Starwood Retail’s Test-and-Learn Instagram Strategy

What makes an Instagram post a success? It can be hard to say.

“Many factors contribute to an Instagram post's success, so you can't neatly isolate dependent variables,” says Brian Price, digital marketing manager for Starwood Retail Partners, a Chicago-based owner and manager of 30 lifestyle centers and malls throughout the U.S.

To investigate what makes certain Instagram posts land with audiences (while others might resonate less), Price’s social media team at Starwood combines competitor research with a test-and-learn paid social strategy and large datasets, looking at a months’ worth of posts to pinpoint anomalies.

Price, who will be speaking about his team's data-driven Instagram strategy at PR News’ Visual Storytelling Boot Camp June 22 in Chicago, shares some wisdom garnered from his brand’s test-and-learn Instagram approach:

Brian Price, digital marketing manager, Starwood Retail Partners
Brian Price, digital marketing manager, Starwood Retail Partners

Investigate the competition. When measuring success on Instagram, don’t go straight to data (that's step two). Initially, determine if you’re proud of the way your content looks compared to similar brands on Instagram. This will help you figure out what your audience expects from brands in your industry. Research competitors’ accounts. Are they posting polished, high-production value photos and videos? Or are they going for a grainier, more authentic look and feel? Know where your content fits along the spectrum of other brands in your industry.

Test and learn with a smart paid strategy. Even a small investment of $100 can be worth it to see what paid campaigns on Instagram can do for your brand. If a paid test campaign goes well, try the same test on a larger scale. If your paid social efforts are killing it across the board, you can present the winning metrics to senior leaders in your organization. From there, you can make the case for pulling from your company's larger marketing or advertising budget for your next paid campaign.

Want to learn how to create visually compelling posts and measure their success across all of your social channels? Register today for PR News' Visual Storytelling Boot Camp, June 22 in Chicago.

Work with big enough datasets for test runs. Run tests for long enough to get a true average for the metrics you're looking to determine. Looking at engagement data over two weeks or a month will give you stronger metrics than looking at a shorter period. Taking the long view will illuminate peaks and valleys in engagement, so it’s important to look at the anomalies as they happen and figure out what made specific posts resonate or flop. For example, ask: Does the food in a highly viewed photo look extra scrumptious? Did an influencer repost it to their followers? For posts that didn't perform well, ask: Was the image posted at a time when the majority of your audience was at work or offline? Was the location tagged, and did you use relevant hashtags?

Convert challenging moments into further opportunities to test. Trying to replicate what made a post get 300 likes when your account routinely sees 100 likes per post can make you want to bang your head against the wall…Or, it can ignite a new test-and-learn campaign. Your team can make educated guesses about what worked and incorporate those elements into future posts. For example, you might notice objects shot from above are doing well; you can try a few more photos at shot that angle going forward. Sometimes the same tactics won’t work for future posts, and the anomaly will stay just that—an anomaly—but if you continue looking for the next opportunity to experiment, you'll be rewarded with a growing audience and better engagement numbers.

Follow Brian: @BrianDPrice