To be or not to be... that is not the question today. Instead, to care or not to care is the question when it comes to Instagram metrics. Like all social media, there are plenty of things we can choose to monitor, track, and claim as successful marketing. And, yet, we often find ourselves scrambling to define what that "success" really means.
To make things more complicated, a lot of metrics on Instagram aren't easy to track. Whereas Facebook business pages give you pages of Insights, Instagram is still very limited in its analytical data. So, without something else to track quickly and easily, many rely on the good "old fashioned" metric of likes, comments, and follower growth.
Do these popularity metrics really matter? Are they even worth monitoring? And are they worth investing resources into to increase their numbers? Or is there something else you should be measuring?
Well, yes, no, and maybe so 😉
Let's start with the popularity/vanity metrics of followers and likes.
To be honest, after I had already started this blog post topic and formulated my arguments, this exact topic came up in a Facebook discussion among my peers. The conversation was quite enlightening, but didn't change my mind significantly.
Here's what I've come to believe: there are two types of people when it comes to popularity (personal or professional); those who care about being popular and those who don't.
I realize that's a little oversimplified, but really, that's all there is to it.
Maybe because I was not a popular kid in school, maybe because I have these stubborn values I refuse to forego, I fall into the latter category. Sure, I would love to have 100,000 followers on Instagram. Sure, I'd love to get 1000 likes on each photo I posted. But I would never sacrifice my business morals to get there. I've been called out more times than I can count for being an Instagram "expert" without a large following on the platform. And I defend it the same way every time, because it's not about the number of followers or racing a popularity contest. I don't have to have 50,000 followers to show you how to use the platform successfully. In fact, there are a recent slew of articles showing how easy it is to fake Instagram popularity and influence. And that is just not something I care to stake my value on.
Another argument I hear all the time is: "we want to look better than our competitor" so we need more followers, we need more likes. No offense, but if that's what you're worried about, you are worse than your competitors. Because at that point, you aren't worried about your customer or how you can serve them. You're worried about how you look and what's best for you. You're in a popularity contest and willing to buy followers, buy engagement, or otherwise manipulate the system to make your business appear a certain way.
Then there's the argument that if an account has lots of likes and followers, it's a proof source. It shows that others like something too and maybe you should be on that bandwagon too. This, in my opinion, is short sighted. Let's use an example... you walk by a restaurant and there's a line up around the block. It must be fabulous, right? The food must be the best and service outstanding. Why else would all these people wait in line? But there's a bunch of other restaurants down the street, all with average numbers of patrons, and even a few with lower than average. Does that mean those restaurants are any worse than the popular one?
Maybe the long lines are because the restaurant was just featured somewhere, or people are sheeples and assume if everyone else likes it, they should too. Maybe the food is the best damn thing you've ever eaten (totally possible). But to cater to that popularity, the restaurant starts cutting its quality or cutting menu items to shorten table time so they can get more people in. They're making money but the long term viability just isn't there - they aren't in it for the customers, they are in it for themselves.
Whereas those less crowded restaurants are devoted to their customers. They have patrons who have been coming in there for years and tell everyone they know about the restaurant. And the food and service here may even be way better than at the popular restaurant. The restaurant may not be the most popular on the block but they have longevity in business.
And, yes, for you critical ones, I know there are plenty of other ways this example could go... but I want you to think of things from a business perspective, not an Instagram perspective. Because, really, your Instagram account is just one small component of your entire business strategy.
So, if you haven't figured it out yet, I really don't care about likes and followers. At least, not in the way most people do.
Yes, engagement and followers matter. But they matter as a trend analysis, not as individual components. Yes, your followers should increase over time. On a monthly, quarterly, and yearly analysis, you should see your numbers of followers increasing. If they're not, then that's a sign of something not working on Instagram and you'll wanna figure out why your numbers are staying the same, or worse, decreasing.
I never recommend looking at your follower counts daily or weekly. There's way too much fluctuation on Instagram and you'll drive yourself crazy trying to manage that metric in small time frames.
As for likes and comments on posts, here's the reality: yes, your numbers should increase over time. You should be getting more likes on posts in a year from now than you are right now. But you also need to understand that as your follower count increases, your engagement rate will actually decrease. As you gain more and more followers, many of those are casual users and many are not your die-hard fans, so they aren't as likely to engage consistently. This actually dilutes your engagement so that your engagement rate (likes and comments divided by the number of followers) will actually decrease as you grow in follower count.
What should you really worry about when it comes to Instagram metrics?
You are running a business aren't you?
So, what matters most to your business? A few hundred likes or a few hundred sales?
The challenge, as I already mentioned, with Instagram is that these conversions can be hard to track. As a business profile, you can now get analytics that show you how many website clicks you got each week, so definitely measure that! See how that fluctuates week to week or when you run campaigns.
I also recommend you send your Instagram traffic to a unique page on your website (ie. NOT your home page). If you set up a custom landing page or page that mirrors another one yet you only promote on Instagram, then you can accurately track how those visitors convert on your website. You can view their traffic patterns, see what other pages they visit, and determine your conversion rates.
Even if you aren't getting this technically detailed in your tracking, look to see how your website traffic increases or changes during Instagram campaigns. If your website traffic went up 15% during an Instagram campaign, um... that's a viable metric to track and monitor!
Or take a look at your contact frequency with a business account on Instagram. After I converted to a business profile and included the Email contact button, my email inquiries for services literally doubled. Personally, that's way more valuable to me than a few more likes on a blog post notification on Instagram.
If you have the capacity to include links in your Instagram Stories, you should be using a trackable link in there so that you know exactly how many people are swiping on that link too.
Knowing how you're getting leads and how those leads are converting from Instagram is probably the single most important metric you should be worried about.
But, let's be real here for another minute. Sometimes those leads take months, or even years, to convert. The reason you are on Instagram is to build trust and a relationship with your customers (and potential customers).
Sure, some people may already have an idea about you and then connect quickly via Instagram to buy from you. Others may take a while to build that trust or determine you are a brand they want to work with. Or they may need time to be able to financially afford to work with you or buy from you.
Your Instagram presence builds that relationship. It establishes a conversation that will lead to conversions and sales. But you have to be willing to put in the time to build that platform to connect. Worrying about likes, follower counts, and popularity is short sighted to this end state. You can either change your perspective and embrace what Instagram can do for you if you do the work, or you can go back to buying likes and followers or finding tricks to manipulate the system. That's entirely your decision.
Finally, I know this topic gets many people fired up. Feel free to share your opinions in the comments below and we can all entertain a healthy debate, no matter what you feel about this topic.