What are the top holiday content trends on Instagram? We look at how your photos and videos can drive maximum engagement and reach this December.

The holidays make us ponder the big questions. Like, does Santa have an Instagram?
The answer is yes, but @Santa has sadly not updated in 102 weeks. Maybe Mrs. Claus got sick of his selfies, though there is an active countdown Instagram.
While Santa may be missing, there is plenty of holiday cheer on Instagram. We took a look at the top Instagram trends for festive content.
In our analysis last week, 2015’s web-based content around Christmas and holiday keywords peaked on December 22nd. For Instagram likes, that peak reached its culmination on Christmas Day.

instagram Christmas holidays

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For the sheer total amount of likes and comments, the most engaging posts came from celebrity influencers like the Kardashian crew and Justin Bieber. But since we’re likely not as influentially rich and famous, we can dive into how publishers and brands were creating compelling holiday content.
For this analysis, we looked at Instagram content that included keywords around Christmas, Xmas, Hanukkah, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and holiday/holidays.

Top Publishers of the Holidays

For this, we looked at a selection of general and niche news publishers. Like in our previous Instagram publisher analyses, interest-focused publishers like National Geographic, ESPN, and Bleacher Report drive the most engagements.

Instagram holiday publishers

There’s a good deal of variation here for how much holiday content these publisher put out. National Geographic produced 41 related posts, while BuzzFeed only posted four.
So what content trends can we discern here? One thing to note right away is that of the 279 holiday posts we captured from our selection of publishers, only 15 percent were video.

Put it on a Postcard

National Geographic drove engagements by sharing tranquil and moving visuals of the holiday season around the world and arctic animals.

This photo in particular saw over 566,000 likes and 4,600 comments. More examples here and here. The New York Times also activated on this trend, posting warm moments of Christmas in America and New York City.

Throwbacks and Famous Faces

We saw nostalgia as a top trend in our post last week, and it carries over to Instagram. Vogue used their expansive archives to share photos and illustrations of Christmases past.

The holidays can invoke sentimental feelings in people, and this only ties into Instagram’s already popular trend of posting ‘throwbacks’. Sharing photos about historical Christmas and holiday lore was also a consistent theme, for publishers like BBC News.
The New York Times joined in the trend, sharing a photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono celebrating Christmas. Vanity Fair, Fox News, and Rolling Stone also used archives to share photos of famous faces at the holidays.
Using celebrity influencers, past and present, was a persistent trend for publishers. Bleacher Report and ESPN both shared photos of how fan-favorite athletes were getting into the holiday mood, while Vanity Fair shared images of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Hemsworth.

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Festive Inspiration

Instagram is a platform that does extremely well with inspirational content, and the holidays fit into that nicely. Vogue, New York Times Fashion, and GQ all shared festive style ideas on the platform.  

Since social media is so real-time, it’s an easy and efficient way for people to see what’s popular right now. The holidays are largely aesthetic, so Instagram’s visual nature lends itself to people searching for what to wear and how to decorate.

Tidings of Great Joy

We mentioned last week that philanthropic stories do well during the holidays. The season encourages good will among people, and that spirit carries over to social media. Both BBC News and Fox News shared micro-stories on Instagram to this effect.

Newer publishers, such as NowThis, also saw engagement from this approach. Two more examples, here and here.

Seasons Greetings

And finally, simply wishing their followers a holly jolly Christmas on the actual day drove significant engagements.

View this post on Instagram

happy christmas you guys

A post shared by BuzzFeed (@buzzfeed) on

BuzzFeed only posted four holiday-related photos on Instagram last year, but this one drove over 69,000 Instagram likes and comments.
It’s easy to imagine on the holidays, when people are off work and waiting for their food coma to subside, that they’re checking social media. Seeing a holiday salutation from their favorite publisher is timely and creates a positive moment.

Top Holiday Trends of Brands

Pivoting now to brands, we can take a look at some of the brands that drove the most engagement for the 2015 holidays.
Victoria’s Secret had three top holiday posts in our brand category. This was their top post for the season, with over 429,000 likes and comments.
Fashion and beauty brands did very well, overall. Significant engagement came from H&M, Forever21, Urban Outfitters, and Dior.
Tech brands like NASA, Playstation, and GoPro also drove big engagements on their holiday content. Like we saw with National Geographic above, beautiful holiday-themed visuals were a proven way to drive engagement.

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Earthrise from Christmas Eve, 1968: Millions around the world were watching and listening as the Apollo 8 astronauts – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders – became the first humans to orbit another world. As their command module floated above the lunar surface, the astronauts beamed back images of the moon and Earth and took turns reading from the book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone "on the good Earth." The mission was also famous for the iconic "Earthrise" image, snapped by Anders, which would give humankind a new perspective on their home planet. Anders has said that despite all the training and preparation for an exploration of the moon, the astronauts ended up discovering Earth. Credits: NASA #nasa #space #apollo #christmas #apollo8 #history #otd #moon #earth #holiday #merrychristmas

A post shared by NASA (@nasa) on

This post from NASA combined those great visuals with a nostalgic bit of space history too.
The other content trends for publishers held true with brands. Influencers, style inspiration, and Christmas salutations were all popular here too. Even if they were promoting products, the top posts came from those that added value to their audience’s Instagram feeds, be it entertaining, informative, or aspirational.
Other brands that we’ve seen do well with their Instagram content were on point for the holidays. Sports leagues like NFL, NBA, and WWE all featured holiday content, along with general favorites Starbucks and Disney.
As always, staying true to brand, while delivering timely holiday content that you know your followers will love, is the way to go for both publishers and brands during this time of year.