It didn't take long for Instagram to capture our hipster hearts. Even brands are getting in on the action now. But though visual content can contribute to social sharing and customer engagement, do we really understand how it's being used and the strategies that have proven most effective? Thanks to a new report from TrackMaven, which explored and analyzed the rate of adoption, posting photos and videos, filters and interactions of the US Fortune 500 on Instagram, now we do. 

You may think that Instagram is just for taking foodie photos or posting pics of your dog (guilty as charged!), but for brands, Instagram opens up a visual channel where they can post 'behind the scenes' images or playfully engage with customers. 

Who's Using Instagram?

According to the report, out of the 123 Fortune 500 companies that have registered Instagram accounts, 91% (112 companies) have made at least one post on Instagram and 17% (85 companies) have posted at least one picture or video to Instagram over the past 30 days. 


Instagram has the good fortune of learning from other, more mature social platforms. So it's not how many fans and followers you have, but rather how engaged your fans are with the company's/brand's photos that shows effectiveness. The reports suggests that it's the level of interactions play a huge role in determining the effectiveness of a strategy. As such, Instagram has shown itself to be an “efficient” social platform, in that an increase in followers will be roughly directly correlated with a proportional increase in average interactions.

The very first photo published to Instgram from Starbucks.

But Instagram isn't just about photos. Not too long ago, it added video. Though video has become popular with its users, the report notes that there has not been dramatic adoption from the Fortune
500 yet. Over the last 30 days there have been 1,792 photos and only 74 videos posted from the Fortune 500 Instagram accounts. This may be strategic, as Instagram video has not proven to be as effective as improving engagement as photo sharing. Of course, this is bound to change as video becomes more widely used. 

Instragram Best Practices

While each brand has its own personality and different ways of expressing that via photos and video, the report provides insights that anyone can use, like the best day to post and most popular time of day. 

Though brands tend to post more photos on Thursdays, Sundays seem to be the most effective for interactions. But the report can't definitely say there is a best day to post. However, the peak of popularity is from 3-4 PM ET.  For videos, the authors note something peculiar about how and when videos are viewed on Instagram: 

Unlike an Instagram photo, video effectiveness is impacted by the time of day in which it is posted. There seems to be a high peak of effectiveness during the off-hours from 9pm-8am. This suggested the Instagram users are more likely to engage with videos when not at work, presumably because of the audio component of video.

One of the features unique to Instagram are the filters that users can attribute to their photos. Currently, Instagram has 20 photo filters that users can use to customize their pictures. These filters provide a range of color effects, ranging from desaturation to dramatic contrast. As for which are used the most, the report found that normal or #nofilter is by far the popular filter in comparison to the other 19 with Lo-fi and X-pro II trailing far behind as the second and third most popular. However, these are not always the most effective filters to use. The most effective filter for the Fortune 500 for Instagram is Mayfair, which resulted in an average 23.044 interactions per 1000 followers. In comparison, normal or #nofilter resulted in about 18.009 average interactions and the filter Inkwell follows with 16.407 average interactions. 

What Does Instagram Engagement Look Like?

Users can easily "like" a photo or video on Instagram with a simple tap. They can also add comments and share photos. While looking at the Fortune 500 for interactions “likes” were more prevalent than comments. The average total of likes for the Fortune 500 per photo is 2164.63 while the average total of comments per photo for the Fortune 500 is only 35.07. 

One of Instagram's Top Photos is this one from Nike. 

Recently, Instagram introduced the use of hashtags. Though they are an underutilized feature of the photo sharing platform, the reports show that hashtags had a significant impact on the success of Instagram content. When looking at the interactions (the sum of likes and comments) per 1,000 followers compared to the number of hashtags used, there is a strong correlation to the number of hashtags used and effectiveness up to 5 hashtags which has the highest average at 21.21 interactions per 1000 followers. 

What does this mean? For one, It seems to suggest that users are searching for content and finding new content from unconnected users. As a result, companies without many followers might be able to boost discovery of and interaction with their content through the very frequent use of hashtags.

Incorporating Instagram into your social media marketing strategy may be helpful to boosting engagement among fans and followers. However, it may require more experimentation to understand the types of content that resonate best. Brands that can carve out an engaging presence on Instagram early on may be able to gain a lead on their competitors.