Instagram is an insanely popular mobile destination, so it’s not unusual for it to pop up in online and offline conversations. But lately you’ve probably noticed a lot more chatter around one specific area: its algorithm.
Earlier this Spring, Instagram announced its plans to reorder its feed using a new algorithm that bases delivery on relevance. A more personalized experience is beneficial, but not everyone is happy about it.
So the new @instagram timeline is pretty much the worst. Chaotic, no organization, hard to follow. BLAH ???
— Mandy Hale (@MissMandyHale) June 30, 2016
OMG! @instagram wtf!? The new timeline is atrocious! PLEASE bring back the chronological feed! ??? I can't work out what I have/haven't seen
— Colleen (@Colleenchi) June 30, 2016
As the Instagram algorithm became more widely available, a lot of users took to social media to vent their frustrations. There’s a lot of anger and confusion around the change and we hope to alleviate some of that. Here’s what you can expect, and how to prepare your content strategy.
What’s Different With the Instagram Algorithm?
In six short years, the Instagram community has grown to more than 500 million users, 300 million of which use the app every day. As the community grows, it is becoming more difficult to keep up with all of the shared photos and videos. Despite users spending an average of 21 minutes a day in the app, Instagram revealed that people miss an average of 70% of their feeds.
Enter the new Instagram algorithm. In order to improve the user experience, Instagram is moving away from reverse-chronological order and will instead rearrange the order of posts to show you what it thinks are the moments you care about the most.
This means that older posts might appear above those that were shared more recently. No post will actually go missing from your feed. Instagram assured users that it’s only focused on optimizing the order—all posts will still be there, just in a different order.
The new Instagram algorithm is based on the “likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of your post.” It’s also fair to assume that signals such as likes, comments and searches will play a role as well.
What’s the Controversy?
If you haven’t noticed, most changes are met with negativity. Humans are creatures of habit. For some of us, including the author of this article, our routines are fragile and even the smallest change can throw us for a loop. We are also extremely social—at least online.
If a majority of our Twitter feed is posting about how much they dislike something, our pitchforks are in hand faster than you can type “herd mentality.” That’s not to say the criticism around the new Instagram algorithm is nothing more than an angry mob. But it’s important to weed out valid concerns from complaints made for the sake of complaining.
One such concern is the terminology Instagram uses in its announcement.
“As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order—all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.”
“As we begin” implies that this could change somewhere down the line. Obviously social media is an evolving landscape and all things must too change. But this leaves room for the possibility that eventually some posts might never make it to your feed.
Another concern is that some people feel they are being cheated by the new algorithm. Instagram said that people were missing 70% of their feeds, but many users argue that they’re missing more now than they were prior to the change. In order to keep up with followers, if anything they have to go to individual profiles to see what was left out of their feed.
Fortunately this isn’t parent company Facebook’s first encounter with an unpopular change, nor will it be its last. But what has so many users up in arms is that Instagram (and thus Facebook) aren’t giving users an option.
This is a screenshot of Twitter’s content settings. In February, Twitter rolled out a new timeline feature that displays the Tweets you’re most likely to care about at the top of your timeline. What the company did right was to make it an optional feature that users can turn on and off. Although Instagram’s intentions are good, some users are feeling turned off by the lack of choice.
But This Is a Good Thing, Right?
It appears to be. During the first few months of testing, Instagram found that photos received more likes and comments, and people were engaging in a more active way. If people see more content that’s relevant to them, it increases the likelihood that they’ll engage with it.
Additionally, those who are skeptical about the new algorithm might feel encouraged to engage more with the content they like in order to see more of it in their feeds. For brands, this means creating content that generates engagement is more important than ever.
Here are a few tips for preparing your content strategy for the new Instagram algorithm:
1. Include Stronger Descriptions
Photograph taken by @christianziegler This super-colorful, arboreal, nocturnal frog is the famous Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas). They live from southern Mexico to Panama, in the wetter, forested areas. During the day, Red-eyed Tree Frogs sleep motionless, with all colorful parts tucked away, perfectly camouflaged against the green surrounding. But once detected, they display their orange feet and legs, the blue sides of their body, and their very red eyes; this colorful display is to pretend that they are poisonous to predators. This individual was rudely awakened by a snake, but it got away unharmed. @thephotosociety @natgeocreative #conservation #ecology #BarroColoradoIsland #Panama #amagicweb #untejidomagico
The media you’re posting is important, but sharing the story behind your photo or video can have a visible impact on engagement. Instagram captions should be valuable to your audience, but they can also work in your favor. You don’t have to be a wordsmith to see progress. Sometimes the smallest changes have the biggest impact.
A strong caption drives action. For example, using specific keywords can help boost your search-ability within the app. Additionally, asking for what you want pays off. Posts that include the words “like” or “comment” received 89% more likes and 2,194% more comments.
And if you can’t find an organic fit, don’t force it. Use it as an opportunity to ask your audience a question. Lululemon did a great job sneaking in an engaging question at the end of its description here:
2. Be Strategic With Your Hashtags
You can increase the amount of likes your posts receive simply by including hashtags. While it’s okay to be generous with the number of Instagram hashtags you use, don’t clutter your caption by tagging every other word.
You should absolutely use branded hashtags, but also include relevant words or phrases you think people are searching for. For example, Celestron tagged its location and interests–two very common searches in its post. It’s a great way to capture the attention of locals and people with similar hobbies.
The podcast How Stuff Works recently hit the hashtag trifecta. It capitalized on a trend with #socialmediaday, called attention to the brand with #howstuffworks and drove action with #likes.
I Heart Guts got a little more creative and had fun with the hashtags included in one of its recent posts. Although they might not be frequently searched by users, you can bet that loyal fans of the brand will use them in their posts.
3. Experiment With Instagram Ads
It’s possible that you may see a drop in organic engagement as a result of the new algorithm. One way to compensate is by launching an Instagram Ad campaign. You can currently choose from three different ad formats:
- Photo ads
- Video ads
- Carousel ads
Capital One was one of the first financial brands to advertise on Instagram. Using a series of photo ads, the brand created a narrative around the mementos people carry in their wallets and the stories behind them. The #WalletStories campaign drove brand awareness and helped Capital One reach new audiences.
As a result of the ads, Capital One’s campaign returned:
- A 16-point lift in ad recall.
- A 25-point lift in ad recall among people aged 45 and up.
- A 3-point lift in favorability among the 21-24 age group.
Giving Your Audience What It Wants
Despite the early challenges of the new Instagram algorithm, it serves to benefit your brand in a big way by giving your audience what it wants–quality content. The purpose of the algorithm is to surface interesting, relevant and fun content that people want to engage with. As a business, audience engagement should be high on your list of priorities, which could be more clearly detailed with help from Instagram management tools.
Don’t let the negativity surrounding this update jade you. Instead, let it inspire you to be more creative and strategic with the stories you share on Instagram.
Jennifer Beese: Jennifer Beese has worked as a community manager and social media strategist. When she’s not writing, you can find her studying anatomy and physiology—she literally has a skeleton in her closet—or under the stars with her telescope.