Instagram is changing – okay, that’s not really a new phenomenon, really. The platform evolves every few months much like Facebook, changing back end coding here and there to hopefully produce better results for users and advertisers. The most recent changes, however, are a bit more involved.
Essentially, Instagram is changing how their feed works. Most of the changes seem to be targeted at improving user experience, including how the site sorts content based on interests, likes, hashtags, and more. Depending on how and what you’re marketing on the platform, this may force you to adapt your strategy to keep up.
Weighted Influences and Impacts
First, we need to talk a bit about what Instagram claims is most important. These are the factors and variables that influence how and what a user sees. They’re like a much simpler version of Google search weights (like on-page optimization and backlinks), but they do affect the feed in similar ways.
Instagram claims three main influences have the power to change feed exposure and reach:
- Relationships or connections
All three of these influences will be significantly more influential going forward, but there are changes deeper within. How, where, and when they influence is also changing; we’ll break that down in the next few sections.
Interest is a bit abstract, and it can be a little bit difficult to get a good grasp on sometimes. Instagram looks at how often the user interacts with pictures or shares from specific accounts or on specific topics, automatically adjusting the feed to show them more of what they’re already viewing.
Here’s where things get space age: Instagram’s new algorithm also cross-checks the visual content of what people post. Using extremely advanced detection, the site determines what the picture is, the photo’s theme, and in some cases, even who’s in the picture. It uses that information to further define the feed.
As a marketer, your biggest challenge here will be in finding out how to meet those interests in a way that serves both users and the algorithm. Think lots of A/B testing and significantly more experiments. This is a great time to branch out a bit.
This influence is really simple: the sooner the post was published, the more likely users are to see it at the top of their feed. Allegedly, Instagram made this change after users complained about seeing too much older content – sometimes, days-old posts would show up in the middle of posts from earlier in the day.
This change isn’t so much an update as it is addressing a significant bug in the platform. Older posts were really never meant to show in this manner in the first place. The phrase “it’s not a bug; it’s a feature” comes to mind…
For the vast majority of businesses that use Instagram, this change won’t really make much of a difference at all. A small percentage may see less reach per post as posts “age” out of the feed much faster than before. Adapting with a more rapid posting schedule and tweaking post times should help.
Last but not least are changes to the weight Instagram gives relationships and connections on the platform. This, naturally, starts with followers and followed connections, but it goes beyond just clicking that button. Instagram will also factor in common interactions, including comments, likes, hashtags, and even DMs. The platform also claims they plan to slowly phase in influences as simple as having someone else tag you in a photo or in the comment section of a picture.
IF this works correctly, it should actually improve your ability to target specific audiences. It also paints a compelling reason to start answering your DMs from customers, clients, and followers in a timely manner.
The downside is the potential for malicious use; it’s feasible that people could start tagging others or following from fake accounts with negative connections if they wanted to impact your reach. Fortunately, there isn’t any proof this is actively happening just yet – but you should keep a close eye on interactions just in case.
Alongside changing algorithms, the platform also significantly changed their Explore layout. Traditionally, this function allowed users to type in tags or key terms and “explore” content visually via a grid-style map of images. This worked similarly to Pinterest, and was fairly easy to manipulate if you just included the right tags.
One of the biggest changes to the explore function is that Instagram plans to include topic categorization across the top. Instead of just seeing a photo grid of content, users will now have the option to “channel down” into specific topics, like Photography, Animals, Education, or Finance.
Why is this an issue for businesses? Firstly, guided search puts far more power back in the hands of users. It also makes hashtags and key terms less useful because users are much more likely to follow the suggestions before scanning the grid. It’s right there at the top, in their face, and far more likely to catch attention.
Image detection may play an important role here, too. As Instagram’s algorithms can detect what’s in a picture, it becomes harder for marketers to game the system. You may need to get a bit creative with what you include in your pictures to make it work.
We’ve been hearing rumors that this change may actually point to Instagram’s growing ecommerce involvement. It’s possible that this feature might end up helping product and service sellers later on, leading them through to what they really want to see – whether it works remains to be seen.
Is Instagram Still Worth It?
A bit of brightness on a rainy algorithm-influenced day: these changes don’t mean Instagram isn’t worth exploring for businesses. It may not seem like it at first, but the fact that the platform puts its users first and is making a solid attempt to cater to their preferences is actually a good thing. Transparency and being in control of data are more than just a trend; people want control over what they see, when they see it, and how they consume it. Users should have that right at all times.
But marketers still need to find ways to get noticed, and that’s where the downside comes in. You may need to get more creative with your content, inspiring instead of just tossing down hashtags or tagging influencers to get noticed. Think of it like a gentle nudge into more holistic, effort-based marketing rather than a negative.
Remember: Instagram is all about networking, creating engaging content, and finding ways to connect that motivate and inspire. The back end is what makes it possible to craft that kind of content and still get attention – you just have use the right strategies and methods. Algorithms that make content more specific drive warmer leads to your best content, and that’s a recipe for more sales, better conversion numbers, and fewer angry accusations of spam.