It’s Pay To Play! Instagram Profiles See A Dramatic Drop In Organic Growth And Engagement

Marko Saric posted on 6 October 2015

Since our last Instagram Growth And Engagement report, the platform has announced 400 million active users. More than 75% of these live outside the US. Of the latest 100 million users to join the platform more than 50% are from Europe and Asia. Brazil, Japan and Indonesia are three of the highest growing countries on Instagram.

This is truly a great achievement for the Instagram team. For social media marketers and others working on Instagram the trend is not so positive. With 400 million monthly active users and more than 80 million photos posted per day it is becoming very difficult to get organic growth and engagement on the platform.


We looked at 2,500 Instagram profiles and their numbers in September 2015. Let’s take a look at what we discovered.

Decline in organic follower growth and engagement continues

The follower growth of these 2,500 profiles was at 0.25%. The engagement per post was at 1.76% of the audience.

These are the two key metrics for social media marketers on Instagram and both have seen a drastic decline since we started measuring these numbers in April 2015. There was a bit of a resurgence in August but September was back to the negative trend. Just look at these numbers:

Month Follower Growth Engagement
April 1.95% 2.8%
May 1.48% 2.61%
June 0.49% 2.14%
July 0.34% 2.12%
August 0.56% 2.25%
September 0.25% 1.76%

This naturally brings us to the conclusion that Instagram has now joined Facebook in being a “pay to play” platform. If a brand wants to grow their presence on Instagram a budget is needed to be spent on advertising. Same for engagement. If you want more people to see your posts you need to spend money.

Instagram is pay to play

Good news is that Instagram advertising is now available and open to all. The ads platform leverages all the best aspects and features from Facebook’s ads so if you’re already doing ads on Facebook you will be very familiar with ads on Instagram too. Instagram has announced that they are seeing “significant demand” for ads, particular in e-commerce, travel, entertainment and retail.

Some early numbers from a selected number of partners shows that the click-through rate on Instagram is 1.5% compared to the 0.84% on Facebook. The average CPM is reported everywhere from $3 to $6.29. Videos cost as little as 2 cents per view. A view counts when the video has been seen for at least 3 seconds, exactly the same as on Facebook.

instagram ads

Portrait and landscape formats bring new opportunities

The 2,500 profiles we looked at posted on average 2.62 posts per day in September. 93% of these were image posts while 7% were videos. On average a photo engaged 1.85% of the audience while a video engaged 0.9%. Likes stood for 98.12% of all the interactions, while only 1.88% of interactions were comments.

Since our last report Instagram introduced portrait and landscape formats to the platform. Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, mentioned on Product Hunt that more than 20% of all posts had white borders which helped them decide to introduce these formats officially. Early numbers from Instagram say that portrait is “slightly more popular” than landscape format.

image size

This is one way brands can try and differentiate themselves to get extra engagement. Could you experiment by posting some content in portrait and landscape formats? See how your audience reacts and responds to it. Do you get more or less engagement? Do people comment more on these?

One easy way to measure this is to tag all your content. Tag portrait posts as “portraits”, tag landscape posts as “landscape” and measure the differences in engagement rate and in number of likes and comments. There might not be any difference in the two but if there is you may be onto a winner. You can measure this manually in an Excel file or you can use Locowise and our Label section. Try it out with a free trial.

3 action points for you
1. Compare your own Instagram profile to the 2,500 profiles we looked at in this study by using our free tool: Instagram Analyser. It’s updated daily with all the latest numbers. How does your growth and engagement compare to the average?
2. Work on getting a budget for your Instagram activities. It is difficult to grow organically so in order to get some new followers your best bet is to get into advertising.
3. Experiment by posting a variety of content this month. From image to video. From portrait to landscape. Segment all the different formats and calculate the engagement rate you are getting for them. Anything that stands out? Doing this might lead you to making some changes to your upcoming strategy and content calendar.

Locowise goes beyond pretty charts. We crunch the data for you. We draw insights from the noise. And we produce business value immediately - answering specific questions with high-action intelligence.

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One thought on “It’s Pay To Play! Instagram Profiles See A Dramatic Drop In Organic Growth And Engagement”
  • Thanks for the trend data, Marko. It would be great to see this by industry and region, if that data is available!

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