Somewhere between the signal and the noise of This Week in Internet Outrage™ came a flood of reports Thursday that a number of high-profile brands and celebrities had suddenly lost millions of Instagram followers, or at least a high percentage of their follower count.
Naturally, the knee-jerk reaction by many social brand management professionals was something along the lines of panic. Zach Allia compiled a very dynamic look at just how many followers the top 100 Instagram accounts lost during the so-called #Instapurge, while Adweek detailed the brands who lost the most followers.
Numerous probably looked in the mirror and saw this:
This wasn’t a wholly unexpected move. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram regularly purge its user base of accounts that are dormant, breaking the platform’s Terms of Service or spamming other users with undesirable content or comments. In fact, the news that Instagram specifically was on the verge of doing this on a large scale was hidden in plain view in this December 10 blog post from CEO Kevin Systrom:
Keeping Instagram authentic is critical—it’s a place where real people share real moments. We’re committed to doing everything possible to keep Instagram free from the fake and spammy accounts that plague much of the web, and that’s why we’re finishing up some important work that began earlier this year.
I’m going to go against the grain of people panicking over seeing their follower count drop. In fact, Instagram’s move should have brand managers absolutely thrilled, because for the equivalent effort of you eating a sandwich, Instagram immediately increased your brand’s most important metric: engagement rate.
Engagement rate (referred to below as E%) is one of the top metrics a social manager should be keeping a close eye on; it’s very simply the number of engagements on a post divided by the numbers of impressions the post receives. Ergo, if 5,000 people saw your post and 1,000 engaged with it, you’ve got a 20 percent engagement rate, which would fall into the extremely high category.
If you passed 3rd grade math, the conclusion here should be extremely clear. A case study: You might be panicking that an account you manage lost 1,000 followers, but in reality, those purged accounts weren’t engaging with your content anyway because they were spam or simply dormant. Therefore, by eliminating irrelevant accounts, your ratio of engagements to followers just went up by a large margin.
Division is simple. 1,000 divided by 5,000 is 20 percent. Remember – Instagram just eliminated 1,000 of those followers who, by their nature, were never engaged with your content anyway, so all of a sudden, you’re down to 1,000 divided by 4,000.
That E% is 25 percent, or a potential 25 percent increase in E% without you lifting as much as a finger. That ratio gets even higher when you include the truism that not every single one of your followers will see any given piece of content.
Granted, there are two major blind spots here when it comes to tracking engagement on Instagram versus Facebook/Twitter:
- Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram doesn’t provide native impression statistics, so we have no way of accurately knowing exactly how many people saw a post
- Virality in the Instagram platform is almost impossible due to the lack of a native sharing feature like a retweet or a share (hypothetically, an Instagram photo could go viral on Twitter or Facebook, but those metrics would belong to Twitter and Facebook and not inherently Instagram)
Deep breaths, friends. This is a good time for everyone to think clearly about metrics and remember that relying solely on follower count to judge the value of any social account is antiquated and ineffective. With the incredible amount of data we have about social post performance available to brand managers, we now have much better ways of determining your brand’s effectiveness.
Remember to take a deep look at what types of content really makes people want to double-tap your photo or, better yet, leave a comment. The true value in social continues to lie in that engagement rate, and the higher it is, the more valuable that account really is.