CT No.17: Are you, like, good at Instagram?

Better metrics for Instagram measurement and better website redesign RFPs

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If you are a reader who is actually following my every word or just a UX pro looking for a conclusion, I realize I owe you some well-designed menus. I promise they will come.


Seventeen issues in and I’m finally devoting the bulk of this content tech newsletter solely to social media. I’m a web and a content person, and I share the opinion that spending time creating organic content for social is not the most business-savvy move unless you can make a good case for it!

But as a person I still like Instagram. Creators are still doing innovative experiments there! I like Instagram even though it is Facebook. I like it because my friends are there and they share fun tidbits. I love the artists and motion graphics pros on Insta. I like the stories and I like the feed. Once Chris Stein from Blondie looked at one of my stupid Instagram stories and I’ll carry that in my heart forever.

I also buy things directly from Instagram more than I shop at the mall or on Amazon. So, take from that what you will.

The alternatives to Likes

As you may know Instagram is retiring likes to improve the quality of interactions on its network. What that really means is up for debate, but. It’s happening. And you, dear creator, still need to measure content performance.

Much digital ink has been spilled on the death of Insta likes. Oh, the likes! Where will they go? How will Insta users know what is good if we don’t know whether other people like it or not? Is this more useless Zuckerberging?

Will they destroy “influencers,” aka the people who would be lifestyle magazine editors if the magazine editors actually decided to retire, share power and make opportunities for other types of innovators?

Today’s gifs are from Ingrid Goes West, a savvy and funny movie about Instagram culture starring fellow Delawarean Aubrey Plaza.

I’m all about removing likes, and I’m also pro-influencers. I’m in favor of being critical about the content you consume and only pressing “like” if you actually like it, for whatever reason. I’m in favor of influencers because I cheer anyone who knows how to make money from publishing content on a new medium. The good influencers won’t be upended without like counts because if you can make a profitable content business from Instagram, you’re clever enough to pivot.

Following in the tradition of digital analytics mastermind Avinash Kaushik, I know that you never needed Likes in the first place. You probably don’t need organic Instagram unless you’re very good at Instagram content!

Without Likes, what are some metrics you can use for measuring Instagram performance if you aren’t selling widgets? You’re a content business, so you’re going to use the channel to build an audience and community on a social channel like Instagram. If you’re one of the cleverest and have patience for minutiae, you can use the Instagram close friends feature to build a subscriber list.

But to get there? Start here:

  • Follow-back percentage. If you are starting a new Instagram campaign or account and don’t have very many followers, you should start following people. If you join Instagram, you are joining a community and not just broadcasting out to the world.

    People love being followed. Follow-backs are the whole reason social media works at all. Channels like Instagram make you feel seen in a world where it’s difficult to stand out! People will follow you back if your content is good.

    However, if you follow, say, 50 people and only one follows you back, maybe you should rethink your content strategy. Immediately! People can sense if you’re selling too hard or trying to be too perfect. It means people don’t like your content if they don’t follow you back.

    If you have a very low follow-back percentage (under 25%), I’d recommend listening to your audience.

    FYI, Chris Stein from Blondie didn’t look at my stories after that one time so he didn’t like my content. Le sigh. I’ll have to seek validation elsewhere.
  • Active engaged users. Instagram isn’t hiding your own likes from you! They’re hiding them from other people. You still have access to your own data, so make use of that! You will likely have to export some data and play around to figure out who the active users are, but they’re there.

  • Active Stories viewers. Determine how many people regularly view your stories. (if you’re not doing Stories you’re not doing Instagram in 2020.) Consider them your actual subscribers. Figure out what they like, why they’re there and how you can appeal to them without losing your soul.

    Just remember that people notice when you try too hard.
  • Follower growth rate. Before you say “all the followers are fake” we must recognize that yes, there are bots. Tons. But there are also people. And if you’re creating content and trying to acquire new followers and build a community, you’ll have a healthy growth rate of 2-5% over time.

A plea: understand the context of your measurement before you celebrate

Please note that all of the above Instagram success metrics require some time and monitoring for analysis, like all good digital content measurement. No out-of-the-box technology is going to tell you what actually works in content creation.

My warning: any rate or relative number needs context, especially when compared to an arbitrary industry benchmark. I once had a client who kept pointing to the automated engagement rate (4%) provided by our social media tool as a metric of success. “An average Instagram engagement rate is >1%,” they said! “We are at 4%! We are so great.”

But then we had to talk through the hard truth that 1.) you have to have a lot of followers for engagement rates to be valid and 2.) all of our engagements were from friends and the client’s employees. Real talk: A 4% engagement rate with 200 followers, most of whom are colleagues, is not good.

Anyway, you can take my advice on social measurement or not. I’m a content person and I like and use Instagram enough. I’m curious about the little economies it births. And I decided a long time ago that my social media presence is a giant middle finger to professionalism, which is why my handle is still a Space Ghost reference and not something with my name in it.

Were these Instagram metrics your jam? Cool. If you’re not a subscriber maybe you should


A shortcut to website redesign scoping: The Postlight RFP tool

Back to web, my favorite medium!

Social content is spontaneous, and as noted above, you can just change it if it’s not working. Even magazine redesigns, which are well-thought-out rebranding exercises with plenty of research on their own, have a certain air of “Gah, we can change the design next month if it reminds us of our high school American lit class.”

But as we prepare for the great content tech shift of the 2020s, a good website redesign that’s intended to drive value for your business requires a significant amount of prep. Not only are we designing for content consumption across devices and contexts, we’re shifting our back-end systems to concepts like Headless and Decoupled. We’re looking for new revenue models for web-based content. We need to deeply consider privacy, accessibility and security. And we realize that for a website to provide value, move fast and look good, we have to get our information architecture ducks in a row.

If you redesigned with a responsive skin-only look last decade, it may be time to evaluate the future of your web content. And if you think you only need to consider the look and feel, rather than the information structure and content design… well, you’ll be spending more money on another redesign in a year or two.

But if all this feels like too much! Rest easy. The talented developers at Postlight put together a handy tool to help you understand what your needs will be for the website RFP process.

RFP Builder at a glance

The RFP Builder clearly comes from a true digital agency, one that actually wants their clients to seriously consider what their resources are before they jump to say “yes! we can help you!”

I imagine this tool was birthed when the new biz team was super tired of looking at garbage RFPs that said “We want our current design that is responsive and also our budget is no more than $3,000.”

If you are thinking about redesigning a content-driven website in 2020, please look at the RFP builder well before you begin to write an RFP. Look at all the requirements that are outlined: these are all details your business needs to consider.

The RFP builder is for strategists, project managers and business leaders who:

  • Are starting the process of a redesign and want a checklist to make sure they’ve crossed Ts and dotted Is

  • Want to make sure your technical considerations are thought through so that you aren’t wasting money going back-and-forth with a development agency during the redesign

  • Enjoy when your business is aligned on common goals, like what the website is supposed to do

  • Are familiar with only one part of a website redesign process (i.e., front-end or SEO or UX) and want to understand the whole kit and caboodle

  • Want to understand all the considerations that go into building a website and why it costs so much. (It costs so much because it requires a lot of work and highly specialized expertise)

  • Demonstrate to stakeholders that you, the lone digital strategist in the organization, are not the only one in the world who thinks about considerations like authorship and maintenance and third-party integrations and server capacity

  • Want to shout, “Yes, we really do need to spend time on this! Websites don’t just happen and we need to set ourselves up for future success so we don’t keep burning our digital dollars!”

You know how there are sentences you wish you’d written? I wish I’d penned this graph: “The goal of a site build isn’t to solve every SEO or marketing problem but to put you into a solid place so that you can adapt to a very rapidly changing market. An ounce of planning is worth a ton of cure.”

So yeah. here’s the official endorsement: The RFP Builder from Postlight will save you a lot of money and time.

Fun fact: I discovered this tool within hours of finishing a custom website RFP for a client. It would have saved me time and effort for suresies. But, now I have the RFP builder for the future. (And it’s also validation that my RFP was on the right track.)

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If you haven’t already, ask all your tech vendors and agencies what they’re doing for CCPA and, generally, the shift in concern around user privacy.

If they’re any good, they will have clear action items and not a bullshit “we’re not really worried about it” answer.

Don’t be a creeper. Privacy is important!

Give to the Max

It’s Give to the Max day here in Minnesota, which is a giant fundraising drive for all the nonprofits across the state. This year I’m giving to

Green Card Voices | Gender Justice | Pollen

These three amazing organizations do great work in Minnesota and around the country. So just spreading the word!


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