It seems that every couple of months a social media platform makes an update that causes marketers around the world to rethink their platform use strategies. This week, photo-powerhouse Instagram shook up the digital marketing world with an update to their feed algorithm. Whether you view the update as a welcome change or see it as a major inconvenience, one thing is certain: you’ll need to revise your marketing strategy to account for the new Instagram algorithm changes.
What’s New With The Instagram Algorithm?
The biggest change to the Instagram algorithm is its deeper focus on identifying and showing relevant content. Above all else, Instagram values relevancy: Instagram, as a platform, wants its users to be more engaged with the social network. The more relevant the content a person experiences while on Instagram, the more likely that person is to stay longer on the platform in a single visit or come back to the platform multiple times a day.
The new algorithm update reflects this updated value focus. Under the new algorithm, Instagram is striving to ensure that the first posts shown to a user when they log into the platform are the most relevant to that user based on their previous Instagram usage. The machine-learning algorithm bases its relevancy analysis on three major criteria. If you want your brand to successfully navigate the particulars of this algorithmic update, you need to ensure you keep the following in mind.
1) New Instagram Algorithm Values Interest
Essentially, the Instagram algorithm intends to predict which specific pieces of content every individual platform user will be most interested in seeing and show that content first. The more interesting a piece of content is deemed to be to a specific user, the higher it will be shown in their personal Instagram feed. Instagram determines a post’s perceived interest level by analyzing a user’s past behavior on similar images, content, and posting styles.
2) New Instagram Algorithm Values Timeliness
We need to be crystal-clear on this, Instagram’s feed is no longer determined solely by chronological order. The first posts shown to a user are not the ones that were most recently published now. That said, Instagram does place a value on the timeliness of a post being published. Newer content is rated higher than older content and has a better chance of being seen by a user.
3) New Instagram Algorithm Values Relationship
Instagram’s algorithm cares about how close the personal connection between the person viewing content and the account posting content is. Do they regularly comment on each other’s posts? Do they tag each other in images? These actions help to signal Instagram that there may be a personal connection.
Individuals that Instagram see as being a “friend or family” of a user are going to be more likely to see those posts. As a counter, individuals that follow an account but don’t regularly like, share, or comment on their images are going to be less likely to see images from that account over time.
Other Focus Areas Of The New Instagram Algorithm
In addition to the core values identified above, Instagram’s new algorithm also considers the below factors when determining what to show to a user:
User Frequency: The more often a user comes to Instagram, the more variety of posts that user will see. Instagram tries to show the best content to a user that has been published since their last visit. Someone who visits Instagram every day will have the opportunity to see a deeper pool of posts than a once a week user.
User Following: The more individuals a user follows, the more potential images Instagram must sort through to determine what to show the user. Users that care about seeing every post from the individuals they follow may very well find themselves following less accounts to help ensure they don’t miss a post from their favorite account.
User Time Spent in App: Similar to frequency, the longer a user spends within the app, the more content that Instagram will show them.
Instagram “Myths” Debunked
In addition to announcing the new algorithm update, Instagram also took some time to dispel several myths that have been circulating within the marketing community over the past year, specifically:
- There’s no “shadow ban” for using the same hashtags over and over. All posts will eventually be shown to a follower, it just might be broken up with other more “relevant” content.
- There is no “downranking” for users that post excessively or with too much frequency
- The algorithm doesn’t value photos over videos (or vice versa) by itself; however if a user has a clear preference for one format over the other, that preferred format will more likely be shown to them within their feed.
- Instagram also says that they don’t favor Stories, Live, or other special features. However, again, if a user interacts with those types of posts more often than other types, that preference will be picked up by the algorithm.
- Personal accounts are not given more presence/preference than business accounts in the feed.
- Posts aren’t being hidden or kept from a user. A user will see all posts from profiles or hashtags they follow if they engage with the app for a long enough period.
- Don’t expect to see an option to return to the old chronological feed structure (for now).
So…What Does The Recent Instagram Algorithm Change Actually Mean For Marketers?
In what is becoming a running theme on our blog, these updates are not The-End-of-The-World-As-We-Know-It™. Instagram wants (and needs) for brands to view the social media platform as a vital part of their overall marketing strategy. Instead of being worried about these updates, marketers around the world should be jumping for joy.
Because Instagram just made our jobs as marketers easier.
Yes, you read that right.
Not only did they tell us point-by-point how to successfully navigate the new update. They also told us that brands that don’t follow these new guidelines will be less visible to the average Instagram user – read: less competition for brands that are investing in using Instagram the “right” way.
Think about that for a second. Instagram flat out said that there is no preference between business and personal accounts. Instagram is selecting content based not on who is posting it but on how relevant Instagram thinks that content will be to the specific user. The more you can do to ensure the content you are posting is relevant to your audience, the greater your visibility.
How Businesses Can Leverage The New Instagram Algorithm Update For Success
Below are just a few best practices for how to thrive on Instagram moving forward:
Grow Audience Engagement vs. Audience Size
Think of your Instagram followers as an audience that needs constant attention, nurturing, and stimulation. A brand that has a huge following but very little post engagement will be less successful under Instagram’s new algorithm than a brand with a smaller but more engaged audience.
Foster engagement within your audience by interacting with them in the comments, asking questions in your posts, responding to all inquiries, and in general, building a community around your area of expertise. The more often a user (or group of users) interacts with your posts, the more likely your future posts will be shown to them.
Utilize Relevant Hashtags
Hashtags are a fantastic discovery tool on Instagram and one of Instagram’s most valuable features. Now that people can elect to follow hashtags, it’s easy to understand how using multiple hashtags in your posts will help ensure your post gets seen by a larger audience than just your followers.
That said though, hashtags alone won’t ensure your content gets seen by all users. Instagram values relevancy, so you should only incorporate hashtags that are relevant to the content you’re posting. Don’t interject a random image into a hashtag’s audience just because it’s large or in your demographic. Instead, ensure that image or video is one that will resonate with that hashtag’s audience.
Create High-Engagement Content
When your content gets engaged with, it becomes more visible on Instagram. With this simple fact in mind, we recommend that brands incorporate high-engagement content into their social publishing calendar and a great way to do that is through user-generated content (UGC).
In general, UGC posts have a 28% higher engagement rate than standard brand posts. The more UGC you incorporate into your content mix, the more likely those posts are to show up on top of a user’s Instagram feed.
SocialToaster makes it easy for brands to manage and solicit their advocates for user-generated content. With the SocialToaster platform, you can curate content from a variety of sources, set dedicated hashtags to capture the content, and even track and reward users who take the time to help generate content on your behalf. Learn more about managing a UGC contest on Instagram.
The Instagram algorithm update represents a huge step forward for Instagram. It is Instagram’s commitment to creating an environment that encourages long-term user engagement and consumption. Marketers will have to shift how they are currently using Instagram, but it’s a shift for the better. Keep in mind, the stronger your connection with your Instagram followers, the less impact you’ll see from this or future (and we all know there will be future) algorithm updates.
Good technology and processes will adapt to change. At SocialToaster, we not only have technology that seamlessly adapted to the 2018 changes, but we also have social media experts that can help your business use change as a strategic advantage. Contact us, to learn more.