Data Reveals What Drives the Perfect Instagram Photo


This social media firm hacked its way to 30,000 percent growth.

A photo may be worth a thousand words, but on social media, it can be worth millions of dollars. “Social-first” creative agency Beautiful Destinations, which has 13.5 million Instagram followers across 180 countries, has helped big-name brands like Marriott Hotels and Mastercard create a “Come visit this place” post. (After being tagged in one of Beautiful Destinations’ photos, one hotel brand saw mentions of its name spike to 800,000 and an immediate 10 percent jump in bookings.) Its team blends millennial adrenaline-junkie photographers, who capture breathtaking images, with data scientists who analyze and predict engagement down to the pixel. That formula goosed Beautiful Destinations’ growth 30,000 percent since 2014. We asked CEO Jeremy Jauncey and chief data scientist Tom Nielsen to unlock a shot of London (above).


“The internet is full of advice on how to optimize engagement — like blue images perform better, or faces perform better — but for large global accounts, those rules have very little impact,” says Nielsen. The data team created its own engagement algorithm by gathering thousands of pictures across social media and analyzing for correlations across millions of parameters. When applied to these photos, it shows “in the London image, the symmetry of the wheel dominates — you need the reflection as well as the original object to drive high engagement.”


The team took hundreds of shots in London, then edited thousands of possibilities — and every filter, crop or orientation tweak changes the predictions of how the image will perform. The team’s software ranks images by predictive engagement on their social media account, then pre­sents that ranking to clients. “In the end, human judgment decides what to use,” says Jauncey. The highest-performing images sometimes move from social media to print, billboard and TV campaigns.

Image credit: Beautiful Destinations

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