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Instagram Beats Google+ by a KO: Social Ads Drive 2,885% Higher Engagement in Early Test

Instagram Beats Google by a KO Social Ads Drive 2 885 Higher Engagement in Early Test Simply Measured


In the last few weeks, both Instagram and Google+ have announced their ad platforms and opened them as “beta” programs to select brands. Amongst those brands are two of the biggest names in the automotive industry: Toyota & Lexus. ToyotaUSA participated in Google’s +Post pilot campaign, which was featured as the flagship campaign when Google announced its new +Post platform. Lexus, on the other hand, participated in the highly covered Instagram sponsored post launch alongside brands like Michael Kors (which got most of the media attention).

Both brands have run paid ads on the respective networks in the last few weeks. From an initial analysis of the pilot campaigns, we found that the Lexus campaign, ran on Instagram, outperformed ToyotaUSA’s campaign on Google+ on almost every single aspect, including total engagement, followers growth and most importantly, post-campaign organic lift.

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I'm curious how Instagram's lift compares with Twitter.

The article does not seem to talk about that.

By the way, here's what a typical ad looks like:

lexus instagram ad meme Imgur

It doesn't look like an ad. It looks like content.

Also interesting: Instagram has no retweet / reblog / reshare mechanism.

You basically see the image inline, and HEART or COMMENT on it, and move on.

Instagram is mobile-only, and it has 35 times the engagement of Google+ which has mobile and Web.

Instagram is mobile-only, and it gets 100 times the LIKES and COMMENTS of Google+.


Did Instagram ads really perform that much better than Google+?

From the numbers above, the answer should be an obvious “Yes,” but the huge differences in performance warrants a closer examination of the reasons for why Instagram ads performed so much better than Google+. This could also be a one-off comparison and not standard.

My immediate reaction to these numbers was that the audience on Instagram is just much more engaged (and larger) than the audience on G+. But while this might be the case, it doesn’t explain the huge difference in percent change – the lift in engagement – that these two campaigns saw. We ran a quick analysis on the engagement as percent of audience to gauge on the baseline engagement organic-posts get.

ToyotaUSA has an average of .03% engagement as percent of followers (194K users have ToyotaUSA in their circles) while Lexus has an average of 6% engagement as percent of followers (over 54K followers on Instagram). This by itself could explain some of the differences in engagement, but Lexus’s ad drove that number to over 400% (!) while ToyotaUSA increased it only to .08%.

A simpler explanation could be the number of impressions that each ad received during the campaign was very different. Perhaps the Lexus ad received much more impressions to start the campaign, while the ToyotaUSA ad was limited by targeting and budget (as well as by Google)? Since we don’t have the number of impressions served per ad (proprietary data to the ad platforms, and more than likely a factor of the brands bid levels and campaign budgets), we can only assume that this was part, if not the main reason for these differences.

Another explanation is the virality nature of social networks. More specifically, Lexus ad’s level of engagement was the cause for more engagement. As the Lexus ad took off and more people engaged with the ad, more users got exposed to it through their personal networks engagement, propelling the ad to a viral level that contributed to the ongoing engagement and drove even more engagement. ToyotaUSA’s ad did not reach that virality level and was subject only to the brand’s paid effort to push the ad to more users.

Additionally, there is a difference in the way the two networks enable sharing (and virality)which might have contributed to the huge differences in total engagements. Google+ allows users to +1, comment AND share (reashare) a post while Instagram only allows users to Like or comment. Resharing on Google+ means that the post is no longer directly associated with the original author and so are all the engagement metrics that will happen as a result of the reshare. So while brands can benefit from the extra exposure reshares give them, they have no way of capturing that engagement and “keeping it in house.” On the other hand, Instagram, by not allowing “reshares,” allowing brands to capture and leverage the entire engagement a post generated.

Lastly, Lexus’s ad benefited from the freshness and controversy of Instagram ads. As users were exposed to this new ad platform, they were caught by surprise as Lexus’s ad showed up in their feed. An overwhelming number expressed their disapproval on the comments, but as one of the users put it “While there are barely 7,000 of you complaining about this ad, there are almost a quarter of ONE MILLION people who liked this pic. Let that sink in.”

The key takeaways:

This is just the beginning. As preliminary as this analysis might be, it indicates how powerful the ad platforms are in driving increased engagement. Both networks only started rolling out their ad products and both are already seeing success.

It’s hard to argue that ToyotaUSA’s campaign failed. It drove real lift in engagement and unlike the Instagram campaign, it drove strong positive sentiment from its users. In addition, the number of reshares were extremely positive, even though this analysis doesn’t cover the full extent of that impact.

Context (Target + Relevant Content) = Positive Engagement. While ToyotaUSA’s ad performance pales in comparison to that of Lexus on Instagram, it’s clear that their ad was much better targeted and had better content for its target audience. If you want to drive positive engagement, make sure you create unique, highly relevant content for your target audience.

Any publicity is good publicity? Lexus used the freshness and controversy of Instagram ad platform to drive record engagement on its account. It added over 14K followers to its account and saw a 60% lift in average engagement per organic post in the days following the campaign. These are highly desirable stats for any advertisers and they might be worth the negative sentiment that was directed mostly at Instagram and not at Lexus. Brands will have to decide on what they are willing to sacrifice in sentiment in order to see these types of returns.

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