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Latest report: How are brands using Instagram?

Last year was one of great change, which began with a nationwide lockdown followed by most restrictions being lifted to give us the first taste of “normal” since early 2020. Then the Omicron variant changed things again.

The social media landscape has been a picture of change, too. With people able to meet and do things in real life again, we expected brands to share significantly less content last year. The data tells a different story, though, with a small decrease overall, but a boom in particular types of content.

Video boom

Communication agency Battenhall’s Instagram Brands 100 report reveals a surprising trend: social media and screen use surged in 2021 (+10% YoY), and we are now consuming record levels of social media content. Brands have responded by creating more video and audio content than ever before.

Instagram’s Reels feature, clearly aimed at rivalling TikTok’s short-form virtual video platform, saw a 165% surge in use this year, with 88% of brands now using the feature (versus 40% in 2020). Video has become so valuable to Instagram that 32% of the average home feed now takes this format (via Reels, IGTV and video feed posts). We expect this to continue increasing as Instagram ramps up video focus.

TikTok has continued to grow, too. It now has more than 1bn monthly active users globally, and our latest research reveals that 73% of the top 100 brands are now active on the platform, with 58% publishing weekly or more frequently.

Instagram features used in 2021

Instagram trends

Whilst the use of Reels has soared, other Instagram features have declined to varying degrees, as brands have prioritised content that delivers the biggest return.

The number of Stories posted by the top 100 brands in the report were down 16% compared to 2020; it’s a similar story elsewhere with feed posts down 14%, IGTV down 53%, and Instagram Live down 65% (although the number of brands using the feature was up 39%).

That wasn’t the only surprise, though. In terms of age groups, 25-34 year-olds weren’t as engaged on Instagram in 2021 as they used to be (down 2.3%), perhaps signalling a shift towards TikTok. Interestingly, an older demographic has filled this gap, with 45-54 year-olds engaging 2.9% more with Instagram posts this year.

How often was the feed used?

Story posts were published

What’s next?

Battenhall’s report was compiled against the backdrop of huge change in the social media ecosystem - the biggest for many years. Whistleblowers grew increasingly concerned over social media safety, regulators started to clamp down on platform behaviour, and social media users started to take stock and become more responsible.

Last year we saw social media user numbers rise to the highest levels ever seen, with a 10% increase in total users. The highest-profile brands are now offering the most immersive experiences to date to entice this ever-growing audience.

And it’s a sign of things to come. With the rise of longer-form video, live video, shoppable content and the Stories experience - alongside an increased awareness of NFTs and social audio - it’s clear that the future will only become more immersive.

The metaverse is already here, we’re in deep, and as brands grapple with what that means for their businesses and consumers, we’re excited to see what’s next.


Battenhall’s Instagram Brands 100 report was compiled in 2021 with quantitative and qualitative data collected between 12 August and 10 September. Battenhall used its own research and tools to gather statistics, and selected accounts as brands with some of the largest followings (individuals were not included).

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