Instagram Story Case Study: A Very American Experience Spin on March Madness

While college basketball teams faced off, American Experience’s Instagram account pitted scandals in American history against one another in their own spin on March Madness: the American Experience Scandal Bracket.

How did it work?

Starting with round one (the “Scandalous Sixteen”), American Experience narrowed the field each week — through the “Egregious Eight” and the “Foul Four” to crown the ultimate Scandal Champion. Using the Instagram Stories poll feature, the rounds had a single slide for each matchup and a button for audiences to vote for the most scandalous. American Experience augmented this campaign with classic posts in their Instagram feed.

What did they learn? 

The whole campaign was extremely successful, with an incredible 22% engagement rate average. (For context, 4% on Instagram is generally considered strong engagement.) The posts reached more than 27,300 users and prompted 5,336 responses (in the form of votes, Q&A responses, ratings, shares, replies, profile visits, and follows).

As is American Experience’s mission, this project helped put historical events into context in an interesting, engaging way. By pairing the Black Sox 1919 scandal with O.J. Simpson’s trial, or Gary Hart with Alexander Hamilton, American Experience asked their audience to consider these unusual moments in American history in a new way. American Experience got to ask, directly and indirectly: What makes a scandal?

Three weeks and four Instagram stories later, there were three big lessons learned that say a lot about successful Instagram Stories.

Lesson 1: The first step is a doozy

Running a series of similar stories back-to-back showed trends on retention rate. The four stories averaged 8 slides. American Experience saw 25% of viewers don’t make it to the second slide.

Key takeaway: Don’t bury the lede. Make sure the value of the Story is clear in Slide 1.

Lesson 2: Cross-promote in the feed

While the Scandal Bracket took place in Stories, American Experience created four in-grid posts to accompany it: two were recaps, one was a call to participate now, and one announced the “winner.” The two recaps weren’t particularly stellar, but they did fulfill a solid function — comments and awareness. Instagram followers shared their comments on these posts in a way that users can’t on stories. They tagged friends, shared what scandals they think would make it far, and pitched ideas for scandals they might have missed.

The post that called out the live bracket was the most interesting. Reach and engagement was fairly low, but digging deeper, it drove profile visits American Experience wouldn’t have otherwise.

Key takeaways: Use in-feed posts to “Tune In” when the bracket goes live. Yes to recaps – perhaps one at the beginning and one at the end.

Lesson 3: Toss in some extra Story tools

In addition to asking for folks to vote for their scandal pick, American Experience threw in some bonus features. Round One used the Q&A sticker to ask: “What scandals did we miss? (pre-year 2000)” and received 25 responses. Round Two again used the Q& A sticker to ask: “What makes a scandal?” They got 22 responses back. For Round Three, American Experience pulled four of favorite user-submitted scandals and used the Slider sticker to ask how scandalous the audience thought those were. It was used 414 times. Moreover, this showed rough usage rates for each of these tools: the Poll and Slider stickers were used remarkably more frequently than the Q&A sticker and other general engagement options (reply, share, profile visit, follow).

Key takeaways: People will give thoughtful answers if you ask thoughtful questions. Make use of user responses strategically by replying in DMs or pulling into a future story. And there’s fun to be had with the Poll sticker.

What scandal “won”?

A stunning upset between Iran Contra and the Clinton/Lewinsky affair pitted Reagan against Nixon, but Watergate came out on top in the end.


Article by: Carolyn MacLeod

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