Photographers at SMK

Measuring Instagram reach with barely any magic

Instagram reach can be measured. At least sort of. Here’s the SMK approach.

I’ve been describing our approach to Instagram measurement in a number of emails now, so I thought I’d just outline it here.

For those of us who like to track what we’re doing the whole problem, of course, is that Instagram does not provide any behind-the-scenes metrics. Thus, while you can add up engagement numbers (numbers of likes, numbers of comments etc.) you can’t tell how many people actually saw your masterful squares.

But that’s just one problem. At SMK, we really prefer to look beyond our own channels and include what museum guests and others are sharing. We like to see ourselves as initiators or inspirators of conversation, but we certainly don’t see worthwhile activity as confined to the channels that we happen to “own”.

Here’s what we do: First of all, we try to catch the largest possible amount of Instagram activity related to the museum. For this, we use the wonderfully flexible IFTTT (If This Then That) web service. IFTTT users can set up simple “recipes” using “ingredients” in the form of web services and selected actions. For instance, a recipe can be “Send any image uploaded to a specific Facebook page to a specific email address”.
We’ve set up IFTTT to track Instagrams posted at the two locations of SMK and/or with one of the hashtags often used by museum guests.

IFTTT recipe
IFTTT recipe

When such a photo is posted, IFTTT adds it to a Google Drive spreadsheet immediately. The spreadsheet fills up with lines like this:

Instagrams in a spreadsheet
Instagrams in a spreadsheet

At this point, what we have is just lines in a spreadsheet. Getting to reach requires a combination of math and guesswork informed assumptions.

We counted the number of followers for all posters in one whole month and it turned out they had an average of 400 followers. To measure reach for any month, we thus multiply the number of photos with 400. Obviously, however, Instagramers don’t see all images in their feed – and there’ll be a certain overlap of followers – so we’ve found it appropriate to divide by three.

Now, the ‘three’ is highly arbitrary. Is three the optimal number? Almost surely not (it is a prime number, though, shouldn’t that count for something?…). You might suspect that the resulting number will be too high, but our logic is that the IFTTT does not capture everything posted from the museum (i.e. everything not geo- or hashtagged) and so we compensate upwards. Thus, the SMK formula is:

Instagram reach = Number of photos posted in a month * 400 / 3

Of course, you can adjust the 3 any way you find appropriate.

Feel free to argue, but my logic is this: Our formula is not perfect, but it is the most reasonably approximation we can currently come up with. Also, while the actual number should be asterisked with disclaimers, the math here is simple and gives an easy way to track development over time. In short, we are happy with it until more precise tools come around.

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