The algorithm is coming - how to approach a post-chronological Instagram. Some excellent tips from an eminent instagramer with 56,000 followers.
by Dave Musson
As Instagram’s algorithmic feed starts to slowly make its way into more people’s accounts, what does this big change in how the photo-sharing platform displays content mean? We asked our go-to Instagramer Dave Musson for his perspective.
Following Instagram’s announcement on 15 March that your feeds will ‘soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most’ rather than the wonderfully simple and equal chronological feed we’re all used to, Instagramers have had plenty to say.
Whether it’s the petition against the change that’s garnered more than 300,000 signatures, the flurry of people asking you to turn on notifications or just the sad faces and resigned sighs I hear when I chat to people about the change, there’s been lots of opposition.
But it’s still happening.
So, time to pick ourselves up and start strategising.
When you look at this change objectively, it can’t really come as a surprise; even if Instagram weren’t part of the algorithm-controlled megabeast that is Facebook, this shift would always have been on the cards for a network with such an incredible engagement rate compared to its competitors.
Just as it was with Facebook a few years ago, you can no longer expect good content to be enough on Instagram. From the moment the first Instagram advert appeared, the game changed.
That said, good content should absolutely be your starting point. We all know that, in theory at least, algorithms like good content. They push good content into people’s newsfeeds and get you more views, so if you want to survive in a post-chronological Instagram then make sure you’re posting quality stuff.
But, what does this quality stuff look like? Well, as an Instagram purist, I hold onto the hope that great, interesting or captivating images and videos will rise to the top, while selfies and motivational quotes will be left to flounder. Fingers crossed!
Not only should you aim to post great content, you also need to make the effort to engage; use #hashtags, reply to comments, like and comment on other users’ content and be a good Instagram citizen. That kind of behaviour is how I ended up on Instagram’s ‘suggested users’ list last year and I’m certain the new algorithm will reward it.
While we’re talking engagement, the arrival of the algorithm also feels like another reason to reach out to your local influencers and get them involved. Open your doors and put on an Instameet - enlisting the help of your nearest Instagramers group if you’re lucky enough to have one on your patch - to get people talking and posting about you. Consider offering your account up for a takeover by someone in your community. Anything that can make your feed more engaging and less corporate.
Given that Instagram is owned by Facebook, it won’t hurt to take some lessons from how the latter’s algorithm seems to work; we know that video uploaded direct to Facebook and content produced using Facebook’s live streaming service get priority in the algorithm, so it would make sense to assume that content on Instagram produced using tools like Hyperlapse and Boomerang will get similar preferential treatment. Don’t know what these are or how to use them? Now’s the time to learn!
If years of battling Facebook’s algorithm has taught me anything, it’s that concentrating your efforts on producing fewer, better posts rather than just posting lots of stuff is the way to go. Adopt this tactic for Instagram too and just post your best pieces. That probably means one thing a day and that’s absolutely fine.
Of course, the elephant in the room here is the question of money; the reality of the algorithm is that you’re probably going to have to pay to get the most from what is still one of the most engaged social networks out there. If you’re serious about Instagram then don’t forget to budget for it.
One thing I’d really like to see coming out of this move to an algorithm is better analytics. When you compare Facebook’s Insights and Twitter Analytics with what Instagram offers - i.e. nothing - there is clear gap. I can’t help but feel that with Instagram getting serious enough to move to an algorithm then analytics has to be on their to-do list as well, which is something I’d really welcome.
In terms of my own thoughts about this change, I blogged my gut reaction the day after this news dropped. Now, almost a month on, I still stand by almost everything I wrote then. I’m still sad about it but I’ve also accepted that it’s happening and am ready to see how I fare.
Like it or not, when it comes to social media, changes are always likely. And, crucially, most of those changes end up working out for the best. I’ve had a great ride with Instagram so far and, while this move has annoyed me, they’ve earned enough of my trust for me to at least give it a crack.
So with that, I guess it’s time to take this algorithm by the horns and do the best we can - good luck!
Dave Musson is senior online communications officer (social media) at the Universitity of Warwick. On Instagram he is @davemusson.
Picture credit: Eugene O'Brien / SADM Archives / Flickr