interact with people using these terms.

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Promote Across Other Networks

More likely than not, your audience uses Instagram. The biggest challenge for most businesses is getting your audience to find you. This is why you have to promote your Instagram across other networks.

If you’ve already built a brand following on Twitter, encourage people to follow you on Instagram. However, you can’t simply bombard users with Tweets and Facebook posts to drive them to Instagram. Instead, give them a reason to add you there.

If there’s no reason to move their following to Instagram, why would they? Always practice with caution as you could come off too needy and risk losing part of your community on your other networks.

Give Users A Reason To Follow & Regram

A recent study by Quintly discovered from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016, the average engagement per video fell 39%, while images dropped 27% over the year. Not only did they find engagement was down, but that brands posting Instagram content rose from 0.89 to 1.04 posts per day.

quintly post per day graph

The amount of posting per day is getting closer to the numbers seen on Facebook, which mean Instagram is only getting more crowded. How do you fix this problem? You get your content seen. Visually appealing content always works better for brands trying to increase their Instagram engagement.

Ensure all of your photos and videos are edited thoroughly. People tend to follow fashion brands on Instagram more than anything else. Even though you’re likely not in that industry, you can take some pointers:

  • Bright photos works: The brighter you go, the more likely you’ll stand out on Instagram. Brighter colors draw people in and create a more natural look. This can help humanize your brand on the social network.
  • Get photo editing tools: Using tools like Afterlight and VSCO are perfect for giving your photos the professional touch. Try not to overdo it with filters, but know the aesthetic of your brand and try to mimic that with an image editing tool.
  • Focus on the center of the image: By having a focal point, you’re able to highlight the person, product or object more effectively. Always have the point of interest in the middle as our eyes tend to move there anyway.

Recognize All of Your Engagement Metrics

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 provide a closer look into the various metrics on your profile and post levels, which enables users to measure effectiveness and adjust strategy. Our analytics tools track:

  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Hashtag performance
  • Audience growth
  • Engagement ratio for all content (in the Sent Messages Report)
  • Top influencers engagement with your content

Learn more about Sprout’s Instagram management tools here.