Per the screen shot, Instagram said: â€œWe want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.â€
That sounds benevolent, and it aligns with all of the studies that suggestÂ social media is stressing people out. But as is seemingly the case with everything else involving Facebook/Instagram changes, the ulterior motive probably boils down to one thing.
Consider this: The first thing any marketer looks at when evaluating an Instagram post, feed or influencer isÂ engagement rate, a quick measurement of how many people, as a percentage of a feedâ€™s overall following, like or comment on a post. If you canâ€™t tell whoâ€™s got engagement and who doesnâ€™t, it makes working with an influencer far less appealing.Â
If like counts do go away, what becomes of Instagram Influencers? If theyâ€™re not already looking to conquer new territory, they should be. Short-from video sharing network TikTok is probably the most obvious landing spot, and Facebook recently launched â€œLasso,â€ a TikTok competitor. Anyone whoâ€™s serious about being an influencer has a vested interest in skating to where the puck is going to be, and taking their followers with them.
The question is, will Instagram take this drastic step? I think theyâ€™ll keep it in their back pocket for a while. But it feels inevitable.
Despite massive popularity, unrivaled cultural relevance and a billion daily active users, Instagram canâ€™t seem to figure out long-form video. Specifically, its â€œIGTVâ€ platform, which originally launched as a standalone app in June (remember that?) is largely being ignored by users, at least if multiple media reports (New York Magazine, Fast Company) are to be believed.
We donâ€™t have much else to go on. Despite scouring the internet, I couldnâ€™t find a credible reporting of IGTVâ€™s monthly active users (MAUs). Presumably, that would indicate that the number is underwhelming, and as such, it hasnâ€™t been released. I found a random tweet that pegged it around 65 million, but that number is unsubstantiated and seems unlikely.
Quick, informal polls on my Twitter and Instagram feeds suggested the same conclusion.
In my own Instagram story and Twitter feed last week, I asked followers, most of whom work in the digital marketing space, if they actually use IGTV. Of 40 responses to my Instagram story poll, only one person acknowledged actually watching the IGTV platform.
At 2.5% percent, thatâ€™s about as effective as a PPC ad. Thatâ€™s not what we industry types call a great conversion rate.
On Twitter, most replies were â€œNope.â€ Others suggested that theyâ€™d only landed on IGTV accidentally.
Instagram launched IGTV to much fanfare midway through 2018, with analysts proclaiming it to be a potential YouTube competitor. That didnâ€™t pan out. Almost a year later, the platform feels like, at best, an afterthought, and at worst, a miscalculation. When the initial standalone app failed to take off, IGTV was more deeply integrated into into the main Instagram experience.
However, IGTV doesnâ€™t seem to be resonating with rank-and-file Instagram users.
Early on, Instagram was preaching patience. â€œItâ€™s a new format. Itâ€™s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,â€ former Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told TechCrunch in August of 2018. â€œThink of it this way: we just invested in a startup called IGTV, but itâ€™s small, and itâ€™s like Instagram was (in the) â€˜early days.’â€
A month later, Systrom, along with Instagram Co-founder Mike Krieger, left Facebook, Instagramâ€™s parent company.
So, is IGTV the new Google+? Itâ€™s likely too early to tell, but itâ€™s looking that way.
Instagramâ€™s main feed and Stories products have become symbiotic with the influencer community, and IGTV seems tailor-made for brands and influencers to offer longer-form content; videos can be up to an hour long. However, the people who should have the most interest in the new platform, creators themselves, are mostly just repurposing (read: cropping vertically) their YouTube content.
Without a clear monetization path, theyâ€™re unlikely to continue to put any real effort into the platform. Top talent on YouTube can make six figures or more a month.
IGTV isnâ€™t the first time that Facebook has swung and missed on long-form content. Facebook Watch, which was also positioned as a YouTube competitor, initially was paying content providers, with an estimated budget of $90 million. But as that money started drying up, outside of truly unique content like Tom Bradyâ€™s â€œTom vs. Time,â€ â€œBall in the Familyâ€ or WWEâ€™s â€œMixed Match Challengeâ€, there wasnâ€™t much to see on Watch.
Far more problematic beyond a revenue model is the main issue for influencers: If nobodyâ€™s watching, whoâ€™s being influenced? Is there really a long-form content appetite to be fed on Instagram via the smartphone?
Depending on which gurus you believe, millennials either want â€œsnackableâ€ short-form content, or they actually want long-form content. Go ahead: Google â€œlongform video making a comeback.â€ Youâ€™ll find articles from 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 in the first page of results.
But hereâ€™s the thing: Long-form content never went anywhere. With apologies to L.L. Cool J, donâ€™t call it a comeback. Long form content has been here for years. Itâ€™s called YouTube. And why is YouTube so successful?
One word: search. YouTube is the second-biggest search engine in the world, trailing only its parent company, Google.
IGTV, in an effort to differentiate itself from YouTube, launched without proper search functionality. In fact, when you activate IGTV, it opens with static fuzz, like what you would see when you turned on a TV with a cable box back in 1983 and flipped through channels, not knowing what youâ€™re going to get next.
â€œBecause we donâ€™t have full text search and you canâ€™t just search any random thing, itâ€™s about the creatorsâ€ Systrom explained at the time of the launch. â€œI think that at its base level that itâ€™s personality-driven and creator driven means that youâ€™re going to get really unique content that you wonâ€™t find anywhere else and thatâ€™s the goal.â€
Search has since been added to IGTV (and it quickly auto-suggests feeds that create IGTV content), but when I opened IGTV over the weekend, I was served up content from ESPN, WWE, Gary Vaynerchuk and The Daily Show.
This is all content I can find everywhere else, on Twitter, television, Linkedin, etc.
Discoverability is one of the main issues thatâ€™s continued to plague Snapchat, and seems to be hurting IGTV as well. With all of the choices we have today, am I going to invest five minutes into a random piece of longform content that an algorithm thinks I want to watch? Possibly.
The likelihood increases dramatically, however, if itâ€™s something Iâ€™ve searched out.
With all of the data these major platforms have at their disposal, why do they continue to make such large errors in assessing what their users actually want? Why do they fail in targeting new spaces like Google did with social, or Instagram seems to be doing with long-form video?
In reading about the Google+ failure, one anonymous former Googler said the company was “late to market” and motivated from “a competitive standpoint” as they looked to take on Facebook.
If youâ€™ve never read this infamous tweetstorm from another former Google+ engineer, it describes office politics, siloed teams and a lack of clear vision as major factors in the demise of Googleâ€™s failed social network. Hereâ€™s the start of that thread:
Given the recent Instagram drama surrounding the foundersâ€™ departure from Facebook, itâ€™s likely that similar forces were at play with IGTV.
Whatever the reason, IGTV hasnâ€™t lived up to the hype of last yearâ€™s launch, and it may never take off at all. Instagram itself doesnâ€™t seem to be losing steam. But they badly misread the market and their usersâ€™ appetite (or lack thereof) for long form content.
The lesson might be this: You donâ€™t have to be all things to all people.
Or, as Facebook Watchâ€™s LaVar Ball says, â€œStay in yo’ lane!â€
I’m almost convinced Facebook staged Wednesday’s all-day near-blackout on purpose.
If Instagram is still down by the time you’re reading this, then you’ve certainly got a few extra minutes to burn, so do me a favor. Read Chapter 2 of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where Mark Twain explained social media marketing all the way back in 1884.
Oh great, you’re back. More on Tom Sawyer in a moment.
The blackout was devastating. Lindsay Lohan couldn’t take it, requesting that Instagram contact her. The lower-case, no punctuation request/demand was softened by a “please,” but she seemed to mean business.
The Fat Jewish (no really, that’s a popular influencer’s nom de guerre on social media) wondered what would happen if the ‘Gram never returned. Joking about Instagram models going unemployed was low-hanging fruit, knowing he’d garner tons of “engagement” when people clapped-back at him, asking where he’d go to steal content.
Others wondered if Elizabeth Warren had already broken up Big Tech.
Everybody was talking about it on Twitter, since it was the only major platform operating at the time. (Sorry, Snapchat.)
Make no mistake, the prolonged Instagram blackout was a cultural event. It was bigger than Beto O’Rourke confirming his presidential run (maybe push that back a day, strategy team?), The Bachelor Finale recaps or Donald Trump grounding faulty 737s.
The visceral, unhinged reaction to the longest blackout in Facebook’s history was a depressing confirmation of what we’ve long since already accepted: our phones own us, and it’s rapidly getting worse. It’s a runaway train, and the distracted conductor’s not looking at the tracks ahead.
This chart is truly tragic. The “Don’t Drink and Drive” message we were bombarded with since the late 1980s made a protracted but significant impact over a 20-year period. Sadly, all of that work has basically been undone in half the time. Our smartphone addiction is Exhibit A.
The machines are literally killing us, and Skynet isn’t even self-aware yet. Or is it?
What’s the URL for that again? (“Nevermind – what’s new on Netflix?”)
Journalists didn’t seem to mind Facebook and Instagram taking a siesta. After all, Twitter drives their relevance, and to a lesser degree, referral traffic. When actual news happens, people find out first on Twitter. But wouldn’t it be nice if it was 2005 again, when people talked to each other at dinner, and you had to type in www.bostonglobe.com or www.sfchronicle.com to find out what’s really happening?
The replies to this tweet were fascinating.
For one, people don’t want to pay for content. They’d rather be the content. (“@OneSlowDude” is an interesting handle, all things considered.)
Dear @OneSlowDude: If it’s free, you’re the product, brother.
Journalists rely on those subscriptions (that you don’t want to pay for) to feed their families. After all, who is going to work for free?
Henry Apple (no relation to Tim Apple, at least as far as I know) certainly isn’t willing to work for free. But guess what? Everybody on social media is. Zuckerberg must have read Chapter 2 of Tom Sawyer, because he’s convinced a billion people to whitewash his fence every month.
But back to the replies:
“The local news is fake, but Instagram ain’t!”
Perhaps you want more world news, and don’t care about what’s going on in your own backyard.
World events are important. Alicia makes a point. Then again, what if the only news worth sharing is the news that hey, Facebook and Instagram are down?
It’s been a tough year for Facebook. Basically every story that’s come out in the last year has been negative, and now politicians want to break them up. They’ve lost control of their own narrative, which reminds me of the old Don Draper axiom of marketing.
Perhaps a little reminder from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp was just what the doctor ordered. “You love us, and you can’t live without us.”
Finally, I’ll leave you with some Mark Twain:
â€œTom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing itâ€”namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.â€
When I think of Mark Zuckerberg, the first person who comes to mind is 80s pro wrestling bad guy â€œRowdyâ€ Roddy Piper. Piper once boasted about his opponents, â€œJust when they think they got the answers, I change the questions.â€
Zuckerberg could make the same claim. Facebook changes the rules every few months, tweaking their algorithm and policies regularly, often without warning or explanation. Once youâ€™ve set your strategy, you canâ€™t go on autopilot, because the rules are likely to change quickly, and before you know it, youâ€™ll be wrestling with your Facebook strategy again.
But thereâ€™s no need to submit to Zuckâ€™s stranglehold on your page. Here are five tactics to help you pin down your 2015 Facebook strategy.
Forget Engagement, Start Tracking Reach Rate
Thereâ€™s a ton of information inside of Facebookâ€™s Insights tool, and if you export the raw data files, thereâ€™s even more that youâ€™ll likely never examine.
Three Facebook metrics tend to get the most public discussion: Likes, Comments and Shares. But the first two of those are basically worthless. Post likes are meaningless. OK, not completely, as a postâ€™s likes do impact its organic reach, but realistically, a like is a one-second long, one-click engagement. How valuable is that? Do you remember the last post you liked on any platform?
As for comments, theyâ€™re typically considered a â€œdeeperâ€ engagement, since people actually have to start typing (and presumably thinking, but thatâ€™s debatable), but most comment numbers are skewed by comment spam. When automated comment spam is peaking (seemingly every other week), it can easily account for a large percentage of the comments on a given post. Facebook is constantly fighting off comment spam bots; as soon as they wipe one out, another one pops up quickly.
On its Insights dashboard, Facebook shows you â€œEngagement Rateâ€ which their Help Pages define as, â€œthe percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it.â€
But since Iâ€™ve convinced you that likes and comments arenâ€™t valuable, â€œEngagement Rateâ€ is at best a specious number with little insight, and at worst a flawed formula thatâ€™s misleading social media managers.
Instead, I think the most important number to track is Reach Rate, which isnâ€™t an official Facebook metric. Facebook only shows raw reach numbers in their reporting, presumably for an obvious reason â€“ reach rates are typically in the single digits when reach is expressed as a percentage of your audience. They conveniently neglect to show you that math.
Still, the number is easy to derive. For each post, divide the organic reach number by your total audience number to arrive at a reach rate. This number will tell you how much of your potential audience youâ€™re reaching, and it serves as a strong indication about how algorithm-friendly your post is.
Youâ€™ll realize quickly that certain types of posts, specifically videos and photos, wildly outperform status updates and links. This November, Facebook announced on its own marketing blog that theyâ€™ll be cracking down on â€œpromotionalâ€ posts in 2015, and if your â€œcontentâ€ is really just a blatant advertisement (â€œBuy now!â€ or â€œsign up hereâ€) with little context or relevance to your fans, you can expect that content wonâ€™t reach much of your audience.
Track your own custom Share metric
Sharing is caring, as they say. In other words, your fans actually care about your content if theyâ€™re willing to share it with their friends. So you should be tracking how many people do this. The numbers wonâ€™t be overwhelming, but they can be telling if you give them context.
Share numbers on their own arenâ€™t typically very large, especially as they relate to the size of your overall audience. For the Celtics, since weâ€™ve got 8.7 million fans, 18 shares on a post may not seem like much. But again, itâ€™s not about your audience, itâ€™s about your reach. Fans who never see your content canâ€™t share it.
So it helps to put shares in context with regard to the size of your reach and the content of your post. For the Celtics, with the size of our audience, weâ€™re reaching hundreds of thousands of fans per post. With that in mind, weâ€™ve started tracking â€œShares per 10k Reachedâ€ to understand what content resonates and whatâ€™s getting ignored. Weâ€™ve found that content that does better than 1.0 shares per 10k reached is pretty successful. Content that over-indexes can often do 3-4 shares per 10k reached. We consider a post that does under 0.5 â€œShares per 10k Reachedâ€ to be underperforming on our page.
Want more reach? Upload video directly to Facebook
Facebook made an important sweeping change over the summer. They started auto-playing videos on mobile devices. So when users scroll past timeline posts with embedded videos, the video starts up and entices users to click and play them. Mobile is a massive piece of the Facebook audience; a report from Q2 of 2014 revealed that over 1 billion of their 1.32 billion monthly active users (> 80%) access Facebook from their mobile device, and 30% access it exclusively from their mobile device.
One of the results of this shift is that embedded videos are reaching people in the timeline at a 2-3x greater rate than links to content or typical status updates. At least thatâ€™s what the Celtics have seen. And thatâ€™s why you saw so many random peopleâ€™s Ice Bucket Challenges in August, whether you wanted to or not.
Simply put, Facebook is rewarding publishers by giving video more regular placement in your audienceâ€™s timeline. The results have been staggering for us. Celtics videos are reaching about 650,000 fans per post and averaging ~75,000 views since we started uploading them directly to Facebook in August. That reach rate (7-8%) is much better than links and status updates that consistently get a 2-3% reach rate. Prior to this change, if we linked off to a video on our own website or YouTube, we were lucky if it was generating a few thousand views based on the referral traffic Facebook was generating.
Recently, we posted a tribute video to former Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo upon his return to play in Boston with the Dallas Mavericks. This video reached over 6.1 million fans (thatâ€™s a Reach Rate of over 69%) and was viewed over 1 million times. Obviously, this video is an outlier, but had we simply linked back to our website, the post never would have generated anywhere near that type of referral traffic.
Thereâ€™s a couple of factors at play here, but the important dynamic to understand is that Facebook is trying hard to keep users on Facebook longer and is incenting brands to generate content to do that. According to comScore, this August, for the first time ever, Facebook beat YouTube on desktop videos delivered. So, hereâ€™s the question: Do you care about generating an audience for your that carefully crafted video content, or simply driving referral traffic back to your website?
Tag other fan pages to enhance your reach
Want to reach new fans? Hereâ€™s a quick tip: Start tagging relevant entities with large followings in your posts. By tagging other fan pages, you can often reach people who are fans of those pages but not fans of your own. Itâ€™s a great way to reach new fans. We regularly tag opposing teams in our posts, opposing players and the NBA itself.
In some cases, small Facebook pages have been able to reach 2-3x their entire audience with posts by using this technique.
Spread your posts out
You can only post so many times a day before your fans will tune you out. Whatâ€™s the magic number? Itâ€™s different for every brand. Weâ€™ve tried to stick to four or five posts per day on average. But for each of your posts to reach their largest potential audience, they need time to hit peopleâ€™s timelines before being replaced by something else from your fan page. If you post at 10:03 am and then again at 10:31 am, that first post is likely to wildly underperform in terms of reach.
Iâ€™d recommend separating posts by at least two or three hours each, and preferably, much longer than that. Segment your content calendar into day parts, and give your posts as much time to breath as they can get. Check Facebook Insights to understand when your fans are actually online, and use that to map out when youâ€™re going to post. If your brand has a national or international fan base, don’t be afraid to schedule posts for the wee hours of the night. Just because youâ€™re not awake doesn’t mean your fans arenâ€™t on Facebook.
Have you ever fantasized about starting your life over, running away to a desert island and leaving the trappings of your environment for a brand new existence?
You know, going “off the grid?”
I’ve never met him and have no reason to believe that’s what Matt Hill wanted when he went missing this week. I expect we’ll eventually get an explanation from Hill himself. But as his story played out in our Facebook news feeds and Twitter timelines, with everyone from local friends and acquaintances to Red Sox relievers and supermodels joining the cyber-search for him, once it was reported that he’d been found, alive and well, I had to wonder: If he intentionally went missing, and his friends and family resorted to using social media to spread the word and find him, is it really possible to â€œgo off the gridâ€ in this day in age?
Hill reportedly disappeared in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, May 24. The story drew national attention when Sox pitcher Daniel Bard told sportswriters and shared the link for a Facebook Community that was established to build awareness and help find him. The group had over 10,000 â€œLikesâ€ as of May 29 when news broke around 9 am that morning that Hill had been found. A twitter feed called @FindMattHill had 2,100+ followers, and blogs and news sites were posting his picture and descriptions of his 1996 Honda Civic, and noting that his cell phone had been turned off since he’d last been seen alive that morning.
Details are still emerging, but word that Hill was found â€œalive and unharmedâ€ spread Sunday morning. The Facebook Community “Praying and Searching for Matt Hill” posted that Hill “left on his own will.” It’s a strange story, and now that it’s been exposed nationwide, I’d guess there will be some uncomfortable answers to this story, if we ever get any at all. And frankly, are we even entitled to them in the first place?
Whether or not Facebook postings helped to “find” someone who may not even have been truly missing is beside the point. For the social media conscientious objectors out there who don’t maintain a presence on Facebook and have no desire to tweet or share mundane details of their daily existence, this story probably doesn’t resonate beyond a blip on the radar. But as someone who works with Facebook daily and contemplates its powers, flaws and the ramifications of social networking, I was startled. This story smacked me in the face.
What if Hill was facing a personal crisis and just wanted to get away? What if he didn’t want to speak with his friends and family? And if his friends couldn’t find him, how would random people on Facebook and Twitter be able to track him down even if he was alive (and presumably well)? Could tweeting out pictures of his face across the Internet actually help find a missing person? Or would it do more in the long run to damage his reputation once he was found to be alive?
The story raises a ton of questions, both about social media and more importantly, about Hill himself, and frankly, the truly important answers are about Matt. Those answers are none of our business. But the people who care about Matt Hill, by mobilizing a social search for a loved one about whom they likely feared the most, have suddenly (and unwittingly) taken someone who may have wanted off the grid and ironically, put him on the map. What might have been a personal struggle that Hill would maybe share with only his closest friends, will now define him among his friends and strangers alike going forward.
Maybe the viral search across social media saved his life. The good news today is that Matt Hill is alive and well. Had he gone missing five years ago, his friends and family would have alerted authorities, posted signs on lamp posts in his neighborhood, and maybe the story made the local news in D.C. In 2011, his tale is national news, and it’s likely that most of the people he meets through his real-world social network (not to mention hundreds of people from his past) from this point forward will have heard about his story.
Again, I should stress that I know nothing about Hill or his situation beyond what’s been reported. But his story illustrated a larger hypothetical. The new reality of our day and age is that his presumable desires for privacy and alone time (or alternatively, a cry for help and attention) were amplified by the power of social networking. The grid Hill may have mistakenly thought he could escape may have saved his life, but due to one large misstep, that same social grid, which now spans far beyond what he ever imagined or intended, has forever complicated his existence from this point forward.
For better or worse, it’s a reality we all need to learn to accept.