Instagram is introducing a Facebook-esque feed algorithm, and people and businesses are freaking out.
Currently in global rollout, Instagram is doing away with displaying feed content in reverse chronological order, and will soon utilize an algorithm in attempt to prioritize content that matters most to individual users. Full disclosure: I have not experienced the algorithm-based feed myself, though I imagine content prioritization will largely be based on prior historical engagement.
According to Instagram, ‘… people miss 70 percent of their feeds’, and as a result of testing this change, ‘… people are liking photos more, commenting more and generally engaging with the community in a more active way.’
In spite of Instagram positioning the introduction of an algorithm as a positive change, many people seem to disagree, which is understandable.
From an average user’s standpoint, change can be hard. For years, content on Instagram has been served in reverse chronological order, which has caused confusion about the new prioritization scheme.
Also, there aren’t simple tools available for users to prioritize content according to how they see fit, similar to how Facebook gives users the option to sort the News Feed by ‘Top Stories’ or ‘Most Recent’.
From a business standpoint, there seems to be major concern that reach, impressions, and engagement rates are going to take a huge nosedive, and frankly, I imagine they probably will.
Supporting my belief that we can expect organic reach to decline, it’s hard to imagine that the timing of this rollout and the introduction of Instagram business tools, which are largely designed to make it easier for businesses to pay to promote content, are purely coincidence.
This said, I don’t believe anyone – average users, or businesses – should lose sleep over these changes quite yet. For businesses, here’s why:
A Better User Experience is Better for Business
As social networks grow, and users follow an increasing number of accounts, the quality of content displayed in feeds inevitably degrades. This degradation can be a result of a combination of factors including following people with whom users have only a loose connection, following businesses or brands that publish poor content, shifting or evolving interests, and many more.
Ultimately, the introduction of a feed algorithm is intended to create a better user experience by way of increasing the quality and meaning of content that people are exposed to. Ongoing efforts to improve the user experience on any social media network – even if they initially fall flat – are critical to sustaining growth and increasing time invested on the platform.
This benefits business in an obvious way: sustaining interest in Instagram provides us with opportunity to continually provide value and interact with our targeted audiences.
Success Isn’t Measured in Impressions and Reach
A primary concern I’ve observed from business is that the feed algorithm on Instagram is going to have a negative impact on impressions and reach of brand content. Reality, however, is that impressions and reach don’t necessarily equate to success.
Consider typical user behaviour on the platform which is to quickly scroll through photos to identify those that are of most interest and meaning, and realize that the vast majority of impressions on your, or any business’ content, equate to nothing more than a quick glance – if they notice posts at all.
I’m not suggesting that impressions and reach are devoid of importance, obviously if nobody sees your content, it has zero opportunity of having any influence. However, if your content offers sufficient value, and you’ve managed to cultivate a healthy community, it stands to reason that your content will continue to hit the feeds of your most engaged followers, even following the introduction of the feed algorithm.
There’s No Indication That the Algorithm Deprioritizes Business Content
We’ve yet to see any indication or substantiated report that the Instagram feed algorithm deprioritizes business content.
This means that if you are delivering a strong value proposition to your followers, and have nurtured a healthy and engaged community, your content should have equal opportunity of appearing at the top of users’ feeds.
While Instagram is highly unlikely to divulge exactly how this algorithm works, we need to remain optimistic that it isn’t exclusively designed withhold business content solely for purposes of driving advertising revenue, but is instead designed to improve the user experience as they’ve stated.
Updates are Iterative, Improvements Will Come
Regardless of the effect that the feed algorithm has on the performance of your business’ Instagram content, do not panic. I do not work for Instagram, nor do I have insider information, but I can confidently say this update will be monitored, updated, and optimized in the future.
Also, new features may be added down the line to allow users to filter their feeds as they please. In fact, Facebook – parent company to Instagram – allows users to adjust whether their News Feed prioritizes ‘Top Stories’ or ‘Most Recent’ posts. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to imagine a near-future Instagram update that introduces a similar feature.
Advertising Options are Available
If a decline in impressions, reach, and engagement are your primary concerns with this new change, the good news is that there are advertising options available that directly counter this decline.
I know, I know… many will be upset to feel as though a ‘pay to play’ model is now required to be successful, but advertising isn’t all that bad. It enables your business to do things that organic publication never will, for instance, paid advertising enables your business to reach highly targeted audiences and to expand reach beyond your current followers, to list just a couple.
Let’s be patient to see how this change plays out, what effect it truly has on our business’ use of Instagram, and what future changes Instagram has in store to improve its platform.
What do you think about this new organizing structure for Instagram feeds?
Do you think that in the long-term this will be an issue for business on the platform?
Do you believe this change will ultimately benefit users?
It would be great to chat with you more about this in the comments, or on Twitter @RGBsocial
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