WTF Is Up With IG's Engagement


Kayla Beckmann Barnhart


It’s no secret that the Instagram algorithm is whack and the engagement slump is way too real right now. Since the beginning of May, average engagements have declined over time

precipitously and now hover around 0.9%, a decrease from earlier this year of 1.1%. This represents an 18% decline in average engagements (mostly likes) since the beginning of the year. Instagram algorithm is moving the same direction the Facebook's page algorithm did in 2014 as they will be pushing their ads by limiting organic engagement. To add insult to injury, posts that don't do well on Instagram feed in their initial hours now get buried faster than ever by Instagram's algorithm.


It’s no surprise that Instagram is the same pay-to-play landscape that Facebook has become, but not every brand – okay, not most brands – have tens of thousands of dollars to throw at gaining likes. Brands and social media managers everywhere are scrambling to find solutions, and what better way to find a solution than to go straight to the source. This January Instagram tweeted, “What shows up first in your feed is determined by what posts and accounts you engage with the most, as well as other contributing factors such as the timeliness of posts, how often you use Instagram, how many people you follow, etc.” Followed by, “We have not made any recent changes to feed ranking, and we never hide posts from people you're following – if you keep scrolling, you will see them all. Again, your feed is personalized to you and evolves over time based on how you use Instagram. ✌️”

Why does that ✌️ emoji feel like it’s taunting us?

We see your ✌️ and raise you a 🤜💥, Instagram. Here’s what you can do to fight back:

Produce *Good* Content

“The only way to get your content higher ranked is to produce great content,” says Christina d’Avignon, a product designer for Instagram feed.

But what constitutes “great content”? It seems like the criteria for that is ever-evolving as well. It may surprise you to hear that the days of a hyper-curated feed and imagery are on their way out and authentic #nofilter content is being favored by Gen Z. Instagram users are becoming more savvy and see right through anything that looks #sponsored or produced. For brands, they want to know who the brand is, what they’re about, what they stand for, and perhaps most importantly, what they’re doing to make the world a better place.

Brands should consider creating a brand and social strategy that focuses more on presenting itself as a friend and less like a company. And how do you talk to your friends? You tell them stories. Whether it’s what happened to you in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s or about the epic Peruvian sabbatical you took, storytelling is what connects us as humans and is a way to share the lifestyle of your brand in an authentic way. To make it simple – instead of saying “buy these shoes”, show what your customers and fans are doing in their shoes by sharing their stories.


Create *Real* Connections

It’s not new news that you need to engage with your audience to earn their engagement with you. But what marketers should be rethinking is the type of engagement they’re putting out there. Often marketers get caught up on the quantity of engagement and the comments and messages become scripted and shallow. Instead, find opportunities for quality one-on-one connections. A little bit of personalization goes a long way when it comes to building brand loyalty. Again, think to yourself, “how would I respond to friend?”. Let’s look at two examples:

Fan: I love your product and use it everyday!

Brand: 🥰💛

In this example, the brand has done their duty by responding to the comment from their fan, but the conversation ends. Instead, try keeping the conversation rolling.

Fan: I love your product and use it everyday!

Brand: AMAZING! 🥰💛 What’s your favorite product?

Fan: *Names specific SKU*

Brand: That’s one of our favs around the office too!

What you did there showed genuine interest in what your customer had to say, kept the conversation going by asking a question, and then affirmed their taste by letting them know the people behind the brand like the same thing they like. Of course, this is just an example and any interaction should be genuine.

The thing you have to remember in any kind of community management is to let your fun show. If you’re having fun, people take notice. Let them be apart of the family. Speak to them like a friend. In return, you’ll get an audience who feels included, which leads to natural engagement and loyalty.

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When It Comes To Influencers, Think Small

Back in the ‘90s and early 2000s it was all about the celebrity endorsement. If a product was good enough for Jennifer Aniston, it was a must-have for the general population of women consumers. But with the rise of Instagram – and users becoming “good at Instagram” – came the capital “I” Influencer. An Influencer is a “normal” person who had a knack for aesthetic and making connections with strangers in the social sphere and unlike larger-than-life celebrities, seemed more relatable and “real” to audiences. Soon Influencers took over every category of retail marketing – travel, makeup, parenting, health and fitness, food and beverage, you name it – and became a potent tool for marketers looking to connect with niche audiences in a more authentic way.

As the platform matured and the use of Influencers in social media marketing became more common, a few things happened. Mainly, audiences became more savvy to how they were being advertised to and IG and Facebook cracked down on transparency involving paid posts. The result? A distrust in Influencers.

Beyond a general distrust in the authenticity of Influencers endorsements, Influencer fraud has become a billon-dollar problem.

Between buying followers, likes, comments, and video views, this problem will cost advertisers $1.3 billion in 2019, according to a study by the cybersecurity company Cheq and the University of Baltimore. This problem is projected to grow and marketers and now starting to abandon working with larger accounts and shift to a focus on micro and nano-influencers (accounts with >10,000-5,000 followers).

Relationships with micro-influencers have become more effective as these accounts tend to hold more trust with their audiences. The have real followers, real engagement, and typically are choosy about the products they endorse as a lot of them are not being paid in monetary value, but rather being compensated in product – therefore giving a more honest review. Beyond believability and quality of endorsement, quantity comes into play here as well. Since these relationships often only cost product trade, brands are able to work with multiple (often hundreds) of micro-influencers at once, getting a constant stream of posts and content.

*insert ancient proverb on something about small ripples creating big waves*


Make Like Oprah and Make It Rain Product

Social media should be social. This goes for brand-on-brand relationships too. One of the best ways (still) to gain more engagement is by teaming up with similar brands to host giveaways and sweepstakes. This is a mutually beneficial way to reach new, yet relevant, audiences and have them engage with your content. Once they comment on your giveaway post, your profile secures a spot in their algorithm *insert evil laugh*. At least for now – you still have to keep them engaged (which hopefully you’ve learned to do above). This “trick” is an oldy but a goody and one we’re still seeing work for brands.


Remember folks, Facebook (and all social platforms owned by Facebook), though a powerful tool for brands, are still capitalist corporations. They’re out to get theirs and we have to be agile and flexible in strategy in order to try to keep up. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. If you need help navigating the mucky waters of social strategy, you know where to find us. ✌️