The Instagram Algorithm
Instagram sent users into a fit of rage earlier this week when they announced that a new algorithmic feed is set to replace Instagram’s chronological one in the coming months.
A post from Instagram’s official blog states that “users miss on average 70% of their feeds” and the main aim of the update will be to improve user experience and show users content they “care about most”.
The change has sparked controversy across the digital landscape, much of which errs on negativity. But how will this change affect users and marketers?
Resistance to change
The move isn’t completely unprecedented to users who have observed Instagram’s gradual movement into revenue generation. But most users have expressed anger and disappointment at the unwelcome change and have taken to Twitter to express grievances. Petitions such as this one, have garnered thousands of signatures and are calling for Facebook, which acquired Instagram in 2012, to reconsider their plans.
Local fashion Instagrammer Hilary See expressed her discontent, saying: “Unless your followers constantly like every photo you post in order for the algorithm to recognize that you’re of importance to your follower, your photo will not be seen by as many people as it used to be. This will, in turn, affect your statistics and sponsors may not be as keen to work with you as before.”
Instead, she offered the alternative solution of utilising the algorithm in the explore feature of the app.
Some users remain optimistic. Alexis Cheong, ardent food blogger and a former Strategy Planner at advertising agency Tribal Worldwide responded optimistically when asked about her thoughts. “I think it is inevitable that Instagram would move towards that direction in a bid to make (the) user experience more streamlined. I am optimistic that it will be better than before as they have always been careful not to rock the boat, like the way they introduced ads.”
Brands, on the other hand, will need to start adjusting their Instagram strategies. The change will drastically undermine organic reach, and brands may be forced to pay for ad space to maintain sustainable growth.
We have seen this happen with Facebook, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it provides for more specific targeting options, brands will likely be forced to increase ad spend.
Potentially more engagement?
Instagram’s claim that users miss 70% of their feed is in line with agency estimates. It’s also true that Instagram’s engagement rates have been sliding of late. With other apps like Snapchat and mobile games fighting for limited user attention, elevating content that’s relevant and drives engagement could be just what Instagram needs to turn engagement numbers around.
The specifics of the algorithm are still shrouded in mystery, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the content that appears first will greatly depend on existing engagement.
The downside for users and a plus for brands is that the new feed may allow for more aggressive ad campaigns. Claire Lim, Regional Digital Practice Lead at Bell Pottinger offered her opinion: “It’s clear that posts from celebrities and brand pages gain more traction, and that’s the reason why almost half the updates on my Facebook News Feed are ads.”
While it’s likely that Instagram will experience an increase in engagement in the short-term, long-term success lies in the hands of users. If the changes allow for too much advertising, users may back off eventually. Lim added: “Instagram needs to be able to play this game well and balance both the personalised social aspect with social advertising and ranked content.”
More in depth ad optimisation on Instagram
You can be sure that agencies and opportunists are already getting a plan together to test and optimize content the moment changes rollout. As you read this, spreadsheets are being generated and A/B testing guidelines are being put in place.
No one really knows much about the algorithm but Instagram could potentially leverage data from Facebook for users who have connected accounts. Page likes on Facebook may begin to affect the probability of brand content appearing on the top of feeds. Hashtags and keywords could also play a more important part in driving relevant content.
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