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.

Squaring the museum: A year of Instagram at SMK

For the past year we’ve hosted a small series of Instagram events at the National Gallery of Denmark. The result is a diversity of perspectives and quite a few masterpieces.

Given enough eyes, if you’ll pardon the paraphrase, all corners of the museum can be made photogenic. A year ago this August we had our first Instagram event at SMK, giving a group an exclusive tour an hour before opening to the public (a tour where I elegantly managed to get myself locked all alone into the permanent exhibition in ways still somewhat unexplained).

And just to be clear: It is a truly great thing. Inviting visual creativity inside is a real pleasure and a great way to engage with the art in new ways (not to mention the staircases and each and every reflective surface). In this post, I’ll sketch our experience so far.

Instagramers getting ready
Instagramers getting ready (August 2014)

For our very first attempt at the genre, Instagram staff members – in town for Copenhagen Fashion Week – actually handled logistics. A group of 12 specially invited IG’ers were taken for a “empty museum” walk under the #emptysmk hashtag. Yes, we bent our hashtag model which is always SMK-something to associate ourselves just a bit with the fabulous #emptymet series of events.

Going on instinct we’d asked a guide to lead the way, speaking knowledgeably about the collection. This effort turned out to be wasted, however, as the photography mission left very little mental room for taking in art history.

Some of the photos from this first tour are shown here:

One more from #emptysmk > discovering colour with @kjwww // #artwatchers #timeforteal

A photo posted by Hannah Waldram (@hannahrw) on

Soon after the walk we were contacted by Instagramers Denmark, and with that fine association we made a similar setup (only after hours, not before). About 15 people went for an #emptysmk walk, once again with great images to show for it:

tak @igersdenmark @smkmuseum for en hyggelig fototur i #emptysmk. A photo posted by laurenlila (@laurenlila) on

  One more from the event today // #emptysmk @smkmuseum   A photo posted by Judith Stohn (@jstohn) on


Wanting to try our hands at something slightly more focused we held our next event at the Royal Cast Collection, which is in a separate location from the rest of the museum. As it was now winter and we had to plan for late in the day, we arranged for some simple extra lighting in the form of two strong photographer’s lamps that we could move around to try different setups. Again we worked with Instagramers Denmark to invite 15 people for an atmospheric tour of the collection. Incidentally, 15 is our preferred number as larger groups become too difficult to move around and as we like to keep the atmosphere relatively casual and be able to answer everybody’s questions. This photo shows a bit of context:

Photo event at the Royal Cast Collection
Photo event at the Royal Cast Collection

A couple of shots from the talented IG’ers:

Went on a cosy walk on SMK Cast Museum today – thanks for inviting us :) // A photo posted by Bobby Anwar (@bobbyanwar) on

Golden light

A photo posted by Oliver TCB (@olivertcb) on

Night at the museum… Thank You @igersdenmark for a fun night at The Royal Cast Collection. A photo posted by Abdellah Ihadian (@mr_babdellahn) on

For our next event we went anti-empty and invited photo folks for our grand opening of the “What’s Happening?” exhibition. The idea was to show the museum full of life and activity, which is a nice idea, but not necessarily one the IG’ers went for as you can see here:

Museum | kunst

A photo posted by Oliver TCB (@olivertcb) on

The | bag – thanks for the invite @smkmuseum ✌️ #smkmuseum #communityfirst #copenhagen

A photo posted by LittlemyCPH (@littlemycph) on

A photo posted by Oliver TCB (@olivertcb) on

But okay, you can’t always have (or plan) them all.

It’s been great seeing the museum through so many talented people’s lenses. We look forward to new adventures in square format in the time to come.

If you have any questions about our initiatives, don’t hesitate to ask.

Feel free to join our SMK photo events Facebook group.

For details, metrics and other wonderful things, see my Museums and the Web paper on The Me/Us/Them Model.