Instagram can deliver enormous engagement to publishers and brands. Here’s how you can test the content formats and compositions that will see results. 

Earlier this week, Instagram reached over 500 million users on the platform, with 300 million of those people using the platform everyday.
Publishers and brands alike are eager to use the platform, which often sees bigger engagement than other platforms, due to the focused actions of the platform.
But how? There was much fear around how the algorithm would take away from engagement — some heralded the end of unpaid content on Instagram. Instead, there is a tremendous opportunity here for the right content. Content that resonates with your audience will only help your content ranking in the algorithm.
Still, how do you decipher what that kind of content is? What will yield high performing results while staying true to your brand?


(National Geographic’s Instagram channel is already wildly successful — they might want to test if photos including scenery versus those including animals spur different engagement)
Like other aspects of marketing, we can test for the image and video forms that work best. We can dive into shared “DNA” of these posts and narratives — down to color, lighting, format, and more.

Step One: Decide What To Test

Do short video clips performs better or worse than still graphics featuring people, for example? How about those that feature pets? Do photos with small stories in the caption attract more comments or less? These are the things we can test for.
If we look at the shoe brand VANS, it might seem that there are only so many ways one can take photos of shoes.
But there are many streams we can test. Do close ups work better than far away shots? How about those showing just the product versus people wearing them? What color VANS get the most engagement? Which photos get the most comments?
VANS instagram
While the VANS Instagram shows a lot of variety in posts, a look into NewsWhip Spike reveals that the best performing photos in the past month are ones that focus on the VANS themselves, like below.

Things are heating up with the Pool Vibes Old Skool. Shop online or find a store at vans.com
A photo posted by vans (@vans) on


This photo drove over 117,600 likes and 799 comments for VANS. Try Spike for a look at the Instagram trends your content can take advantage of. 
VANS also separates their brand into several other distinct channels, @vansskate, @vanssurf, @vansbmx66, @vanssnow, and @vansgirls. This can be a good tactic for brands and publishers that cover many themes or verticals.

Step Two: Measure Engagement

Likes, comments, and views will point us towards what’s working in each test. Different types of content might see more likes, or more comments, than other types.
It’s straightforward enough to test our own content, but we can also identify competitors or best performers on Instagram. We can see how specific content formats or themes perform for them.
NewsWhip Analytics lets you build a panel of Instagram channels.

NewsWhip Analytics Luxury Cars

We can look at which brands or publishers are seeing the most engagement per post. We can then dive into that content to identify the top performing formats, themes, and trends.

NewsWhip Analytics Luxury Cars content

(Click to enlarge)
At a glance, we can see that four of the six most-commented posts by luxury auto brands are videos. With further exploration, we can figure out exactly what’s making them so successful.


(Both this Mercedes-Benz video, which scored 345,000 and over 2,500 comments, and their second top video in the same time period, featured little kids)
Once you identify a particular element or format that works, you can then experiment combining it with what makes your brand you.

Step Three: Align With Your Brand, and Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

Content, and what catches attention, is constantly evolving. What was popular yesterday may be seen as boring today.
It’s vital to monitor how your content is performing, and continue to experiment.

Lucky Instagram Old

(Content on Lucky Brand’s Instagram from late December 2015)
If we take a look at Lucky Brand, we can see a shift in their content. Their Instagram used to be very product focused. Now, there is a strong concentration on creating an aesthetic and mood, in addition to promoting the brand

Lucky Instagram New

(Content on Lucky Brand’s Instagram from mid-late June 2016)
Staying active on social media can help you notice the trends getting engagement. NewsWhip Spike is another way to keep an eye on what’s working.
You can build a panel for your industry to see the trends driving likes, comments, and views. Or you can just check out the top Instagram channels in one convenient hub.

millennial fashion colours

(This panel of millennial fashion brands on Instagram show that warm tones are popular right now)
With any content you produce, it’s about more than following what’s popular.
It’s about discovering what will best bring value to your audience, and tell your brand’s story. Finding new and interesting ways to do that will differentiate you from the crowd and set your brand apart.

Try NewsWhip Spike to find the Instagram content that’s scoring big in real-time