Instagram has long been known for having an enthusiastic, highly engaged user base. Many brands have joined the platform as a result, hoping to capture some of that engagement for themselves.
Instagram engagement can be exceptionally beneficial for the following reasons:
- It acts as social proof. Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people take on the actions of others in some way.
If lots of people have liked your post, users seeing it will want to know why, and they’re more likely to hit that heart-shaped button, too. This is particularly powerful on social media, where so many of our actions are visible to others.
- It helps your spot in the algorithm. Instagram’s algorithm isn’t nearly as harsh as Facebook’s, but it does play a factor in what users see which content. And high engagement on your posts helps you with the algorithm, which means your posts will show up higher in users’ feeds. More visibility is always a good thing.
- It allows for conversations to happen. When someone comments on your post or ad, they could be sharing an opinion, offering a compliment, asking a question or voicing a concern. These are all chances for you to jump in, offer answers or resolutions and form relationships. Being active in Instagram comments can help you convert customers and foster loyalty.
- It’s a marker for relevance and quality. When your engagement rate is high, it means that your posts or ads are relevant to your audience. It’s a great sign that you’re doing something right.
These benefits are significant, right? So of course every brand and organization out there wants to see their Instagram engagement rate go up. We can help you get there.
In this post, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about your Instagram engagement rate, including how to calculate it and how to boost it on both organic posts and ads.
What does Instagram engagement mean?
Instagram engagement is a mix of all the actions that users take on your content across the platform.
On a high level, organic Instagram engagement refers to likes, comments, shares and saves.
But some content formats offer more ways for users to engage. For example, Instagram Stories engagement can include responses, emoji reactions, link clicks and interactions with dynamic elements like poll stickers.
Some engagement on Instagram in-feed posts (comments and, in some cases, likes) is visible to other users, giving accounts the benefit of social proof. The engagement on Stories is not visible to other users. This reduces the social proof benefit, but it can still help you drive conversions, gauge the quality of the content, and get on the Instagram algorithm’s good side.
How to calculate your Instagram engagement rate
Your Instagram engagement rate is typically going to be calculated by adding up the total engagement on a piece of content (e.g. likes, comments, shares and saves) and dividing it by either:
- Your total number of followers
- Your reach, which is the number of unique users who saw your post
- Total impressions, which details the total number of views even if some users saw your post more than once
Reach is the most common metric used for calculating your engagement rate on-platform because it shows you how many people who saw the post interacted with it. That’s a good starting place.
To calculate your engagement rate manually, the formula would be something like this:
Instagram engagement as likes + comments + shares + saves / Reach = Instagran engagement rate
To save time and get a thorough look at your engagement rate metrics, you can also use Hootsuite’s free engagement rate calculator.
How to increase engagement on Instagram
Want to get more engagement on your organic Instagram content, including both Stories and feed posts? Let’s look at 8 proven strategies to increase Instagram engagement.
1. Incorporate more UGC into your strategy
User-generated content is an engagement-boosting powerhouse, so using it more frequently is a good way to build brand awareness and get more likes, comments and shares.
Users love to see their own content (or their friends’ content) shared by a brand, and they’re likely to interact with it as a result.
When you share UGC, make sure that you’re always tagging users in the post.
To collect more user-generated content, post calls to action encouraging your following to share something specific with you and tag your brand or use a dedicated hashtag. If you want to generate a lot of engagement quickly, host an on-platform Instagram contest that asks users to tag you in a picture on the platform.
Fun bonus: When someone else creates a post for your brand, that’s one less post that you need to create yourself.
2. Be authentic and transparent
Right now, the allure of authenticity and transparency from brands is particularly strong. Instagram users want to know everything about the brands they love, and being open and direct on social media is a great way to build your brand’s reputation.
If people feel like a brand is hiding something, that’s not great. Your audience and customers are also much more likely to accept issues if you warn them in advance and explain the why. Transparency can help you turn a negative situation into a positive branding experience.
Here’s a great example from Farmgirl Flowers. It’s a post directly from the company’s founder, addressing that the company has had a hard time, acknowledging past shipping delays, and laying out steps about how to improve things moving forward.
This is an exceptional example of owning your mistakes in a direct way and providing a clear path for an improved customer experience moving forward.
But authenticity and transparency aren’t just about owning up to a mistake. They’re also about the language you use, how approachable you seem and how honest users perceive you to be. The post above is a great example of that, too.
3. Include users in social conversations
Customers and online communities absolutely love to feel seen and heard by brands. Involving your following in conversations about your brand is part of community-building and a good way to quickly boost your Instagram engagement.
Ask for your follower’s thoughts and opinions and find ways to include them in the brand in other creative ways.
ThirdLove is currently encouraging all of their followers who want to be featured as a model for the brand to submit applications. It’s sort of a UGC campaign, but it also shows that all body types are valued by the brand. This initiative was perceived exceptionally well within the brand’s online community.
4. Use more carousel posts
Using a mix of different types of media in your Instagram posts is always a good way to keep things interesting. When planning your Instagram content, include images, videos and carousel posts.
Hootsuite’s social media team found that their carousel posts get 3.1x more engagement, on average, than regular posts. This may be because curiosity gets the best of all of us, and users just have to see what’s next in the carousel. This stops them from scrolling past it, which is pretty much half the battle.
5. Share valuable resources
Want to get more saves and shares on Instagram? Create saveable, sharable posts.
Focusing on value-based resources is a great way to go. It not only gives people a reason to follow your account but also to engage with your content and check in regularly.
There are plenty of examples of how to do this. Misfits Market has video tutorials showing how to prepare certain types of fruit and vegetables that come in their subscription. This is valuable, because it teaches users new techniques — but it also makes their product more valuable, with more people understanding how to make the most of it.
Here’s another great example from Grove Collaborative. They’ve created an infographic with information about what can and can’t be composted. I actually saved this one myself, and I’m sure a large number of other users did, too. Infographics like this are fairly easy to create with design tools like Snappa or Canva.
6. Respond to messages and comments
Want more engagement? Start by engaging the people who have already commented on your posts.
Not only will responding to comments automatically inflate your total comment count, which acts as more social proof, but it also can generate additional responses, too. You can start a conversation, answer a question or thank a customer, and there’s a good chance that they’ll respond at least once more.
Community management is an important part of social media management, so have someone on your team try to respond to as many comments as possible (and all high-value comments that ask questions or raise concerns) within a day.
7. Keep your caption game strong
Visuals are the most important part of your Instagram post, we fully acknowledge that. But they aren’t the only thing that matters.
Your captions matter a great deal, and they can completely change how users perceive your brand and post. They can keep things fun, interesting or quirky (as you see fit), encouraging users to comment.
Here’s an example from Stasher. They could have simply said “There’s a sale, 25% off until midnight.” But instead, they used fun, fresh copy, emojis and all-caps for emphasis.
8. Create content that’s relevant right now
Want plenty of attention and engagement on your post?
Go beyond evergreen content, and try to find something that feels urgently relevant now.
For example, during the COVID pandemic, there were plenty of posts about how to get through what we all thought would only be two weeks of restrictions early on. Every Earth Day, you see lots of posts talking about how to live a more eco-friendly life.
Here, we have a post from DSW for Global Running Day, where they worked with an influencer to promote a product at a relevant time point.
There are so many different social media holidays like National Dog Day, National Secretary’s Day, and National Ice Cream Day. See if you can find some related to your audience and plan ahead.
How to create engaging Instagram ads
The goal of most Instagram ad specialists is to create highly converting ad campaigns, not necessarily highly engaging ones.
But, you shouldn’t neglect engagement on your Instagram Ads for many reasons:
- Engagement still acts as social proof, which can draw user attention and make them take your ad more seriously.
- High-engagement ads are likely to collect comments from past customers sharing positive experiences.
- When users engage, the Facebook ad system sees that as a sign of relevance; this increases your quality ranking metrics, which can mean higher rates of deliverability and even a significantly lower CPC.
- Users engaging with your ads have a solid chance of providing valuable feedback about the quality and relevance of the ad. They also are likely to be asking questions when deciding to purchase.
All in all, pretty important. Even if you aren’t super worried about anything else than the bottom line (though marketing is always more complicated than just one or two metrics), the ability to significantly lower your cost per action or cost per click with positive engagement is huge.
Let’s take a look at how you can create high-engaging Instagram ads.
Do I need to use the Engagement objective?
This is something we’ve heard our users ask a lot, especially when they’re first getting used to Facebook and Instagram’s ad system.
If you want high-engaging Instagram ads, it might make sense at a first glance to choose the Engagement objective when setting up your campaign, right?
Not so fast. There’s definitely a time and place for this objective. But unless you want to prioritize engagement over all other actions including clicks to your site, video views and conversions, then this isn’t what you want to choose.
This is because Facebook looks at your objective and optimizes ad delivery, showing the ad to users most likely to take that action.
Some users in your target audience might be more likely to like a post or watch a video than they are to convert. Other users might be more likely to fill out a lead form than others. You get the idea.
So if you’re prioritizing engagement, you’re telling Facebook that engagement is the end goal of the ad, not video views, site traffic, conversions or lead form completions. So, if any of those other options are your actual primary goal, choose the appropriate objective. You can then optimize your ad copy and creatives for engagement and get the best of both worlds.
If, however, on-platform engagement is your primary goal, then this IS the objective that you want to choose.
This might be the case in the following circumstances:
- You want to get a lot of eyes and engagement on a high-value post
- You want to attract more Instagram followers
- You’re trying to get users over to a Facebook event
Best practices for high-engagement Instagram ads
Want to drive more engagement on your Instagram ads even when, or especially if, it’s not ad’s primary objective?
These best practices can help.
A/B test your ads
No matter what your goal is, frankly, it’s always best to be thorough and A/B test (or “split test”) your ad campaigns. It can help you determine which audience targeting options, budgets, bids and creatives work best for your audience and your goals.
You may find, for example, that product images get significantly more engagement at the top of the sales funnel than UGC posts. If this also leads to conversions, that’s worth paying attention to.
AdEspresso has high-functioning split testing abilities that allow you to test massive amounts of copy, offers and visuals at once to see which combinations are most powerful. Take advantage of the feature to optimize your campaigns.
Let momentum do its work
As individual ads start running and picking up steam in the engagement column, consider keeping them around for longer than your original campaign term. Engagement is valuable social proof that can pick up momentum, collecting even more comments over time.
If conversion rates are terrible, costs are sky-high and frequency is creeping up there, pause or alter the campaign as needed, of course. But otherwise, give your campaigns time to pick up steam.
Engage with comments and questions
We already discussed this best practice above, in the context of organic content, but it’s relevant here, too.
Respond to as many comments and questions as you can. It’s particularly important to address users voicing objections, citing poor experiences or asking questions about your products. Negative comments left unattended can stop potential conversions.
Remember that not all engagement is good engagement
Sometimes brands post controversial content with the goal of increasing engagement. That’s not always exactly a foolproof idea, and it becomes even riskier when you’re using it for Instagram ads.
As you’re monitoring your campaigns, it’s crucial to remember that not all engagement is good engagement. If people are complaining about your brand, product or ad, you’ll see the following negative impacts:
- Users who were interested in purchasing become much less interested
- Your brand awareness starts going in the wrong direction quickly
- Users may start asking the annoyed commenter about your brand, instead of asking you
- Facebook’s algorithm can assess negative sentiment, and this could hurt your campaign
If your campaigns are getting negative engagement, take some time to assess why, and see what you can do. And if needed, start a new campaign fresh, potentially using UGC review-based creatives to revive your brand image.
On Instagram, even a simple like can go a long way, setting off an avalanche of engagement that can mean more visibility, a better brand reputation and piqued user interest.
While engagement shouldn’t be your only goal on organic posts or ads, it is a good one to keep in mind. The positive momentum that you can see from continued high engagement is significant, and it can make it easier to accomplish your other marketing goals, too.
What do you think? How do you increase your Instagram engagement rates? Which of these strategies do you use? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!