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Instagram Catches Twitter For US Users: Which Brands Are Where?

It’s not rocket science: brands, like The Little Mermaid, want to be where the people are.

A recent eMarketer study shows that Instagram–which just broke 200 million users–is catching up to Twitter in usage and engagement levels, and that “their user counts and demographics are strikingly similar.” A semi-annual survey on teen preferences from Piper Jaffray found that Instagram is that age group’s preferred social network.

But a recent UMASS study reveals that companies perceive Twitter as the platform with the greatest potential for sales growth.

So which is it? If Instagram is catching up to Twitter with its active user base, should marketers be focusing additional efforts on Instagram–even marketers for brands which aren’t traditionally considered “visual”? What does each network offer brands? Do different industries find different rates of success on each network? Let’s find out.

Below are some key industry comparisons based on Simply Measured studies of the Interbrand 100 on both Instagram and Twitter.

Industry Engagement on Twitter vs. Instagram

Here were the top industries for engagement on Instagram:

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The automotive, luxury, and media categories (in that order) are the top three when it comes to engagement, while automotive, technology, and luxury boast the most active Interbrand 2013 Top 100 Brands. What this tells us:

  • Cars are king on Instagram,  both in terms of engagement they’re receiving and the amount of active brands–interesting, considering that top brands are followed by slightly more women than men (53% of top brands’ followers are women). This backs up our study’s findings that automakers like MercedesBenz and Audi (along with media brands like MTV, and luxury brands like Tiffany & Co.) find success on Instagram due to their extremely visual products and masterful harnessing of them for user appeal.
  • There are many active technology brands on Instagram, but they’re not getting the engagement that encourages their efforts.
  • Luxury brands find a happy home on Instagram–once they learn how to leverage their visual stimulants into supplemental content for fans.

Let’s see how Twitter measures up industry by industry, as of Q4 2013:

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As you can see, retail, restaurants, and media have the most engagement, while automotive, technology, and financial services are the categories with the greatest number of brands from the Interbrand 2013 Top 100 Brands. What conclusions can we draw from the similarities and differences in brand/industry activity on Instagram and Twitter?

  • It is especially impressive that the Retail category has the most engagement, because that category on the 2013 Interbrand list only holds two brands–eBay and Amazon. This tells me that eBay and Amazon have incredibly engaged audiences, and that brands have plenty to learn from them about Twitter best practices.
  • Restaurants are also winning for engagement on Twitter. The only restaurants on the 2013 Interbrand list are McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut. This makes their efforts even more impressive.
  • Media brands are crushing it on Twitter, with Reuters, MTV, Discovery, and Disney leading the charge.
  • On the Interbrand 100 list 2013, there is no overlap between the brands with the most engagement and the number of brands on Twitter.

Similarities, Differences, Projections

  • Similarities: Car brands find high rates of engagement on both Instagram and Twitter; Media brands have a ton of engagement on both networks; Technology brands are a significant portion of active brands on both networks.
  • Differences: Luxury brands have a way stronger foothold on Instagram; the opposite is true for Restaurant brands on Twitter.
  • Room for growth: Restaurants have a strong level of engagement on Twitter, so there’s no reason they can’t make a splash on Instagram, too. We project that, as Instagram engagement grows by leaps and bounds, restaurants will focus more energies on the network and boost engagement.

Two Of Instagram’s Most Engaged Industries: Luxury & Media

Let’s take a look at some brands from Instagram’s most engaged industries and see what they can tell us about Instagram’s growth and the value that each Instagram and Twitter each provide. Luxury is a brand type that’s killin’ on Instagram. Here’s the audience growth rate chart for Burberry from 4/4/14-4/10/14.

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Burberry’s Twitter account took the prize for the most audience growth (12K new followers added), but Instagram was actually the faster-growing channel with 0.8% follower growth. This is a positive sign for luxury brands’ efforts on Instagram in days to come.

Let’s take a peep into the media category. How is MTV experiencing growth on the social media network giants?

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Facebook wins by the numbers, then Twitter, then Instagram. But when you look at the growth rate, again Instagram wins, beating Twitter by more than double:

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This begs the question–since MTV is seeing growth across multiple channels, are they providing different content tailored to each channel, or promoting the same content across all channels? They’re tailoring different content to each channel. Instagram gets behind-the-scenes footage of MTV events.

Twitter links followers to MTV’s site, mostly blog posts.

 And Facebook links users to mostly video content.

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This smart “playing up” to people’s different expectations from different social networks is winning for MTV. People generally have longer attention spans on Facebook, which makes it the perfect place for posting video content. Twitter is used by many as a news aggregating source, which means it’s the right location to link to blog content. Instagram gives brands and what they choose to display a uniquely personal appeal. With this kind of fine-tuned social media expertise, MTV will continue to feel multi-platform growth.

Twitter’s Most Engaged Industries: Retail & Restaurants

Retail giant Amazon focuses most of its energies on Twitter–with only 16,228 followers on Instagram and 1.05 million on Twitter, their choice is clear. Amazon’s most engaged-with post on Twitter between 4/4/14-4/10/14 was the following:

In fact, almost every Tweet out of Amazon’s most engaged-with Tweets during this time period asked followers to Retweet for a chance to win an item. This tactic has clearly been very successful for Amazon, and doesn’t require the kind of gorgeous content that’s a must-have for winning on Instagram.

KFC, a member of the Interbrand 100’s Restaurant category, has heavily invested in audience engagement on Twitter via creative campaigns like the recently famous fried chicken corsage campaign, fill-in-the-blanks posts that ask for specific follower engagement,

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and lots of images, which are clearly working.

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KFC’s Instagram presence is definitely not as vital or creative as its Twitter presence, often featuring images of happy customers and new dipping sauces in a manner that is less than exciting. A revamp might be in order, considering Instagram’s growing popularity with brands and everyday users.

Big Questions

Why do you think people gravitate to Twitter, or to Instagram? How can understanding these motivations help your brand tailor the right content for each network? Which other industries do you see building their brands on Instagram? Are there any brands that should choose one network or another, or do you think it’s necessary to be active on both? You’re the ones in the know, so let us know in the comments below.



Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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