In my last article (read that first!) I argue that the reason so many of us feel our Instagram engagement is low (when it’s not) is that we have several outliers – several High Watermark images that get super high engagement. We then mistakenly set the bar way up there for every image that comes afterward. And every time we don’t hit that mark again, we assume our pictures are crap or that Instagram hates us.
I showed you screenshots from that article, but not all the data. And I didn’t mention it at the time, but I was looking at the account of Nicole Houser of @nicolekristinphoto. I wasn’t trying to hide anything, but simply didn’t feel it necessary to show everything. But if you want to know, here ya go!
Before I jump in, I want to thank Nicole for allowing me to share this. She is a super talented (wait til you see below!) family photographer in Sarasota, FL. She is also a two-time breakout photography class instructor for ClickinMoms, including Luminous, Magical & Memorable: Learning to Shoot for Light First and Golden Hour: The Photographer’s Ultimate Guide. Once we dive into her gallery below, you’ll see why she’s qualified to teach those classes!
Here’s all the screenshots from my spreadsheet. These numbers were recorded as of November 8th, 2018. I expect those numbers to increase – the most recent posts will see the most increase, the older images will most likely stay about the same. I don’t expect the numbers to decrease, because that would mean someone went and deleted their comment or removed their like and that doesn’t sound common to me.
Please note that the last spreadsheet has some overlap with the previous one.
You’ll see that I made some little notes about the images. I do this because it helps me know where I am in her gallery, but also I made those notes about particular images that did really well, engagement-wise.
Here’s a peek into the images that were included in the data, from most recent to oldest at the bottom (the very last image with the sunglasses was not included in the data):
I’m sorry….but this is just total eye-candy! I mean, every single image is amazing?!?!
But…some are more amazing than others. And let me throw this out to you too…maybe Nicole’s followers have come to expect amazing.
I’ll give you an example from my personal experience. I’m not talking about Nicole, I’m actually referring to a different photographer now. She’s amazing. (Do I use the word amazing too often? Sorry.) Every single photo = amazingness. But on a rare occasion, she’ll post a photo and I’ll just go “huh…” Something about it will feel less than amazingness. But here’s the wild thing- if anyone else, if I, posted that exact same photo, the world would oooo and ahhhh. But since SHE posted it and it’s not quite up to the crazy-awesome level of the majority of her work, perhaps people scroll on by without the like. (Now, for this particular person, I’m still gonna like & comment, because I just really like her as a person, and I don’t feel the need to “penalize” her just because one photo doesn’t strike me as phenomenal.)
But, I’m not gonna lie… There are other photographers that I might not know or like as much, and for them, I probably would scroll by. Actually, here’s another real-life example (and gosh, I hope no one finds out who I’m referring to here!) There is another photographer out there that I just feel okay about, personally. I don’t dislike her, by any means, but she’s just not really my cup of tea. She sells editing products and teaches on editing too. Awhile back, she posted an image that was a god-awful edit. I mean, terrible. So bad, I actually had the fleeting thought I should DM her and tell her to delete that puppy asap. Not cuz I’m mean, but because for someone who teaches on editing, this photo would absolutely hurt her rep. After I decided not to DM her, I really hoped another friend of hers would step in and intervene.
After staring at this shotty piece of “what was she thinking?” I did not like and did not comment on it. I just couldn’t do it. I would not put my good name on that thing. I could not think of a nice thing to possibly say.
I guess the moral of this story is…Be an awesome human and your followers will forgive you for your mistakes. If you’re just an okay human, we will scroll on by.
And please for the love of Mike, don’t edit and post immediately. Sleep on it and take another look with fresh eyes. This disaster could have been avoided.
Ok, back from my tangent.
When you peruse through Nicole’s gallery above, can you possibly spot the outliers? Can you figure out, at a glance, which posts did better than others?
Here are the graphs I did – note that Post 10 is the most recent post and Post 70 is the oldest post, from August. So it’s a bit counter to our sense of chronological time, meaning, you kinda need to read the graphs backward. I should flip that…
Here’s the gallery again, and I put a little color layer at 50% over the ones that performed at or below average, but left the above average posts (measured by likes and comments) in full color. What do you see?
Well, the first thing I notice is that only one B&W performed above average. Which kinda stinks because her B&W edits are really great. She has beautiful contrast. But…if I’m being honest, her color images are freakin amazing. They have a wow factor, they just do.
Do you notice those indoor, backlit hair images? Those do very well. Beach images obviously do great, but not all of them are outliers. Shots that you would assume would do incredible, perform just okay.
It’s important to note that I also read all of Nicole’s captions. I mentioned in my previous article how important it is to write a thoughtful caption. I noticed no difference in engagement based on her captions. Her captions tend to be short and sweet and seem to make no impact on her engagement.
But – do you see that string of huge winners in the middle area? She basically had 10 outliers all in a row!
Can you see how that would totally reset what Nicole believed to be her average engagement? If you have 10 winners in a row, and then revert to your averages, it would totally feel defeating. I absolutely understand that.
But overall, her trend is upward. Her most recent 30 images increased in engagement over her oldest 30 images by nearly 55%. That’s a huge increase.
But after that big string of winners, she only 3 out of 9 images beat her average.
So, is she wrong in feeling like her engagement is down? No, of course not. But is it really down? No. It’s way up.
If you invested in the stock market based on what the Dow did last week…. You’d be so screwed. You invest based on long-term averages. And this isn’t even long-term, it’s just going back to the end of summer. I believe her oldest post is from August 22nd.
Do I think that Nicole should stop posting B&W images and only post backlit hair at the beach? Nope. I think she should create what makes her happy and not bother looking at the numbers so much.
As you can clearly see, even the images that performed at or below average are still amazing images. Her B&W’s are stunning.
This brings me back to the fallacy of the high watermark. Those ten winners messed with her sense of her average engagement. It feels like her engagement is down. And again, she’s not alone – every single person that I’ve run this study on has the exact same results. Their engagement is actually up, but those elusive winners set new emotional and mental standards. If the recent posts don’t measure up, they feel like failures.
And also remember that those are recent posts. I’d be interested to see how things change in the next few months. Not weeks! I believe we need to look at a bit longer term averages to get a sense of reality. For the stock market, we look at 10-year averages. For Instagram, let’s at least look at 3 months 😉
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or feedback for me, drop me a line with a DM over at @PhotographerHack.