Instagram proves that there's a definite connection between the network's lack of APIs and its sky-high engagement rates.

Different content marketing objectives require varied social strategies. B2B brands may prefer to demonstrate thought leadership via LinkedIn, while ecommerce sites will probably find better success on Twitter. But the Holy Grail of social marketing is generally perceived to be engagement. Measurable estimates of customer interaction are hard to come by, so businesses are right to pounce on tools and practices that offer them.

A picture’s worth a thousand Likes

According to a Forrester Research study, Instagram blows its competition out of the water when it comes to engagement. Twitter came in at a 0.3 percent interaction rate per follower, and Facebook was a little bit better at 0.7 percent. However, Instagram took the top spot by a huge margin with 4.21 percent.

One would think Instagram is the perfect tool for reaching customers. After all, it clearly inspires a lot of activity on the part of users and customers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – as Brafton reported, pictures on other social networks have been seeing more engagement and Likes when they include pictures. And Instagram has a very low barrier to entry for new users. The interface is simple, and usership is rising. In fact, it’s the most important social network to people under the age of 25, according to a UTA Brand Studio study.

So what’s the problem?

One of the biggest difficulties Instagram poses for social marketing is its lack of integration with other tools. As Ad Age reports, the service hasn’t made any publishing API (application programming interfaces) available, so coordinating Instagram posts similar content on other networks, tagging posts for internal recordkeeping and scheduling photos to go live at a later date is all but impossible. Basically, every Instagram picture must be taken on a camera phone and uploaded, one at a time, by an actual person.

When online content is thoughtful, curated and posted organically, it shows.

Instagram is still a great way to complement a marketing campaign – but essentially, it has to be done by hand. This largely explains why there’s so much engagement. When online content is thoughtful, curated and posted organically, it shows. This is why social automation has fallen out of favor as a best practice: When users suspect a machine is in control of their social content, they’re much less likely to interact, let alone follow to begin with.

Marketers should take a page out of Instagram’s book and think carefully about what they’re putting on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Third-party software that links social content and offers insights on follower activity are helpful for large campaigns, but building a truly sustainable network or past and future customers requires a personal touch. When engagement is the goal, it’s important that a to show that a person is behind companies’ social activity.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.