As you may have heard, Instagram has recently announced its plans to change the way the Instagram feed appears. Instead of the chronological order that users have enjoyed since 2010, the image platform is following in the footsteps of its parent company Facebook, who bought Instagram for a whopping $1 billion in 2012. Back in 2009 Facebook changed the way its news feed worked, moving from a chronological order of the latest news at the top of your browser page, to a “relevant” news first approach. This was met with outrage by users at the time but most are now used to the new approach and may have even forgotten how it once was. Instagram is now planning on a similar approach to its feed.
Instagram claims this change in its algorithm is to help users see more relevant posts based on how they’ve engaged with content on the platform previously. According to an Instagram statement, 70% of content is being missed by users who aren’t logged in at the time of the update. Instagram wants to make sure that the posts they do see are as relevant as possible. If the new Instagram feed follows the standard set by Facebook we can assume that if you like a particular user’s photos or videos, their new content is more likely to show up when you next log in. This also means you’re less likely to see content that you don’t engage with or engage with less often.
The reaction of many users has been predictably negative. Many believe that the new algorithm will mean their profile updates will be hidden and they’ll no longer have equal opportunity to be seen by their followers, compared to more popular profiles on the platform. Many users including brands and celebrities are asking their followers to turn on notifications so they can get alerts to new posts. Some users have also taken to hashtag activism, posting their concerns under the tag #RIPInstagram on both Instagram and Twitter.
Instagram is changing their timeline algorithm to one similar to Facebook. #RIPinstagram
— Nick Dior (@akaNickDior) March 28, 2016
@instagram, I did turn on notifications of who I want posts on. It's called the "follow" button. #ripinstagram
— Suzy Lee (@suzylee26) March 28, 2016
Despite the popularity of these responses, they may not be appropriate at this point. Instagram is unlikely to stop their plans based on people’s dislike of change, we also suspect the change is more likely due to increased revenue for the platform and not user experience. As for asking users to switch on notifications, it won’t be long before users get fed up with getting messages every time one of the accounts they follow post a picture and they start opting out of this trend. This is simply not a good idea for a long term solution.
It is uncertain whether Instagram will limit organic reach in a similar way to Facebook but one things clear, it’s not happening YET. An Instagram spokesperson said, “Despite the rumours, no feed changes are being implemented right now – we still have weeks, or even months, of testing to go”.
What do we expect to see
When the new algorithm does finally roll out, we expect it to follow a very similar design to Facebook’s news feed, with priority being given to photos and videos based on the users history of interactions, whether they liked or commented on a particular account or tag before and how timely is the image or video. If you rarely interact with an account you’re unlikely to see much from them in the future. These are all important factors in working out what content users will want to see and interact with the most.
It would make sense for Instagram to follow its parent company Facebook and encourage brands to sponsor a post in order to get it viewed by their followers or by particular demographics. This won’t be a popular move but would generate more revenue for the platform. For brands wishing to advertise through the platform we expect this model could give them a more targeted approach to their advertising campaign, not reliant on users being on at the time of their update. This approach may suit larger brands and organisations with the budget to deal with it, but for small businesses and non-profits it means each post will need to be higher quality and appeal to their target demographic to encourage organic reach if they wish to stay on the platform.
What the new Instagram feed means for brands?
According to Hootsuite, Instagram is currently the most popular platform for social engagements with brands but many are rightfully wondering what the new algorithms means for brand engagement.
Lets not fool ourselves, Instagram will want to increase revenue. There’s two ways of doing this, increase the amount of users on the system or increase the amount spent per user. Increasing the number of users any platform has will always have its limits. Those limits may be huge as Facebook is proving but they are still there. So improving revenue per user is an eventuality for any social platform.
Looking back at Facebook’s path since changing its news feed we can see that pages now need to sponsor status updates and posts in order for them to be seen by followers of the page unless they have high engagement already. For big brands paying for something that was once free may be inconvenient but manageable and worthwhile. For small businesses and non-profits this can be the difference between having a presence on a platform or not. What’s important is knowing the demographic using that platform and having a plan on how to communicate with them in a way they’ll respond to. This is true no matter if the platform is free or not but becomes more important as the cost of running the account increases. Only time will tell if Instagram goes the same way but we suggest planning now.
If you’re a brand who sponsors users to promote your content on their account based on how many followers they have STOP! This has never been a great method of judging the success of a campaign and now it’s got worse. People are able to buy followers on this platform and most others, making them seem popular without the engagements to back it up. With the new algorithms accounts who have paid for followers are going to see a dip in how many views their content has.
A better method is to work with users with high engagement. This way you stand a better chance for your branded content to be interacted with. Be careful still, it’s not uncommon for users to buy likes and comments or to “game the system” creating comments from other accounts owned by them or their friends.
Any form of sponsorship on social platforms needs to be entered into very carefully if you hope to achieve return on your investment.
As a user, if you’re worried that the value of your content may become less, we have a few tips on encouraging engagement that should help you show up in followers feeds.
Tips to stay in people’s Instagram feed
The new algorithms is all about relevant content, so you need to become relevant. Take a look at your previous posts and the posts of your competitors. What have people engaged with most? Have they just liked the post or commented too? This is important to any communication strategy and should be done on a regular basis so your communication doesn’t get old or boring.
Are you being relevant to the world around you? If something is happening either online or in the world don’t be afraid to be part of it. People often avoid other people who only talk about themselves, the same is true online.
Be personable. For years now I’ve been advising organisations to go beyond their corporate identity and allow people to get to know them as individuals too. Personable content works well on Instagram so take some time to look at how you can be more personable and represent your team in photos and 15 second video.
Instagram is a visual platform so great visuals are important. Are you able to produce a striking image or does your image tell a story? These are the kinds of images that’ll get better organic engagement.
Think of it like this, online platforms aren’t a far cry from printed newspapers. Newspapers compete for readership by providing the best stories and the most striking images to go with it. Now everyone has the opportunity to publish, be it through a blog, a tweet or an image on Instagram. The concept hasn’t changed, just the platform. The challenge to get noticed is the same. Provide the best stories, the best images and now the best video and you stand a chance of getting people’s attention.