Instagram’s new algorithm: What is it and what should I do about it?

Instagram changes

Instagram is my guilty pleasure, providing (literally) snapshots into the lives of friends and bloggers alike. It wasn’t so pleasant this morning, though.

When I checked my feed this morning, at least 10% of it was images with an arrow pointing to the top-right asking people to turn on post notifications.

Why are people doing this? It’s in response to the new algorithm Instagram is rolling out.

What’s changing?

Historically, Instagram has presented timelines in chronological order, with the newest posts at the top (and a few paid-for promoted posts in between).

As of this week, however, it is following Facebook and Twitter’s example by employing an algorithm which will push promoted posts and ones it deems you are likely to enjoy to the top.

It’s part of their drive to build advertising revenue. It will take a few days to roll out to all users, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see it immediately.

Exactly how this algorithm operates is a closely guarded secret but it’s safe to assume it will be similar to Facebook’s News Feed. (After all, Instagram is owned by Facebook.) This means prominence will be given to those who have paid to promote their posts, as well as posts by people who you have tended to interact with (likes and comments) in the past. So if you like lots of photos by X, you will still see their posts. But if you have never liked a photo by Y, their posts will be pushed down your timeline and may even disappear.

What does it mean for bloggers?

Bloggers – like most Instagram users – have been up in arms about this change. Understandably, there is a fear of the unknown. But in reality, it’s not all bad – and it’s certainly not the doomsday scenario some fear.

Today, many of us will have seen requests from Instagrammers to turn on page notifications. This means that every time they post a new photo, you will receive a notification on your smartphone.

Does that seem reasonable? On the face of it, yes. But just stop to think about it.

For sake of argument, let’s say the average Instagram user posts five images a day. And let’s say you agree to turn on notifications for your favourite 50 people. That’s 250 individual notifications you will receive every day – or, to put it another way, one every 5 minutes and 46 seconds. Are you ready for that?

What’s the downside of followers not turning on notifications for your feed? That depends on the algorithm. But the reality is that the people who are less likely to see your images are the ones who interact with you the least. Is that going to make a difference to your follower, like and comment numbers? Probably not a significant one.

I’m willing to bet most people are like me – 90% of my interactions are with 10% of my followers. So am I going to see a big change? Unlikely.

But where’s the harm in asking people to turn on notifications, I hear you ask? For me, it’s the same argument as that against sending out automated DMs to a new Twitter follower: it’s annoying and it can have the opposite effect.

Not everyone will have reacted the way I did but, having woken up to 20 such posts, (a) I was annoyed and (b) I realised that half of them were from people I never interact with. My response? 11 immediate unfollows.

I may lose some followers of my own as a result. I don’t care. People who want to interact with me will still follow me.

My next action – it was a quiet morning! – was to post this image on Instagram.

Instagram

I have had 100 likes and comments on this post – normally I average 15 – virtually all of them supportive. I’m clearly not the only annoyed person.

The final objection from a blogger’s perspective is the potential impact the changes may have on an individual’s Tots100 ranking. To which my considered response is: phooey.

Will there be an impact if you lose a few followers and receive fewer likes and comments? Yes. Will it make a big difference? No. Bear in mind that we are talking about marginal changes here.

Will you lose some followers? I don’t see why you would – and even if you do, it’s only going to be a marginal change that has a marginal impact on just one of the eight metrics Tots use to calculate their ranking.

Will you lose some likes/comments? Again, a marginal change. You may see some drop-off but the new algorithm is not going to decimate your engagement levels overnight. Instagram engagement does form part of the Klout ranking, which is one of the Tots metrics. But again, it is just one measure – and Instagram is only one element of Klout. How important it is depends on your profile but Instagram accounts for 20% of my score. So that’s a marginal hit on 20% of my Klout score which is one-eighth of my Tots ranking. How much sleep am I going to lose over that? Not much.

In summary, it’s worth keeping things in perspective. Don’t panic.

What should I do about it?

If you’re already employing good social media practices, the simple answer is: don’t panic and keep doing what you’re already doing. It will take a while and a few tweaks from Instagram’s end before we start to see clear changes, but here are my top three tips:

  1. Keep posting regular, engaging content. This has always been important, but now it’s even more so. Don’t go weeks without posting and then dump 100 images at once. And ask yourself: what will catch a reader’s eye? Your photos don’t have to be professional quality but they you do want them to be interesting enough to make someone stop and like or comment. Post better content than other people and you will benefit from the new algorithm.
  2. Use hashtags and keywords where relevant. People will continue to search for new content using hashtags or key words and phrases, regardless of what appears in their curated stream.
  3. Engage with your community. Encourage new comments by replying to existing ones. Like and comment on other users’ posts. People will check out your feed and like/comment back. Like all social media, Instagram should be treated as a two-way street.

It’s not rocket science. The rules of engagement haven’t really changed. And what works for Instagram is basically the same as what does for other social media.

If you have any other thoughts about the Instagram changes, let me know in the comments below.

EDIT: Instagram announced on Monday evening that the planned changes are not happening just yet. It’s a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ but the actual timeline remains unconfirmed.

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