Shell RobshawBryan
Shell RobshawBryan 16 June 2020
Categories Social Media

Followers, Engagement, Traffic or Sales? How to Measure Success On Instagram

A high number of followers and enviable levels of engagement might look good on the surface, but are vanity metrics like these alone a good enough reason to regard Instagram activity as successful? I discuss why delving into the analytics behind Instagram activity is so crucial to the decision making process.

Over the last couple of years, I've noticed an increasing number of businesses focusing much of their time and efforts on platforms like Instagram. In fact, some of the businesses I've worked with I'd regard as ‘Instagram brands’ thanks to their almost obsessional focus on the platform. Businesses like this have undeniably worked hard to build up many thousands of followers and to generate enviable levels of engagement, leading them to view this apparent success as a reason to continue focusing their resources on the channel, but dig a little deeper and success isn't quite as simple to define.

In the last 10 years since it launched, Instagram has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity. As of March 2020, there were 24.46 million Instagram users in the UK and over 1 billion worldwide and there's no denying that with the right approach, some businesses can achieve some incredible results.

According to Statista, 65% of Instagram users aged between 18 and 35, making it the ideal place to target a younger customer base, giving many new businesses a direct route to potential customers.

This democratisation of advertising has made it easier than ever for businesses to establish and grow their brand. There's no denying that for new businesses and for those seeking organic exposure in front of their target audience, with the right content strategy, Instagram can be an effective channel and there are numerous success stories that prove it.

Some of the businesses types that thrive on Instagram include those that sell;

  • Beauty, cosmetic and toiletry products
  • Jewellery
  • Artisan and specialist food and drink
  • Craft kits and crafting materials
  • Gifts
  • Outdoor and leisure
  • Homewares
  • Fashion
  • Sports and fitness

So, for a business with an Instagram-friendly brand, a healthy follower count and a successful content strategy that generates strong levels of engagement, could focusing marketing efforts on just one channel be the smart thing to do? Perhaps, but it depends on objectives and really understanding what Instagram success looks like.

Measuring success

Of course, objectives may well differ campaign by campaign, but for most businesses, success means more than just seeing rapid follower growth and great engagement. On any social media platform, success really depends on what direct value a business gets from its engaged followers, but the ultimate goal is usually, to make sales, resulting in a clear understanding of ROI.

A business might be working with influencers providing exposure and helping to grow followers and that exposure alone that can be extremely valuable and helpful, but if that doesn’t translate into sales, should that really be regarded as successful?

For most businesses, success means more than just rapid follower growth and great engagement.

Over the last couple of years, I've seen more and more businesses born on Instagram who have been incredibly successful at finding an audience. They've demonstrated rapid and consistent growth in followers, together with high levels of engagement.

On the face of it, that looks like a pretty successful business, right? That would certainly appear to be the case, but that only tells a small part of the story and illustrates one of the fundamental problems in relying on vanity metrics as the sole gauge of success.

A business that generates little on-page engagement and experiences slow growth in followers might easily conclude that Instagram doesn't work for them, yet analytics could reveal that the platform not only drives a considerable amount of traffic, but also that it generates a good level of sales for them. In contrast, a business that quickly increases followers and enjoys high levels of engagement may conclude that Instagram works for them, despite analytics showing that the platform drives very little traffic and next to no sales.

Dig deep Into the stats for the bigger picture

Focusing only on followers, reach and engagement means taking a much too simplistic view of Instagram success and can lead to misguided strategic focus, with resources being allocated in the wrong place. Something I’ve seen happen time and time again, and increasingly so.

Brand awareness that generates sales is a different story altogether, making the key metric to consider here, referred sales.

For all businesses and in particular consumer retail businesses, branding matters of course, and if there’s one thing that Instagram is good at, it’s increasing brand awareness. This awareness builds trust and can play a crucial part in the decision-making process, but few small or medium-sized businesses can directly measure the value of brand awareness alone, so whilst it's desirable, for many, brand awareness is rarely the sole goal of activity. Brand awareness that generates sales is a different story altogether, making the key metric to consider here, referred sales.

If a business is spending many hours a week on their Instagram activity, but Instagram is not generating sales, I'd argue that the channel is actually providing very little real value to that business. In order then to understand whether any individual channel is providing a good return on investment, digging into the analytics is essential.

With the right conversion tracking set up in Google Analytics, it’s possible to clearly see which channels are driving traffic, which ones result in the best level of sales and even which channels provide the highest average basket values and foster loyal returning customers. This information is key and should always be used to inform decisions about where to focus resources.

Unless that engagement drives action, it’s of limited value.

Of course, followers and engagement do have their own value and as such shouldn’t be ignored, but in most cases, it's sales that matter most because thousands of followers alone won't make a business successful. Thousands of sales however, will.

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