Instagram can be addicting, overwhelming and entertaining in equal parts.
Since its launch in October 2010, the social media platform has grown to over 400 million active users on the site, who post on average over 80 million photos and videos a day.
That's a lot of content.
According to the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company, people miss about 70 percent of posts in their feeds. So Instagram borrowed a page from parent company Facebook's playbook and changed its algorithm in an attempt to give what it thinks are important posts more weight.
Users now see the moments they “care” about first in their feed, rather than a running chronological order.
Although the company announced the change in March, it only started rolling the feature out in the US last month.
“The 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,” it wrote in the blog post announcing the change.
While protested by users and advertisers alike, the change means publishers and advertisers may need to reconsider their Instagram strategies.
Move Past the Fear of Change
Brands and publishers have come to rely heavily on social media to reach customers. Some call the behavior “snacking,” where people consume bits and bits of content throughout the day — which means short, entertaining stuff works well.
Marketers see good and bad in Instagram’s new algorithm. For some, the new feed will be better for business if they can stand out with more relevant content.
Boston-based social advertising and marketing company Brand Networks powers marketing software to reach customers on social media channels. CEO Jamie Tedford says once the “fear of change” has subsided, users and advertisers will see that the newest content isn’t always the best or most relevant to people.
“Imagine if Google search results returned a listing of only the most recent content on a topic,” Tedford told CMSWire.
“An algorithmically optimized feed is a more personalized, higher quality feed if it’s done right. This kind of personalization is something Facebook is an expert at. Successful brand advertisers are already thinking in terms of relevance, defined by many things that make an ad contextual — not just its timeliness.”
Brand Networks’ platform also focuses a lot on video advertising on Instagram, which Tedford says the algorithm change won’t impact much. In the first quarter of 2016, 58 percent of total Instagram impressions served by Brand Networks were video ads, he said.
“It’s more important for brands to create great content that fans want to engage with over a longer period than to create a piece of content that’s only relevant for a few moments. This change just reinforces that best practice.”
And from where Tedford stands, that best practice is finding success on the platform just like everyone had to do when Facebook transformed its news feed.
“Facebook’s feed algorithm is similar to the one Instagram is rolling out, and advertisers are finding incredible success on that platform, even as we speak. We don’t believe Instagram’s advertising business growth will be slowed by this move,” Tedford said.
It’s still early for industry leaders like Association of National Advertisers to gather their thoughts, as John Wolfe, director of communications, noted in an email: “Thank you for the opportunity, but the ANA has no comment on this development at this time.”
Are Influencers Ahead of the Game?
Promise Phelon, CEO of Boulder, Colo.-based TapInfluence, believes the influencer marketing business will be just fine through this process. Phelon says the new algorithm makes a lot of sense.
“From our position as an influencer marketing platform, we obviously believe the Instagram algorithm change is a good one,” Phelon told CMSWire.
“It seems that while Instagram is taking a risk with this algorithm change, they know that their long term viability is predicated on quality content and they want to push brand advertisers that direction too. We’re optimistic that risk pays off.”
Her argument — that people buy as a result of influencer content — is basis for how a lot of major brands build a following and produce content around these people and voices. And the all-new feed is another chance at shining as a successful influencer and leader.
“For brands and marketers, this is going to force them to look in the mirror and decide if the messages and content that they’re putting out on various social channels are adding value and driving engagement or not,” Phelon said.
Instagram for Business: The Road Ahead
Phelon predicts changes in business strategy, and some brands may leave “certain social media platforms behind” to concentrate efforts on where they do best. It may also mean improved creative content everywhere, which is better for everyone, Phelon said.
“Personally, we’re seeing brands and their agencies getting more sophisticated each day with how they’re investing in social to make a business impact, and so the time is ripe for a re-evaluation of efforts across each social channel and using the best content creators with the highest engagement to get heard and stay top of mind,” she said.
“With this change, Instagram is forcing that conversation for their own platform.”
This will also likely shift advertising dollars as more competition grows for the top of the feed. Jae Kim, director of social media products at Redwood City, Calif.-based Actiance, finds this an expensive change for marketers having to pay for more customer eyes.
“Businesses must begin assigning dollar figures to the value of having active and engaged Instagram followers. Soon, they’ll need to begin sponsoring posts to cut through the algorithmic filtering,” Kim said.
Phelon, on the other hand, adds that this is a way to make leaner business decisions. Plus, Phelon says they are on the lookout for Instagram’s slated “insights” release, the feature similar to Facebook’s where users can view performance data via its API.
“If this change to the algorithm brings about smarter investment decisions for these individuals in terms of what channels they invest in to truly drive a meaningful business outcome, then that’s a good thing,” Phelon said.
Title image Jacob Copus