Use the photo-sharing platform to track your customers and viewers. Then compile the Instagram analytics your business needs. Here’s how.

The Definitive Guide to Instagram Analytics: So Much More Than Just a Pretty Picture

Lesya Liu is a social media strategist and a photographer. She specializes in combining art and marketing to create compelling storytelling, both visually and textually.

Instagram, the photo- and video-sharing platform, is undoubtedly the hottest social media outlet on the market right now. In fact, it’s doubled its user base in just two short years, to 800 million, 500 million of whom are daily users.

Reports consistently show that Instagram has the most engaged community on the internet: The platform’s posts receive more engagement than any other social network out there — 84 times more than Twitter, 54 times more than Pinterest and 10 times more than its older sibling, Facebook.

And all that engagement isn’t limited to organic (meaning non-sponsored) posts. Three-quarters of Instagram users take actions such as making a valuable website click after looking at a sponsored post.

So, marketing on Instagram should seem like a no-brainer to any business owner, right? Yet, most business owners remain hesitant to jump on the Instagram bandwagon.

Even though the majority of businesses are already present on the platform, it’s evident from their efforts that Instagram is more of an afterthought than a viable marketing strategy. Low-quality images and content and an overall failure to create a cohesive story line are some of today’s most widespread offenses.

Certainly, this is not to put all of the blame on business owners. They’re busy people who want to maximize the results they get for their efforts; they want a clear purpose and ROI. So, while marketing gurus scream from the rooftops about the importance of being on Instagram, entrepreneurs are left wondering, What’s in it for me. How do I track traffic? How do I track sales? How can a collection of pretty images translate into a real revenue for a company?

And then there’s the biggest question of all: How do I interpret the analytics I get to ensure Instagram is an effective part of my marketing funnel?

What Instagram is — and isn’t.

Instagram offers you, as a business owner, the opportunity to post beautiful photos of your products and of influencers — famous and not so famous — using or wearing your products. It lets you include comments from customers (hopefully) urging others to buy those products.The platform also enables companies to make direct sales. What Instagram is not, however, is a selling machine in and of itself.

In fact, few businesses make money directly off of their presence on the Instagram platform. Unless you’re getting paid for promotions and shout-outs, chances are you won’t necessarily enjoy a clear-cut ROI from your efforts, either.

However, Instagram can be a very effective part of your sales funnel, if used correctly. Like any other social network, Instagram is an awareness channel, a relationship-building channel.

So, if you’re wondering how awareness and relationship-building can advance your company: First, take advantage of the highly engaged Instagram community. Think of the likes and comments counts not as a vanity metric, but an opportunity to leverage, to your business’s benefit, the engagement these comments represent.

Then, make sure that your Instagram presence is aligned with your overall branding. That way, once people land on your Instagram profile, they can be confident that they’ll again see what they’ve seen from you everywhere else.

Once you’ve got those two major goals covered, follow the specific advice points below.

Foundr, the digital magazine, grew its following to 500,000 followers in under a year, using Instagram. And that's undoubtedly impressive. But what's even more impressive is that this little bootstrap leveraged its Instagram following as its business card to interview some of the biggest names in entrepreneurship -- like Richard Branson (in the first issue!), Tony Robbins and Daymond John.

Nathan Chan, the editor-in-chief, however, says of the magazine that it’s “not growing quite fast enough.” During an interview I did with him on The Social Media Current, Chan told me, “We started crushing on Instagram purely from just getting very, very good and finding out what’s working, and just consistently providing an amazing content.”

Of that content, Chan mentioned “having amazing entrepreneurs on the front covers of our magazines, building that social proof, also having great design [and] using social media — like Instagram.

“I think when you do great work,” Chan continued, “people are going to be naturally attracted to you. You’re going to build that authority. That’s how you build your credibility. You just become an expert …”

Becoming an “expert” was something I myself have made it my job to do. Because I work with companies to turn their various levels of presence on Instagram into a sales machine, I can offer advice on becoming the kind of strategic and focused business owner Chan described. That advice? Keep reading …

Tracking is your new best friend.

Tracking results is where savvy entrepreneurs separate themselves from amateurs who are only going after an ego boost. What does “tracking” entail? It means having a healthy obsession with the statistics available to you through Instagram business tools, third-party Instagram analytics tools and your website analytics tools (Google Analytics, most likely).

Getting started: step by step

1. Start by paying attention to the behavior on your profile. This is the first step to better Instagram marketing, and can answer such questions as:

How well are your posts being received by your followers on Instagram? Is your engagement rate where you want it to be? Do people comment on your content and post direct messages to you (privately) in response to your Stories?

2. Recognize what types of posts get you the most traction. Determine:

Was an engaging caption the reason for the increased engagement? Did a stunning image pull in the viewers? Was the winning ingredient a promotional message like an offer for savings on your product or service?

In an interview for my blog, Jessica Hirsch of @cheatdayeats suggested staying on top of trends and paying attention to industry leaders. “There’s a lot of talk about Instagram changing and adding features, so it’s important for both personal and business accounts to evolve and grow with it,” Hirsch told me. “I do my best to test them out, and before I know it, it becomes part of my new routine. And I think Instagram sort of rewards accounts that adapt well to the changes.

“I think it’s important to move forward with that mindset and understanding to continue to grow on Instagram,” Hirsch added.

3. Pay attention to the growth of your audience. Prioritize quality over quantity here. Play by the rules and don’t risk your Instagram presence by buying followers on Instagram or involving bots.

Make sure that the people following your brand are the right audience fit. Does your Instagram following overlap with your business-target audience? If your ideal audience is middle-aged men, then “likes” and “follows” from young females won’t translate into sales in real life. A quick look through your follower list should give you a pretty good idea whether or a not a scenario like this is the case.

Pro tip: Don't obsess over achieving extensive growth, but do make sure that your following is growing at a steady, healthy rate.

If you do sign up for (or convert your existing profile to) an Instagram business profile, you’ll be able to get most of the analytical data you need without leaving the app. Instagram (contrary to popular belief) wants you to succeed, because if you win, it wins.

That’s why the platform is eager to provide you the insight you need to make better content and business decisions. So, explore your audience demographics, such as age, gender and locations; see when your audience is the most active on the platform.

What you can achieve

Go for reach and engagement. If you consistently deliver high-quality content to the right target market via Instagram, you’ll achieve two things:

  • Strengthen the connection with an existing audience, because its members will come back for more content;
  • Enjoy high engagement levels that will help you leverage the Instagram algorithm, thus creating even more exposure for your content.

Not only will you deepen existing relationships, you’ll cast a much wider net with a little help from the platform itself. How? Through leveraging the notorious Instagram algorithm to your benefit! (notorious because people don’t like the non-chronological order of its newsfeed).

Again, Instagram is not after you. It’s in the platform’s best interest to show engaging, relevant content to its users, so that they stay longer on the platform. That’s why the algorithm’s only job is to scour through the platform and find awesome content, which will be shown to more and more people.

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