What Instagram's Algorithm Change Means For Brands

How will the move away from a chronological timeline impact their social outreach


Instagram’s recent announcement that it’s to test an algorithm-based feed - in place of the reverse chronological order you currently see photos in - caused a freak-out of epidemic proportions. And when word spread that the changes were set to be enacted last week, every brand or business on Instagram rushed to put up a ‘turn on post notifications’ image, in a desperate attempt to preserve their visibility that was tragic to watch.

As it turned out, the rumors were a false alarm. Instagram has gone to pains to calm people down, with a number of executives saying that they will not be making any changes to the feed any time soon. Nevertheless, it is almost certain that a change is coming, and brands need to be prepared. CEO Kevin Systrom has said that ‘people miss about 70% of the posts in their Instagram feed’ as a result of the current system, and it is unlikely that they will allow this situation to continue.

Brands’ fears were, however, well founded. Such an algorithm change has tremendous implications for companies, who have come to rely on Instagram as the most effective social media platform for getting the word out there. The growth of Instagram has been biblical. It now has more than 400 million active monthly users and over 75 million people visiting the site on a daily basis. Historically, brands that post to Instagram also gain far higher levels of engagement. According to Locowise, Instagram posts get 308% more engagement than on Facebook and 1,313% more than on Twitter. Fashion brands specifically experience engagement on Instagram 13 times more than with rival social networks like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

The change to the algorithm should not, however, mean the end for brands. The only thing it should really mean is that they have to try harder to produce decent content. The brands that suffer will be those heavy on purchased followers and low-quality content - those with great and truly engaging content will be rewarded.

Undoubtedly, there will be some impact regardless of quality. Traditionally, brand accounts on the platform have always attracted lower engagement than influencers, therefore, brands will now appear less in feeds. In 2013 Facebook changed its algorithm, making it a ‘pay to play’ platform. This saw organic reach fall from 16% of followers in 2012 to 11% in 2015, according to Facebook.

To work around the changes, the obvious place to start is ensuring content is perfect. To help optimize content delivery, a tool like Iconosquare can be tremendously useful in identifying the best times for you to post for your brand and increase exposure. Bettr is another scheduling and analytics app for Instagram, which provides insights that reveal top engaged followers, unfollowers, follower ratios and so forth.

Instagram ‘influencers’ will also prove more useful than ever, and brands should start working now to establish partnerships. Influencers are essentially trusted social media celebrities, many of whom have followers in the tens of thousands, and they are already being paid - often heavily - by brands to promote products. We Are Social managing director Suzie Shaw agrees, arguing that influencers won’t be penalized by the changes as they already produce high quality, engaging content.

Ultimately, Instagram is taking a huge risk by changing the algorithm, and resistance has not just come from brands but users as well. Ultimately, as Facebook has demonstrated, if done well it is likely the app will endure. Whether brands do the same is up to them.

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