Instagram: 4 Lessons on Optimizing for Engagement

The Challenge: Instagram's billion-dollar exit was not an anomaly. It was a lesson about the value of “engagement” that every marketer must heed.
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Since the advent of social media advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, "engagement" has become a mantra for marketers. But despite the media buzz, many businesses remain hesitant to embrace the new reality.
Search marketing is clear: optimize ad spend for conversions (i.e., revenue). But what is the value of "engagements" and "likes"?
Then, Facebook put a value on engagement: $1 billion. That was the price they paid for photo-sharing site Instagram: a company with no revenue―and very impressive engagement metrics.
Google and Facebook introduced AdWords and "Sponsored Stories" years after launching their sites. They began by building customer loyalty and engagement, and found their revenue streams later. With 30 million users in only two years, Instagram is on the same path.
Speaking with Bloomberg, Instagram VC Chris Sacca identified two keys to the site's success:
1) High Percentage of Engagement
According to Sacca, a high percentage of photos shared on Instagram lead to user engagement, most often in the form of "likes." That promise of feedback brings users back to the site, repeatedly.
2) The "Dopamine Effect"
"That engagement creates the dopamine effect that leaves users feeling fantastic and coming back for more," Sacca told Bloomberg. Photo sharing without engagement won't lead to the dopamine effect―though it might lead to a narcoleptic one.
4 Imperatives for Engagement-Optimized Marketing
1. Build Mechanisms for Engagement
Give your users a way to share, tweet, like, or "+1" your content. You can't optimize for engagement if you don't facilitate it.
2. Create Engaging Content
If you want customers to engage your brand, you need to produce a significant volume of high-quality content. Creating that content is a business-critical function; staff and budget for it accordingly.
3. Reward Customer Evangelists
The journey to a million user engagements begins with one "like." Early evangelists are among your most important customers. Target them with custom messaging and special offers―and keep them engaged.
4. Don't Stifle Engagement by Chasing Short-Term Revenue
When customers start engaging your content, build on that momentum. Don't cut it off with premature "asks." The easiest way to kill engagement is by selling.