Instagram's anti-Twitter policy kills engagement -- on Twitter

Many thought the photo app's decision to drop support for Twitter Cards would have disastrous repercussions. A Simply Measured brand study suggests Twitter was the only one harmed.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
3 min read

Data gathered for a study analyzing brand activity on Instagram suggests that the photo-sharing application's hostile strategy to take back attention from rival Twitter is working as planned.

A little more than two months ago, Facebook-owned Instagram pulled the plug on Twitter Card functionality that allowed people to view Instagram photos inside tweets. The controversial change forces Twitter users to click through to Instagram to view photos that were once contained within the information network's web and mobile applications.

The destroyed experience, when coupled with proposed policy changes, painted Instagram in an extremely unflattering light, and many thought the decision would have disastrous repercussions. So far, Twitter looks to be the only one harmed -- other than users, of course.

Simply Measured

Engagement with Instagram photos shared by brands on Twitter has noticeably fallen off in recent weeks, while activity on Facebook and Instagram is up, according to Simply Measured, a social media measurement firm.

Simply Measured looked at Instagram adoption by the top 100 brands in the world, as determined by brand consultancy Interbrand, and found that, for the 59 top brands using Instagram, tweets containing Instagram photos averaged just 22 shares between November and January, a decline of 17 percent from the previous three-month period. The company also found that since mid-December, when support for Twitter Cards was dropped, Twitter engagement with Instagram photos has been trending at its lowest levels since August 2012.

Twitter and Facebook declined to comment on the findings.

"The decrease [in Twitter engagement] was worth calling out since it did coincide with the drop of Twitter Card support," marketing analyst Nate Smitha told CNET in an interview by phone.

Simply Measured found that since mid-December, Twitter engagement with Instagram photos has been trending at its lowest levels since August 2012. Simply Measured

During the same period of time, Smitha said, engagement levels were steady on Facebook and Instagram and actually increased between quarters. Simply Measured's findings around decreased Twitter engagement should translate to other brands on Instagram, he said.

For its study, Simply Measured defines engagement on Instagram as the total number of comments and favorites. On Twitter, engagement equates to the @replies and retweets of an individual photo link, and on Facebook, the term means the total number of likes and comments each Instagram photo receives.

The findings, though specific to brand Instagram accounts, are some of the first to spotlight the impact of the Twitter-Instagram fallout.

Instagram's decision, which was motivated by a selfish desire to take back attention for content created and shared through its service, doesn't appear to have deterred brands from gravitating to the app, or negatively affected their ability to accrue followers.

Overall engagement with the brands studied grew by 35 percent in the past three months, Simply Measured found. Since November, Instagram followers of the Interbrand 100 grew by 41 percent to a total audience of 5.8 million people.

"The top 10 brands, by followers, averaged engagement growth of 19 percent, fueld by dramatic increases in follower counts," Smitha wrote in the report. "Gucci and Tiffany & Co have roughly doubled their follower engagement, after growing their audiences by 65 percent and 75 percent respectively."