The Great Instagram Freakout

Instagram Has Made A Change…

And It’s Going To Be OK

*Edit – If you just want the facts without the whole story, click here. 

I’ve been asked for my take on Instagram’s recent update. My answer was and usually is…let’s wait and see for a little bit. That sounds like a bad decision for someone who is seen as an industry’s voice on social media but I’m not scared to take my time. I don’t consider myself an early adopter of digital marketing channels either. I play with things right when they come out to kick the tires and observe but I’m not quick to make proclamations. I know a person can get a lot of press and clicks from being the first person to make a call about something but that’s not my job. I’m not a pundit by trade, I’m a consultant. I’m paid to give my expert advice on ways businesses can achieve their goals…not on making guesses before others. That said, this is the Internet…I’ve known about this impending change to Instagram for three weeks and haven’t said anything…and that is an eternity.

instagram-responsonds-2016Instagram has posted to Twitter in response to the backlash in a way that means they might even step back from this decision…but they probably won’t.

My Facebook Messenger, Instagram inbox, and even Snapchat messages are filled with questions. Let me do my best now to answer them…

What’s Going On At Instagram?

The news came out a few weeks ago that Instagram was looking into changing the order of what you see when you look at your feed through their app. Sounds pretty benign at first, right? Why the whaling and gnashing of teeth from users and (louder) from brands?  Guiding the order of what you see is an algorithm (math equation) made up of conditions that rank relevancy. The reason for this change comes from a report from Instagram stating that its user miss, on average, 70% of their daily feed because of volume and lack of time. People are upset because many feel they keep up to date with all they follow because on average users of the platform follow less people than the other major platforms as well as post less. It feels more managed but that’s not what the data says.

Instagram’s very livelihood depends on user experience and if users are missing out on content, they need to make sure that they at least see the content that matters to them the most. In order to do that, they’ve chosen to go the route their parent company and even competitor, Twitter, has recently adopted – order by worthiness versus timeliness.

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Are people really freaking out?

It’s hard to believe that a shift in the order of the pictures and videos people see on an app has resulted in a sort of hysteria but that’s the Internet for you. Want examples of how people are taking it? Here’s a Change.org petition with over 300,000 signatures to go back to how it was.

The most obvious way I’ve noticed people losing their minds are on Instagram itself with half of users telling people to turn on notifications and the other half making fun of those for doing so.

There are a million arrows in my feed and it reminds me of when I saw the same thing on Facebook a few years ago.

2013 – Facebook

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2016 – Instagram

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Why are people mad at Instagram for trying to help its users find what they like? First you have to understand the nature of the Instagram user.

What Makes Instagram Different?

Having recently presented on the topic of Instagram marketing at The Special Event conference, I studied the history of the platform and the user psychology in a very in-debth way before giving my definitive statement on how you should use the platform to achieve your marketing goals. I identified a number of defining features of successful Instagram campaigns and one of the most powerful was timeliness. Also known as, “in the moment”, posts that show real time activities are generally very well-received by it’s users. Posting pictures and videos of activities a person in currently engaged in is the given for the platform (much more so than any other platform except Snapchat). It’s a convention of the platform for users to post #latergram on posts that didn’t happen in the moment…that’s how much timeliness matters. That Instagram’s API (how applications talk to each other) doesn’t let you use it to schedule your posts in advance is a clue that they even know their platform’s best use is being in the moment. Want to know what your friends (and even brands) are doing right now? Check out Instagram…except, now, that’s not how this works.

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How Does It Choose What I See?

Where up until now, you saw the last picture or video someone you follow posted, now you see posts they think you would want to see first. How do posts end up at the top your feed, though? The answers lie in your behaviors. It’s in Instagram’s best interest for you to get the content you enjoy the most above all else. By doing so, your experience will improve…its simple math. How it comes up with that math is based on analyzing your behaviors. While we know that there is an algorithm determining the order of what you see, Instagram won’t share the proprietary equation to how they get there. There are some tried and true methods that social media feed algorithms always use for this, however. Likes and Comments – the more you do this for any specific user the more you will see their posts. The algorithm takes this as a vote of confidence. The other metric it will no doubt use is time spend hovering over a page or if you click “more” to read longer posts. These algorithms are smart…but are they smarter than you?

Does Instagram Know Better Than You?

At the heart of this debate is a question of helping or hurting. By adopting an algorithm Instagram is saying it knows better than you…and they’re right. If “you” (average of all users) really wanted to see each and ever post from everyone they follow, users wouldn’t be missing out on 70% per day. There’s just too much noise. To all the users freaking out  (I’ll get to brands in a minute), if you really miss seeing pictures and videos from people you never interact with you have two choices: interact with them more or keep scrolling to the bottom.

Are The Salad Days Of Instagram Over?

Is the heyday of Instagram for brands over? Yes and no. The same thing that happened with Facebook is going to happen for Instagram. This is going to get audible groans from my brand managers but the reality is…Instagram and Facebook are businesses and these changes helped Facebook make more money and users didn’t jump ship. This was always going to happen (newsflash – this will happen on Snapchat too eventually) because it’s good for the users, it’s good for the social media platforms continued survival, and it’s good for SMART brands…it just sucks for brands that don’t get it. Right now, Instagram has a huge advantage over Facebook in that brands and people are the same type of account which means brands and people are competing on an equal playing field. Count your blessings where you can find them!

So What Should You Do Now?

The big question is what do you do now to make sure you are heard. I’ll give you the same answer I give when people ask me how to get more comments and likes on Facebook, more retweets on Twitter, more traffic to their websites, and to lower their opt-outs for their mass e-mails:

  • Create cool content.
  • Help people.
  • Know your audience.
  • Be social and ask questions.

…and if you don’t have the time or know how to do these things yourself, ask for help.

This algorithm is here to stay. What’s next is pretty obvious too. More brands and people will join Instagram, your boring posts will be pushed further down. Soon you’ll be able to boost your posts to make sure they are seen. Just like everything else in a capitalist economy, those with the most resources will get the most attention but unlike other mediums, the little guy has a chance to be seen just by standing out from everyone else.

The secret is…do exactly what you’ve been doing…only better every time.

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