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Instagram’s ‘Reels’ now used by 40% of consumer brands: National Geographic leads the way in followers

  • No. of brands using Live broadcasts sees 5x increase in 2020 as people stay home
  • Top 100 brands gain additional 270 million followers on Instagram in last 12 months
  • National Geographic still top with 145.5m followers, Nike second with 122m

The global pandemic and new product features, such as TikTok clone ‘Reels’, are driving a major change in the way brands are using Instagram, according to the third annual Instagram Brands 100 report, launched today by social media agency Battenhall.

Latest data suggests that national lockdowns and remote working has fuelled a surge towards IGTV, which saw a 53.5% increase in posts by the top 100 brands on Instagram. Meanwhile, the number of brands using Live broadcasts saw a five-fold increase on last year (3 in 2019 vs 17 in 2020). 

The total number of followers of the top 100 brands in Battenhall’s list grew from 1.84 billion in October 2019 to 2.11 billion in October 2020 – an increase of 270 million in 12 months.

In addition, the launch of Reels – Instagram’s looping short video feature that mimics TikTok – has already been adopted by 40% of the top 100 since it was released in August. According to mobile analytics website App Annie, TikTok was the most downloaded app in 2020, and is forecast to surpass 1.2bn monthly active users in 2021, putting it on a par with Instagram. 

Posting frequency has also risen substantially. More people at home and increased screen time this year, has led to a 30% rise in brands posting multiple times a day.

“It’s clear that the way we use social media has changed dramatically in the last year. A surge in live content, in video streaming, and in new ways of scrolling, shaped our latest report.

We also saw a dramatic increase in the total number of people choosing to follow brands, which in turn have spent more time creating content in 2020 than ever before. We are seeing a more creative social media landscape now compared to a year ago, and this brings opportunities for brands and leaders alike.”

Drew Benvie, Battenhall CEO

Stories still the focus

Stories are still the main focus for brands, though. In the month that the data was captured (Sep 23 to Oct 22, 2020), more than 12.5k Stories were posted by the 100 brands (+14.4% vs 2019). But there has also been a resurgence in use of the main feed, with 10.3k posts (+17% vs last year when there was a 1% decrease). There were also 614 IGTV videos (+53.5%), 525 Reels and 59 Live broadcasts (+1,866%) published by the top 100 brands in October. 

Top brands

National Geographic continues to lead the way in followers, with 145.5m, followed by Nike in second (122m) and Victoria’s Secret in third (68.7m). Overall, each brand in the Instagram 100 grew their following by an average of 2.7 million followers during the past 12 months, though that is less than the average growth of 4 million in the previous 12 months.

“National Geographic has been a strong leader over the past few years, and it has continued to attract high numbers of quality followers, good engagement and managed to stay relevant. No mean feat! To do that it does these three things well:

1. Shares great visuals – Its high-quality photography and video hooks people in, and then it delivers value via the copy and enabling people to find out more. Every photographer of a feed post is tagged for example, and the audience is encouraged to check out their work.
2. Publishes good stories and educates – Every post has something to take away, open your eyes, wow you, and encourage you to potentially share it.
3. Creates community – Every post fosters a sense of connection showing that we’re part of something larger than our immediate bubble.

Publishers can learn from National Geographic that consistency in publishing frequency, trying new things, creating quality content that’s wide-ranging, and most importantly covering topical subjects are key components, helping to build a leading account.”

Jonny Atter, Associate Director and Head of Data and Insights at Battenhall

Key trends:

  • Shopping: It was a year where e-commerce became big on social, with Shoppable getting its own tab in November 2020; monetisation looks like a key priority for Instagram in 2021. High street names such as @zara and @hm provided great examples of curated shoppable collections based on social media trends. 
  • Entertainment: streaming video brands have benefited from people spending more time at home subscribing and watching. @netflix launched the cult show Tiger King, and there was a new entry to the top 100 with @friends, which created a wave of excitement by announcing a long-awaited special of the much-loved US sitcom.
  • Sports: despite the difficulties live sport faced during the pandemic, five of the 10 most active brands on the main feed – notably @nfl, @wwe and @premierleague – were sports brands. They are highly engaged, have a high frequency of posting, and are seen to experiment most with new features. 
  • Brands that took a stance the overriding theme to 2020 could be defined as the era of change. Social media played a crucial role in connecting people in times of crisis, spreading awareness of key cultural movements, and narrating an election that split opinion globally. Brands didn’t hold back in their support of change, including @adidas, @converse and @fentybeauty, which made topical events their core focus.  

The research paper was compiled in 2020 with quantitative and qualitative data collected between September 23 and October 22. Data used for comparison was collected from October 1-31, 2019. 

The full report is available to download here.