Lessons From a Year on Instagram

Lessons From a Year on Instagram


Have you ever studied your old Instagram posts?

Last month, Harbors and Havens celebrated its first Instagram birthday. Instead of a sprinkle cupcake and gold foil “1” balloon, though, we’re going to mark the occasion by taking a look at the top performing posts for the year.

While it’s fun to look back at some of these memories in #throwbackthursday fashion, there also are a lot of lessons to learn about what works and doesn’t work on the platform, how things have changed over the past few months, and how we can all keep improving going forward.

For each picture here I’m going to share a brief backstory of when and where it was taken, some insights into what I think drove engagement, a takeaway lesson, and my favorite spammy comment. Check out the top three ranked posts below. 

1. The Lone Cypress

Likes: 986, Comments: 80
Posted: June 23, 2017

Throwback. We snapped this photo on our June 2017 road trip in California on the 17 Mile Drive in the Pebble Beach Resort area. (I say we because hubby and I were both taking pics here and I have no idea who took this one!) Even though this was marked as a stop on our map, we somehow drove right by it, but both of us were struck by the site and so we turned around.

What worked. I consider this post a pretty big success for landing in the top spot this summer. In fact, it’s one of the final few posts that did well before engagement plummeted. While I think the overall driver on this post was the photo (it’s also the #1 most liked), I added a really heartfelt and a bit poetic caption that went over well. It doesn’t land in the top 10 for most comments, but the engagement was almost all sincere and related to the caption instead of a series of emojis or a “rad feed.”

Takeaway. Don’t be afraid to get personal with your captions from time to time (even if they aren’t as dreadfully long as mine). I like to think that being open and real attracts more authenticity, which is what I want in my community.   

Best spam. “Awesome” with three thumbs up. Because the two you’re born with just aren’t enough.

2. Kensington Gardens Walkway

Likes: 940, Comments: 95
Posted: April 27, 2017

Throwback. This photo is from a trip to London in August 2015. Our hotel was across the street from Hyde Park, so on our last day we just walked around and popped into Kensington Gardens. Shockingly, I only have a couple of photos from this spot (very unusual for us) and I’m not sure why. It’s really a gorgeous backdrop and if we had been part of the Insta game back then, I’m sure you’d see me doing something cutesy in this tunnel. Oh, how Instagram has changed our photography style! (Don’t shake your head too much … we didn’t have much style to begin with.)

What worked. This the #3 most liked and #7 most commented on post, which normally I would attribute to a combo of a great pic and caption … however, barely any comments answered the question in the caption and instead were thoughts on the picture and/or London. So, I think the pretty picture wins this one. This was also around the time that I really started researching the right hashtags to use (a strategy which has since seemed to go down the toilet) and it got bumped into the top nine posts for many of them, including a couple of really popular ones.

Takeaway. Instagram continues to evolve and we have to evolve with it to be successful. Picking the right hashtags worked perfectly during this time period, but the power of hashtags as a search tool seems to be waning recently.

Best spam. “I see what you did” + an emoji. Is this spam? What did I do? So many questions.

3. Lake Como

Likes: 950, Comments: 65
Posted: Feb 27, 2017

Throwback. On an epic Italy trip in September 2015, we visit Lake Como for one day and took 5 million Insta-worthy photos. True story.

What worked. This is the second most liked photo on my account, despite the fact that when I posted it, I had less than 2,000 followers. Obviously, a good chunk of this engagement came from non-followers (unless my account had magic unrealistic reach at this point), which leads to the conclusion that hashtags and the bots that were preying on them played a big role here. Case in point – at least 75% of the comments were pure spam. This was the beginning of when I started taking Insta growth seriously and started using all 30 hashtags, and the spam just flowed in.

Takeaway. If you’re frustrated comparing your current engagement to past engagement, take a few minutes to look through the kinds of comments you were getting in the “good ole days.” Chances are, they weren’t all authentic. This isn’t your fault, of course. When some spammy apps people were using to auto like and comment got shut down this spring, all of that fake engagement got shut down as well. As hard as it is, try to see it as a blessing. Trimming the weeds away to allow the flowers (your real followers) to grow.

Best spam. “Bomb!” from someone too lazy to type “da bomb” and who also needs to go back to the 90s and learn some new slang. Buuuuurned.

Do you notice any trends from the top performing pics on your Instagram? Share in the comments. 

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