March 30th, 2016

Stop Freaking Out About Instagram Changes

Was your Instagram feed flooded with people and brands begging you to “turn on notifications” so you don’t miss a single post when Instagram implements an algorithm to determine what images to show and when?

You were not alone. Monday evening and all day Tuesday, most of the posts I viewed were related to this impending change that people said would start today. It was an unsubstantiated rumor. In fact, Instagram sought to quell the storms with this tweet:

Alright guys, we turned on your post notifications. Now what? Tag a friend.

A video posted by Everlane (@everlane) on

The changes are coming, but not to everyone today. Instagram is testing the algorithm changes that will determine which images show up in your feed and in which order.  Facebook did this years ago, Twitter is implementing it and we all survived. It is going to happen, maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon. Stop freaking out.

And stop telling people to turn on notifications. Turning on notifications means that every time an image is posted from an account where notifications are turned on means that a push notification shows up on the user’s home screen of their phone (depending on the user’s phone-specific notifications), much like a text message notification appears. That could get annoying very quickly.

Why is Instagram making changes? Two likely reasons:

  1. With so many users, the amount of content generated is overwhelming. Users need help filtering the good from the not-so-good, even if they think they do not: “On average, people miss about 70 percent of the posts in their Instagram feed,” Kevin Systrom, co-founder and chief executive of Instagram, said in an interview. “What this is about is making sure that the 30 percent you see is the best 30 percent possible.” source
  2. It is time to monetize Instagram. Rather than charging users, brands are going to have to pay to play. This seems fair. It is a media channel, after all.

Much like the Facebook algorithm, the Instagram algorithm will be based on the images you like, comment on and spend time hovering over when scrolling through your feed. This means that the images and accounts that you already like the most are going to be the ones that you see first. This is good news for users.

It is bad news for brands who count on Instagram followers to see all of their posts — even if they are not liking or commenting on them — as a way of exposing the brand and its products or services to the users that have chosen to follow them. This change is going to require brands to do two things:

  1. Make more engaging content. If the content is better, users will engage with it and the algorithm change will have less of an impact on how your content is delivered. This change means brands can no longer lazily post content just to have something there and know it will be seen by those who follow them. Of course, brands should not be doing this anyway if they have any kind of strategy in place for their digital content, but we all know that it happens. It is easy to get complacent.
  2. Invest money. Compared to mass media buys, social media ad placements are quite reasonably priced for the impact they can make. Smart Instagram placements will have brands wondering why they weren’t doing this before: paid posts will likely be your most successful posts with a minimum investment. You get what you pay for and right now brands are paying nothing to use the platform.

No free social media tool is going to be perfect and free forever. Which one will brands flock to next before it too becomes pay-to-play? I am betting on Snapchat.

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