A look at Instagram’s new algorithm – and what you can expect

James Towers
By James Towers | 12 April 2016
16K Agency founding partner, James Towers

Instagram’s announcement of a Facebook-like algorithm has sent chills through bloggers and brands the world over and also received a hostile backlash from many general users in the Instagram community.

My personal Instagram account has been in the global test group for the last couple of weeks and here’s what I can tell you; if you don’t like babies, puppies or bikinis you’re going to hate the new-look Instas and brands will have to sharpen up too.

Algorithms Killed the Chronological Star

Our agency runs a number of social media accounts for clients and I have been enjoying the new toggle feature, which helps marketers like me keep an eye on things when I’m away from the office. One morning a couple of weeks ago as I toggled back to my personal account something was very different. A blue-eyed baby was king of my feed with hundreds of likes and a decent smattering of gushy comments. Something about this baby really got my attention. The photo was 15 hours old and no matter how many refreshing swipes of my thumb were made this little guy wasn’t shifting from the top spot.

There it was, day one of an algorithmic feed. Instagram had begun testing on a select accounts and I was now being served a 15-hour-old baby photo because Instagram’s first-draft algorithm thought it was something one shouldn’t miss. It was pretty easy to see what had happened; the baby was the son of a past colleague and we share many mutual friends who were won over by the mini man’s bright blue eyes and cheeky smile. The likes flowed in, far more than average for a post from this user’s account and the spike in comments, some tagging in more mutual friends, had the algorithm set on a sure thing - James cannot miss this one.

via GIPHY

What You’ll See

More babies, food porn milkshakes, bikinis and Kim Kardashian attempts to "break the internet".

Scrolling down my feed it was clear that the algorithm makes no small change to the order of posts. 15 hours ago, three minutes ago, 12 hours ago, three hours ago. Instagram currently claims that all posts will be there but they’ll be reordered in preference of what you’re most likely to engage with. That’s been Instagram’s problem of late, engagement. 70% of content on the platform is unseen.

If an account you follow posts content that earns better than average engagement in relation to other posts from that account the algorithm will favour it and force it up your feed. Highly engaging posts are often things like a friend’s baby or new puppy, a scantly clad blogger posting from a tropical beach or Kim K baring all and inciting lots of engagement.

The Issues For Brands

Facebook owns Instagram and Facebook’s algorithm brutally punishes posts and accounts that fail to garner good engagement. Expect the same to happen with Instagram in a few months time and this should be a wake up call to brands that aren’t treating social seriously.

Brands, bloggers and marketers may see a longer tail to their engagement over time. If the content is resonating well it will live on being pushed up feeds for well over 12 hours thus fighting off the current problem of being buried chronologically. This will cost posts that fail to engage followers dearly. At the moment Instagram says all posts will remain in the feed, just reordered, but there are no guarantees for the future and we know how Facebook looks today.

Too many brands treat Instagram as another advertising platform to push a message in uncreative ways. The new algorithm change will not serve fools well. It’s time for brands to find the true nuances of Instagram and ensure their posts reflect Instagram’s uniqueness rather than their ideal brand message.

How To Survive Instageddon

Post less. Your grandmother taught you not to say anything at all unless you have something nice to say. Average content posted each day will be the death of brands. Post less and make it great.

Understand your audience. Establish what they liked, tagged, re-posted and commented on. Look at the filler content that you posted and eliminate it.

Make content to fit the feed. The last few years have been a warm up and brands have got away with sharing, lifting and posting the same content across their various social channels. Brands will be penalised greatly for this in the future.

Instagram’s new algorithm dramatically affects the order of content in user’s feeds but arguably ramps up the relevance. Smart brands, bloggers and marketers will adapt, but now is the time to rethink your ‘Gram strategy and ensure you’re truly relevant.

Have you seen your account change? I’d love to chat with you: Twitter and Instagram @jtowers1983 or on Snapchat @jt1983

By James Towers, founding partner at 16K Agency– Stockholm, Sweden & Melbourne, Australia.

If you'd like to submit an opinion please email adnewsteam@yaffa.com.au.

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