Facebook and Instagram: A Tale of Two Feeds

It’s early evening in the US. A 55-year-old checks Facebook to laugh at her grandchildren’s latest antics, then she scrolls through Instagram to spark ideas about her upcoming kitchen remodel. Across the world, a 23-year-old in Japan opens Instagram on his way to work, eager to see what his favorite pop stars are up to. Then he browses Facebook to see if his friends have agreed on a karaoke location for that night.

While people turn to both Facebook and Instagram throughout the day to connect with family, friends and the world, it’s clear that each platform plays a different role in their lives. But what, exactly, are those roles? And do they vary based on people’s age, gender and geography?

To find out, Facebook IQ commissioned Ipsos Connect to interview and conduct an online survey of people ages 18–64 in Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, the UK and the US who use Facebook and/or Instagram at least weekly. We focused on people surveyed who told us they use both feeds—all insights referenced below are based on that group of people—and analyzed Facebook and Instagram data. We also studied the posts that were most popular during seven major cultural events, ranging from the Super Bowl to the Glastonbury Music Festival.

We sat down with Vicki Molina-Estolano, the lead Facebook IQ researcher on the project, to talk about our findings and what they mean for marketers.

Q: Let’s start with the basics. Why should marketers care how people use Facebook and Instagram?

Vicki: People spend a lot of time on both feeds—20% of Americans’ time on mobile is spent on Facebook and Instagram.1 And while we’ve known for a while that people turn to Facebook to discover news about their friends and family and to Instagram for inspiration, there’s more to the story. Marketers need to understand how and why different groups of people—men, women, parents, Millennials—use Facebook and Instagram so that they can engage people in a more relevant way.

Q: Based on your research, what is the overall relationship between Facebook and Instagram? How should we be thinking about it?

Vicki: Maybe it’s our proximity to Napa, but the relationship between Facebook and Instagram makes me think of white and red wine. People love both kinds of wine, but there are times they choose one over the other, such as when eating seafood versus steak. In the same way, people use both Facebook and Instagram, but each fulfills their needs to a different extent. For example, our survey revealed that for people who use both feeds equally, Facebook better satisfies their need for empowerment, recognition and connection, and Instagram more strongly fulfills their desire for fun, relaxation and discovery.

Our survey also showed that there’s a broader variety of reasons people visit Instagram. On Instagram, people follow celebrities, get DIY inspiration and are visually transported to new places—while on Facebook, the primary appeal is connecting with family and friends.

Q: Tell us more about the kinds of content people gravitate to on Facebook and Instagram.

Vicki: We found that during big cultural events, people go to Facebook for reactions and opinions and to Instagram for an insider’s perspective. When we asked people to evaluate the content that received the most likes, shares and comments on Facebook and Instagram during the Melbourne Cup, Carnaval and other events, they rated the Instagram content as more “behind-the-scenes,” and the top Facebook posts as more “opinionated.”2

This is really clear when you’re looking at the content. For example, the most popular Instagram content during the Cannes Film Festival was personal-feeling photos taken by celebrities, while one of the most popular Facebook posts was from a film critic who criticized one of the judges’ selections.2

Another good illustration of this comes from the 2015 Melbourne Cup, a high-profile horse race. The most popular Instagram content during the event came from celebrities and focused on fashion, while the most popular Facebook content centered on animal rights and real-time reactions to the race.2

Based on these findings, marketers might experiment with sharing reactions and opinions on Facebook and behind-the-scenes content on Instagram.

Q: Let’s talk about what drives people to each feed on an emotional level. You found that both Facebook and Instagram are strong at satisfying a broad range of emotional needs, from “control” to “relaxation.” But do they satisfy these emotions in the same way?

Vicki: According to our study, fun on Facebook is more about humor, and fun on Instagram is more about encountering the unexpected. People surveyed who use both platforms more often agreed that Instagram surprises and delights them than Facebook. On the other hand, they were more likely to say that Facebook makes them laugh.

As for discovery, the data indicated that on Facebook it’s more about exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and on Instagram it’s more about inspiration. This was supported by what we heard in interviews. A woman in the UK told us she checks Instagram as many as 10 times a day to get inspiration on housing, lifestyle, fitness, food and recipes.

Q: So fun and discovery take different forms on each feed. What about demographic differences? How do men and women view Facebook and Instagram?

Vicki: For men in the markets we looked at, the platforms are practical. And for women in those markets, they’re more personal. Compared to women, for instance, men were more likely to agree that Facebook and Instagram help them organize their lives. This might include learning about and RSVPing to events or joining special interest groups. On the other hand, women were more likely than men to agree that Facebook and Instagram help them stay in touch with close friends and family.

Q: Speaking of families, we recently completed a series of studies on modern moms and dads called “Meet the Parents” and found that parents are highly active on Facebook and Instagram. Can you tell us what’s special about how they use each feed?

Vicki: Parents we surveyed aren’t just posting cute kid photos. They also said they seek video content on Facebook as often as Millennials surveyed and were more likely than non-parents surveyed to say they use both Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch with their favorite businesses.

As far as the content that catches their eye, parents on Facebook tend to look for updates from friends and family, news and humor content, and on Instagram they more often seek information about celebrities, fashion, travel and beauty.

Q: Millennials are another group known for their Facebook and Instagram fluency. What kind of content captures their attention?

Vicki: Compared to older generations, Millennials (18–34) surveyed are more eager for video content. They’re also more likely to follow content related to fashion, beauty and interior design on Instagram than on Facebook.

Q: You studied people in Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, the UK and the US. What are a couple of examples of how people from different markets use each feed?

Vicki: Brazilians are highly active on both Instagram and Facebook. They overindex compared to the surveyed general population on almost every dimension, from sharing content to seeking videos.

We also found that people in Japan see Instagram as a more intimate platform than their counterparts in other markets. They’re much less likely to share Instagram content to Facebook, and in interviews they used the term “diary” to talk about their Instagram usage.

Q: One last question: what message do you want marketers to take away from this research?

Vicki: Marketers should continue to design big ideas based on their business objectives as usual. But if you’re interested in customizing your concepts for each feed, our research can help you understand the particular interests, needs and expectations of our two communities and give you a starting point for experimentation.


1 Nielsen Mobile Netview, Mar 2016.

2 Internal analysis of content on Instagram and Facebook, Jun 2016. 2,700 ratings corresponding to 90 pieces of content. The content evaluated received the most likes, shares and comments during seven major cultural events: the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, Carnaval, the Melbourne Cup, the Cannes Film Festival, the Glastonbury Music Festival and the Rugby World Cup.

Source unless otherwise specified: “Facebook and Instagram: Motivations and Mindsets” by Ipsos Connect (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 7,809 people ages 18–64 in AU, BR, FR, JP, UK and US who use Facebook and/or Instagram at least weekly), May 2016. Among survey respondents, 5,642 use both Facebook and Instagram, 1,802 use Facebook only, and 365 use Instagram only. The study also included 120 qualitative participants. Data is on average across all markets and refer to people who use both feeds unless otherwise noted.

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