Over the past few days, my Instagram feed has been overwhelmed by a huge number of requests from creators urging me to turn on notifications. Why? Well, Instagram has confirmed it's changing the way it returns results for users, from a chronological timeline to one based primarily on engagement. The site will soon start showing followers images and videos that it believes they want to see first, rather than the ones most recently posted.
But, despite the panic among creators, Instagram hasn't confirmed a roll-out date, only stating the change will happen sometime in the next few months. The site has also stressed that it will alerts users when the change in the algorithm will take effect.
Why is the Instagram Algorithm Changing?
Instagram asserts that 70% of posts are missed on average, and the new functionality will help surface great content. The site confirms that the new "order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post." Instagram will optimize the order of images and videos that appear, and confirm all uploads will appear under a creator's account, just in a different order.
Twitter attempted a move similar earlier this year and as a result of user outrage they turned it into an option instead of the standard. I can tell you that I prefer a chronological timeline on every social media platform I use, but I also admit that I miss a good bit of content. For those who follow a large number of other users, this could be a blessing. Getting through thousands of posts in a day can be challenging and this may help bring content you like closer to the top of your feed. For those that follow a smaller number, the only real change will be a reordering of content, since everything will still be in the feed if you had time to look through it all before.
How Will It Impact Video Marketers?
On the surface, this appears to be a turning point for Instagram, one of the more organic platforms. But I anticipate this change will be good for marketers. Instagram is recognizing the reach they were generating for free and are enabling marketers to pay to play. Building an audience should be easier in a “pay to play system”, but the value of that audience will not be judged based on its size as much as it will be judge by how well you can get them to engage with your content.
I would expect the organic reach to decline, but this change should allow marketers to use the site more effectively to push their content to viewers, with the caveat that it had better be quality content or you will get the exact opposite effect from viewers. Rather than posting constantly to remain in the feed, marketers will want to create the most engaging content possible so it can float to the top.
How Will It Impact Instagram Users?
For those panicking about this change, take a deep breath and relax. Your fans do not have to turn on notifications to get your content. Posts are not being hidden, just rearranged in the feed. That said, big changes like this do present a great opportunity to ask followers to turn on notifications. Despite the best intentions behind the change, it is and has always been the only way to ensure that followers get the opportunity to see 100% of your content.
The change to the algorithm appears to be a necessary change to help power users and casual users alike. Still, I have never been a fan of the default “Top Stories” feed on Facebook and always switch it to “Most Recent”. I would be surprised if Instagram didn’t include an option to revert to the chronological feed in the say way that Facebook and Twitter have, even if the new feed is the default. At worst, this change should be no worse than a small annoyance. If it is widely seen as a negative change, I suspect Instagram will quickly make an update to protect its user base, the main currency a social media network relies on for business.
How Can You Ensure Your Instagram Posts Are Seen?
There are three ways to ensure your content gets seen:
- Have followers turn on notifications
- Make great content
- Pay for sponsored content
At the heart of this change will be a measurement of how your posts are interacted with by followers. If you get more likes, shares and comments from a user, they will be more likely to see your posts float to the top of their timeline. So not only do you need to continue to make engaging content (assuming you were doing that in the first place), but you also need to actively encourage further interaction from followers. Aside from increasing the need for sponsored content, this appears to be at the root of what Instagram is trying to promote.
Certainly the beneficial side effect for Instagram appears to be having better content on the site and creating a revenue stream by increasing the competition for the top of the feed. With Facebook being their parent company, it only makes sense that they would migrate to a more Facebookesque model to gain more control over the user experience. Despite the outcry from fans over changes to post visibility for Facebook, this sort of change has become an inevitability for social media sites. In time, this change should ultimately make Instagram more reliable for marketers, and while I prefer a more organic experience, in time it should be better for the casual users as well.