Brands, beware: Instagram is going algorithmic

In this guest column George Pappas says Instagram’s decision to change its feed from chronological to ‘optimised’ via a new algorithm, challenges brands to refine their message and improve the quality of their content.

GeorgePappasInstagram last week announced a major update – their feeds are moving from a real-time chronological order of content, to an algorithmically optimised collection of content that you’d prefer to see.

According to the announcement on average we miss 70% of our feeds and as Instagram grows, so will the number of users we follow making the need for algorithmic optimisation more pertinent.

This is how Instagram explained how the feed order will adjust: “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.

“As we begin, we’re focusing on optimising the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.”instagram wide and portrait

The roll out of this algorithm will be phased. First, they’ve pledged to focus on optimising older content (meaning all the content will still be there, just now in a different order). Then, I imagine, the algorithm will be adjusted to include behavioural variables that adjust based on engagement and general interests.

The social world has been up in arms over the announcement.

Many are accusing Instagram of following Facebook’s lead (of course), and focusing on commercialisation/monetisation of their user base rather than the distribution of content.

I don’t necessarily agree with this, as inevitably Instagram was going to require algorithmic intervention.

The bigger it becomes, the more users we will follow on average… meaning a live chronological feed becomes cluttered and prone to over-utilisation by users seeking to always remain atop.

This is the reality, too. I’ve come across brands who post hourly – yes, hourly – because they understand that Instagram has become more popular, and the fight for cut-through on feeds is becoming more challenging.

Instagram chronology vs algorithmThis intervention was needed. For me, and our agency, it is indeed welcomed.

So, what does it all mean for brands? Well, the most obvious consequence is that we must all sharpen our focus on better quality content on Instagram and think a little more seriously about the tailored content pillars and overall content strategy used on the platform.

As brands, we all strive to personify our voices. No better opportunity has existed in that space (in Australia) than Instagram, and I expect it to continue.

Instagram has pledged to not distinguish between brands and individual users, so unlike Facebook brands will be treated like people algorithmically.

We must continue to humanise in both our tonality in community management and the nature of our content. We’re not there to disguise a brand as a friend, but we’re there to make the brand a friend. This is never more important on Instagram than now.

Additionally, quite a few of our clients have asked if they should post a ‘Turn notifications on’ post which prompts users to hit a button to allow push notifications when the brand posts new content.Instagram complaints

The very nature of this is misleading – a lot of bloggers and brands are using the ‘if you want to see my posts moving forward’ as the reason for users to then turn notifications on.

It’s a little different. The onus isn’t on the audience, it’s on us as content creators. We should instead be prompting richer engagement through good content, rather than prompting users to ‘turn notifications on’.

At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be freaking out. We should be embracing this change. User feeds will become less cluttered and populated with content that means more to them.

The challenge now is to make sure our content resonates with your audience. If it doesn’t, you’re in trouble.

Instagram today tweeted that the feed isn’t changing right now. So people claiming that it’s occurring ‘tomorrow’ or ‘this week’ are wrong. Instagram will advise once the changes have rolled out broadly.

George Pappas is Campaign Director at digital marketing agency G Squared


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