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How Free People Beats Nike on Instagram

Since the last time we analyzed brands on Instagram (which was last week), Instagram has updated us on its monthly active user base. Instagram does not have 500 million users; now it has 600 million users.

The last 100 million users joined the platform in the past six months.

The platform also added two new features in the last week: the ability to save posts and stickers for Instagram stories. The exponential growth Instagram has seen in the last few months, along with the launch of some exciting new features, makes the platform an indispensable tool for a digital marketer.screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-10-55-38-amInstagram’s unique ability to highlight visual content greatly increases its importance, especially in verticals that rely on visual storytelling — like fashion and beauty. We have previously shared findings from how brands in these verticals are using Instagram and their performance on the same. This time, let’s take a look at the fitness industry, which is another great example of a vertical that largely depends on visuals to inspire and motivate its audience.

Over, the last two months, we tracked some of the biggest fitness brands by their audience size on Instagram–namely Nike, Adidas, Jordan (jumpman23), Free People, Under Armour, The North Face, Lululemon, Reebok, Fabletics, and Athleta–and analyzed their performance.

Here is what we found:
1. Among the top brands, Nike has the highest number of followers, 5.5x more than the second largest brand (Adidas), and the fourth largest share of engagement, even though they had the lowest number of posts per week (1.1 vs 24.2 for Free People). Free People, although is only the fourth-largest brand by audience size in this dataset, has the over 29% of overall share of engagement. However, on a per-post basis, Nike beats all the other brands in this data set (over 372K engagement per post).screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-11-45-22-am

Takeaway: As we have seen in previous posts, having a large number of followers does not guarantee a high overall engagement, and that applies to fitness brands as well. Posting content consistently helps keep the audience engaged.

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Engagement is a function of the tactics the brands use, how often they post, the content they post, and how well it relates to the audience.

The goal is to find a way to tell the brand story in a unique and exciting way using the visuals on this platform.


2. Videos generate a higher engagement than photos for fitness brands. The brands posted almost twice the amount of photos as videos, but the average engagement for videos is way higher than it is for photos.screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-1-17-43-pm

It is also interesting to note that all the brands in the data set understand the importance of these media types and are using both of them to reach out to their audience. Free People got the highest engagement on photos, while Nike’s received the highest engagement for videos. On average engagement-per-post basis, Nike had the highest engagement for both media types.screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-1-26-38-pm

The post below was the most engaging photo from Free People in the data period.

Takeaway: The brands should experiment with different content for both photos and videos, and analyze what works better with their audience. While videos have been allowed on Instagram for a while, the newer feature launches open up a lot more opportunities for brands to come up with creative ways to communicate to their audience and keep them engaged.

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Features like zoom for Instagram photos and videos should encourage the brands to create more interactive collaterals, and encourage the audience to stop and take a moment to engage with the same.



3. 60% of the top 10 fitness brands are deploying User Generated Content (UGC) in their Instagram content strategy. While established brands like Nike, Adidas, Jordan, and Lululemon have not regrammed any content in this data period, North Face had the highest number of regrams (39% of the content posted by the brand in the data period were regrams), followed by Free people (30%). The regrammed content contributed to 47% of engagement for The North Face and 40% for Free People.screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-3-15-27-pmTakeaway: According to various studies, over half (51%) of Americans trust user-generated content more than other information on a company website, and they say that it influences what they buy and where they buy it from. Using user-generated content as a part of content strategy can provide the brands with more genuine voice, helping them create a wider reach with their audience and making them appear more trustworthy.

The following post from Free People was the most engaging regram in this data set:

This roof✔️this sunset✔️ 📷: @tuulavintage #lovefromfp

A post shared by freepeople (@freepeople) on

4. Emojis are everywhere, and Instagram is no exception. Between emojis and hashtags, brands are finding creative ways to communicate with their followers. In this data set, 62% of the posts included one or more hashtags, and 43% of the posts included emojis. Free People was the most enthusiastic user of emojis in the data period, with 97% of their posts including one or more emojis, and it was the brand with the highest share of engagement in the data period. Nike was the only brand that did not use any emojis in its posts.

Look, but don't touch 😉🌵✨🌶 @fparizona

A post shared by freepeople (@freepeople) on

Takeaway: Emojis have become an important tool in today’s digital communication to express emotions and help the audience relate to the brands. Since emojis on Instagram are searchable, like hashtags, they can also facilitate discovery of the brand’s content, helping their photos and videos show up in feeds that their target audience are following and drive traffic to their Instagram profile, ultimately driving traffic to their site and possibly making a conversion.

5. 50% of the top 10 fitness brands have used one influencer or the other in their posts in this time period. Posts that include an influencer generated 2.7 times more average engagement-per-post than posts with no influencers tagged.

Takeaway: While inspirational messaging to motivate the audience to achieve their personal best is an important aspect of communication by the fitness brands, using influencers and sharing their stories about continuing the fight and their never-give-up attitude helps drive the message and brands’ values further. The following post by Nike, about the Cubs winning the championship this year after 108 years, was the most engaging post in the data set.

It's been a long time…but the @cubs made Someday today.

A post shared by nike (@nike) on

While everyone has their own fitness goals, getting inspiration from people around us always helps. Instagram is a great “fit” for the fitness brands to build a community, encourage them, and keep them motivated, all while maintaining the larger brand vision. Every industry has its own strategy to drive engagement when it comes to Instagram. If you want to learn what works for your industry, download our Instagram industry report below.

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The 2015 Instagram Industry Report


Tripti Shrivastava

I'm a Social Media Analyst at Simply Measured. I love food, music, movies, and long walks. Let's talk about social media data!

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