New research analyzing 100 million Instagram posts reveals insights like ideal caption length and number of hashtags. Here are 5 key takeaways.

  • Mention and HubSpot published a report outlining practices to help optimize engagement on Instagram.
  • The report looked at 100 million Instagram posts shared by 1 million users.
  • Here are several key takeaways from the data that marketers can apply to their 2021 strategies.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Succeeding on Instagram is a bit of both art and science.

But there are specific steps that brands, marketers, and others can take to more effectively use the platform, according to a recent report by Mention (a social-media monitoring platform) and HubSpot (a marketing software company). The report analyzed 100 million Instagram posts shared by one million users.

Instagram is the social-media platform of choice for marketers, according to a recent survey by the influencer-marketing agency Linqia. But as Instagram adds new features like Reels — its take on the vertical, short-form video popularized by TikTok — and its algorithm evolves, some brands (and influencers alike) struggle to fully understand the strategies that work on the app.

Some common questions: Which type of posts gets the most engagement? What time is best to post? How long should a caption be? And do hashtags even do anything?

In Mention and HubSpot’s report, the two companies analyzed an array of in-feed posts, including single-image posts, carousels, and videos. They did not, however, account for Stories, which is one of Instagram’s most popular features. Still, the report yielded some insights about what makes an engaging Instagram post.

Here are five key takeaways for how to best use Instagram in 2021:

  • Carousel posts are the most engaging in-feed post on Instagram. Posting a single photo to the feed isn’t going to draw the most engagement (the report calculated the engagement rate by taking the total number of likes and comments, divided by the total number of followers). Instead, sharing carousels (posts that have more than one image or video users can swipe through) saw the highest engagement, according to HubSpot’s data. Carousel posts had a median of 62 likes and five comments. Video posts performed second best. 
  • The longer the caption, the higher engagement. HubSpot found that captions between 1,000 and 2,000 characters had the highest median engagement, while captions with 500 to 1,000 had the second highest median engagement. 
  • Hashtags still boost posts. Having no hashtags at all on a post resulted in the lowest median engagement. Including one hashtag made median engagement jump significantly. At two hashtags, engagement began to dip but climbed again at five hashtags and higher. The best strategy for increasing engagement was including 20 hashtags, the report found.
  • Tagging other accounts — when appropriate — is also helpful. Posts that tagged other accounts had more likes than those without them, according to HubSpot’s data. 
  • The best times to post content are generally in the early afternoon and evening. Instagram provides users with insights into when their audience is most active on the app, which can be helpful in deciding what time (or day) to post. The ideal time to post also depends on location and industry too, HubSpot wrote.

However, as Mention and HubSpot acknowledge in the report, engagement on Instagram is rapidly changing as features like Stories and Reels shift what is taken into account. It’s not longer just likes and comments that matter, it’s also saves, shares, DMs, and views. 

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