March 21, 2016

You've probably heard by now that Instagram threw the planet into a tailspin with their recent announcement about adding an algorithm to their feed. Yes, I was one of those who first freaked out. I have subsequently gone through all 5 stages of grief. Yes, it was that serious 😉

But in all honesty, this is something that has a lot of people concerned. We are used to (doesn't mean we like) the algorithm on Facebook. Twitter introduced a "bumping" algorithm as well. Pinterest uses an algorithm to determine what to show you. This isn't something we're not used to. We're just not used to it on Instagram. And it's been one of the best selling features about using Instagram because you could ensure you saw every post, in order, at your convenience.

But, alas, these glorious days are coming to an end. Is this good? Bad? A little of both?

Here's what Instagram's new algorithm means for you.

Why It's Happening

Before you can accept what's going on, and how to adjust (if needed) your Instagram strategy, it's first important that you understand WHY this is happening.

First of all, yes, Instagram is a business. And do you know what happens to businesses (hopefully)? They grow. And when they grow they need to evolve. They need to scale. They need to adopt new ways of operating.

We've witnessed this growth, exponentially and unprecedented, on Instagram. It means they have to evolve to keep up with their demands.

Let me use an analogy. When I first started my blog and someone tweeted one of my posts, it was like I wanted to run across the country and hug them personally. Seriously. But I settled for a polite and heartfelt thank you tweet in response. As my blog grew and more people were tweeting my content, sometimes I couldn't respond to everyone directly. Now, with a lot of shared content everyday on Twitter, there's no way I can respond to everyone. Yes, I still want to hug each one of them, but they have to settle for a "heart" on their tweet. And, not only can I not keep up with the number of personal responses I'd have to give, but my Twitter feed would look like a running "thank you" feed and, really, who wants to see that? Does it suck that I can't thank everyone? Yes. But it's called scaling. We have to adapt.

Growth is a good thing.

Instagram cited in their announcement that people miss, on average, 70% of the content in their Instagram feeds. That's a lot of missed content!

Now, if you're a die hard like me, this sounds shocking. How could someone miss that much content?! But, again, with growth rates like Instagram's, an evolving audience presents itself. You see, us die hards check Instagram multiple times a day (sometimes more than we care to admit). We love it and we're on there all the time. Even following hundreds of other accounts, we can jump on, scroll through, double tap to our hearts' content, never missing a post.

And before Instagram hit 300 million active followers, this was probably the norm for most regular users. But as the platform gained popularity, everyone jumped on the shiny object syndrome and set up an account. Of all these new users, many of them are what I call "casual" users. They log on maybe once a day, but more likely a couple times a week or even less frequently. They scroll absentmindedly for a few minutes then jump off and on to something else.

No offense, but these are the people who changed Instagram.

These are the people who are missing out on a ton of content. These are the people who are not engaging with your content. Yeah, you've noticed engagement rates are down. We all have. You know why? Cuz these casual users follow you (yay for you) but they barely even log in so they never see your content to be able to like it. Or, they don't understand the uber-interactivity of Instagram and don't go all like-happy like us die hards do. Seriously, I "like" about 70-80% of the posts in my feed every single time I scroll through. And, no, that is not crazy. Ask another die hard.

So, Instagram is trying to make sure that these casual users have a more pleasant experience, see content they're more likely to engage with, and get them more actively using the platform. That's just good business.

How Will the Algorithm Work?

I don't know. Unless you have some sneaky, super-private access at Instagram, you don't know either. All we know is what they tell us. Until we start seeing this in effect, we won't know for sure. And, as we know from Facebook's algorithm, even what they tell us and what we see doesn't fully represent what's really going on. So, don't expect to ever really know.

But, that being said, here's what they've told us. "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."

Just a little vague, right?

Ok. So here's my interpretation based on pretty much nothing but a hunch, past experience, and a little bit of hope.

Nothing in this says that you won't see ALL the posts in your feed. It just says they'll be reordered. So, I'm hoping that every post will still be there, just the "best" ones bumped up to the top. I'm hoping they treat this more like the Twitter bumping algorithm and less like the Facebook hide-and-go-seek algorithm.

The posts moved to the top of the feed will be the ones Instagram believes you are more interested in. This means if there are accounts you have a tendency to engage with more frequently, these posts should move to the top of your feed. I would also assume that there will be some emphasis on "trending" type content related to hashtags or locations that you use(d) or engage with.

Will there be any emphasis put on the actual image content? I don't know. And how they would analyze this and rank this is beyond me.

Will all photos be rearranged or just a certain number bumped up, with the rest staying in chronological order? I don't know. I hope they bump some and leave the rest chronologically.

How many posts will get bumped? I don't know. Here's my personal conundrum. As I mentioned, I "like" about 70-80% of the posts in my feed. How will Instagram determine priority if I am actively engaging with almost every post and every account I follow? And how many of those posts will get bumped?

Will the number of posts that get pushed up to the top be based on how frequently we log in? For example, if I log in every hour, I would assume less content would need to be reorganized than if I only logged in once a day.

These are probably all questions you have as well. I'm sorry I don't have those answers. If I had a secret bat-phone into Instagram to get these answers, trust me, I'd be the first person to share them with you. But I'm just not that privileged. 🙁

How Does This Affect Your Strategy?

This is what everyone (especially us marketers) is really freaking out about. How are we supposed to adjust our posting strategies to accommodate this change?

First and foremost, let me point out that if you currently have good engagement, produce quality content, and give your audience what they want, this will NOT affect you negatively. It will have basically no impact, or it could actually impact you positively. So, take a deep breath, calm down, and think about this logically.

If your best followers on Instagram always like your posts, that means Instagram recognizes their likelihood to interact with your content and will quite likely make sure this content is not negatively impacted. It may even be some of the content that gets pushed up in the feed for those users.

If your followers aren't seeing your content right now, because they fall into the casual user category, then are you really missing out on anything by your content not being filtered up into their feeds? Not really.

And, if your audience is seeing your posts but they are not liking or commenting on your posts, then maybe you need to up your posting strategy. With or without an algorithm, if you're not getting reactions from your audience, then you aren't hitting the right mark with your content.

So, what should you do?

First, let me caution you against adding more content. Please, please, please do NOT make this your solution to the algorithm. Posting more content that does not resonate will not help you. And if Instagram doesn't think your content is worthy of a top-of-the-feed placement, how is creating more content going to improve that? So stop. Don't fall into this trap.

Instead, you need to focus RIGHT NOW on creating better content. Creating more engaging content. Getting your audience to fall in love with your account. Work on this now while the algorithm is not in effect to better position yourself when it does go into effect.

It's also going to be paramount that you focus on building a solid and loyal community. Use DMs to connect with followers personally. Respond to every comment on your posts. Use calls-to-action that invite people to leave a comment on your posts. Drive that engagement and build your loyal following now.

I also want to remind you of the importance of a good hashtag strategy. This will still work to get your content found in searches and in front of new people. Just because there's an algorithm in the feed, the rest of the Instagram practices will still operate like normal. However, let me stress that you do not want to hashjack (use an unrelated trending hashtag to show up in popular searches) in the hopes of relating to your audience and bumping up in the feed. This is NOT a good strategy to implement.

Another aspect that seems to be getting a lot of discussion now is the need to turn on notifications. This is a feature that Instagram introduced a while ago and allows you to receive a notification every time an account you follow posts something. You can choose which accounts to receive notifications for. Of course, now everyone is jumping up and down screaming "turn on notifications for my account so you don't miss anything".

But let's think about this for a minute. If you like an account enough to get notifications, chances are you are actively engaging with that account's content regularly. Therefore, you wouldn't actually need to get notifications anymore, because, in theory, that account's posts would get pushed up in your feed as a post you're likely to interact with. And if you're not actively engaging with an account, then you probably don't care much for their content, so why would you want to set up notifications in the first place?

I should also point out that when someone gets multiple notifications about accounts posting to Instagram, and they click on the notification, they are only taken to the most current notification. So, if a person has your notification and three other ones, if yours is not the most current notification, then the notification is pretty much moot anyways.

So, before you go begging for people to get notifications on your account, let me reiterate the need to create BETTER content.

If you really want to know how Instagram's new algorithm is going to affect you, my recommendation is to up your game. Half-ass photos, boring captions, lack of a good hashtag strategy, and poor community building will crush you. Which it should. So, step up and give your audience what they deserve.

And if you want to know what this looks like or if you want help with your Instagram strategy, you can work with me directly.

Oh, and by the way, I don't think this is the end of the surprises from Instagram this year. I expect more big news and changes to follow this. So buckle up and get ready for the ride! I'll be here to steer you through it each step of the way.

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. Solid advice, Jenn.

    Isn’t it a major challenge for brands to compete for engagement with friends and families? I mean, I love my Starbucks but their feelings aren’t going to be hurt if I don’t respond to their post. Grandma is a completely different story however.

    Perhaps I’m a tad cynical but, given the Instagram/Facebook integration that’s going on over in the ad side I’m thinking that Instagram could wind up looking the same way for businesses.

    Which is:

    Built a huge following? Great. Too bad only about 10% actually get a chance to see your post because of the algorithm. Want to make the algorithm get a whole lot easier? Buy ads.

    1. Hey Jeff. Yes, obviously, your friends and family are significantly more impacted by your reactions than a big brand. But small businesses cherish those likes and comments almost as much as grandma 😉
      As for your cynicism, you are far from the only one who feels that way. And, yes, Instagram may get to that point. But for now it’s not that extreme and we can all still succeed on Instagram. Of course, if you want to buy ads to reach new audiences and expand your reach, that’s not a bad idea!

  2. Great article. Thank you. It seems to me that the hysteria is kind of irrational and you’ve done a great job of confirming that for me. Adapt and grow, or get left behind. for well-written, and thoughtful posts you write.

    1. Thank you Miriam! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and that it reassured you 🙂

  3. Hi Jenn,
    I wanted to thank you for your informative and well written blog post. You provided in depth advice about Instagram’s changes and what people should do to stay ahead of the game. Plus, your post was easy to comprehend and it was not overwhelming to read. Great job!!
    Thanks Again,
    Michelle Tucker
    Scrubz Body, Inc

    1. Thank you, Michelle! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and found it helpful 🙂

  4. For most of the users nothing will change, i’m sure many won’t even notice. Although it will make tools like Zengram, that can automate your basic interactions, even more in demand. They are made to like & follow people, who ususally react with similar actions, thereby leveraging the overall engagement. But it’s to early to make decisions, the algorithm is far from being completed and implemented.

    1. There is still a lot to see about how this will be implemented and how it will affect people.
      However, I still caution people against relying on tools to like and follow other accounts. I am a proponent of organic engagement and not automation that may jeopardize your Instagram account.

  5. What a great bunch of information, Jenn! I was searching for whether or not to have a personal and private insta account and somehow stumbled upon your site.

    The changes are disappointing to me because I LOVE that Insta was in order versus how FB is not in order, i see the same posts over and over even though I DON’T want to see them, and I see some people’s posts never, despite going to their profiles often and liking their content. The algorithm doesn’t work there, at least not for my profile. I’m afraid that Insta will turn into exactly how FB is and that’s not cool.

    I am glad that maybe I’ll see less of what I don’t like and more of what I do, if the algorithm works well. I am so tired of seeing some things on Insta but don’t want to completely unlike an account, so it’s nice that they are going to change things up so there is an option other than just all or nothing.

    Great thoughts!

    1. Hi Melissa! Welcome to my blog 🙂 I’ve covered almost every topic and question on Instagram so I’m not surprised you stumbled your way here. But I’m glad you did!
      I do agree with you about the FB algorithm and it drives me crazy too. Especially when it shows the same posts over and over or says I only have 5 new posts in the last hour. We all know I should be able to see way more than that! Of course, the cynic in me assumes IG will end up there someday but I’m hoping it won’t get that bad 😉
      I’m not sure if you found the answer you were looking for or not regarding personal/professional accounts. Without knowing more, I can’t give you my advice, but I did write this post previously on this topic: http://www.jennstrends.com/what-type-of-instagram-user-are-you/ If that doesn’t help you, feel free to email me at [email protected] and we can chat more.

  6. Great advice and easy to follow. Thank you for clarifying the changes. There is such a hype over this issue on instagram and I was very confused and about to give up. Shall continue and improve my engagement and content. Thanks again

    1. Hi Lesley! I’m so glad this reassured you and helped you see it’s not worth giving up on. Instagram is a very powerful platform, and even with these changes, you can still see great results. I hope you continue to enjoy using the platform 🙂

  7. Great article and much needed! Thank you! I too am hardcore, so wonder if I will continue to get all of the people I follow in my newsfeed. I probably like about 95% of them.

    1. Thanks Carol! I’m glad you liked this post 🙂 I love that you are also an active user and engage so much with those you follow. We’ll have to wait and see how we’re actually affected by this algorithm. I am very curious.

  8. Thanks for this article, it’s definitely calmed me down a little bit. Instagram is my absolute favorite social media platform and I probably check it like 20 times a day, so all these changes are bumming me out! (like the fact that videos get views instead of likes now!)

    What I’m most worried about is people like me, who aren’t a business, don’t post every day, and get just a few likes when we do post. Most of my friends are like this and if the reordering is all about likes and “popularity” then it would seem as though all the normal/non-business people on Instagram are going to disappear a bit. I hope you’re right and all the content still shows up, just in a different order.

    1. The reordering is based on the individual user. So, if you (as a user) engage with your friends content all the time (regardless of how popular it is in general), then it will show higher in YOUR feed. This will actually help to ensure you see MORE of the content YOU like and interact with 🙂

  9. It’s great information that you’ve shared, and I loved your style of writing. Totally agree that boring images and uninteresting captions could spell the death of your Instagram strategy. People worry too much about algorithms and too little about a content strategy (Yes, it’s important even for Instagram). Upping the bar on what you share has to be foremost in your mind.

    1. Thanks Pete, I’m so glad you enjoyed this blog post. We definitely have to focus on upping the bar for ourselves and better serving our audience!

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