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How To Use Instagram’s Algorithm

Instagram has announced it will start using algorithms to determine the order in which users see content. Discover how your brand can come out on top.

Instagram has announced it will start using algorithms to determine the order in which users see content. Discover how your brand can come out on top.

Instagram recently announced that it will start using algorithms to determine the order in which users see content on their main feeds. The move, which is expected to roll out gradually over the next several months, is a shift away from the reverse-chronological arrangement that so many have become accustomed to since the app first launched in 2010.

So why is Instagram doing this? The company noted that with its current feed structure, users miss “on average 70 percent” of content posted by the people they follow, and provided the following explanation of the impending changes:

“The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.”

The details provided are deliberately vague, but despite the ambiguity, one thing is certain: there will be winners and losers of Instagram’s new feed.

Falling organic engagement rates and an influx of paid advertisements in users’ feeds are two possible side effects of the impending changes. On the other hand, new opportunity awaits for brands to leverage Facebook’s advertising tools and connect with new audiences. One thing that will remain true regardless of algorithms – quality content will rise to the top.

What does it take to come out on the winning side of the algorithmic feed? To better understand how brands can adapt to stay relevant and visible, it’s important to consider the context for the change.


A new, Ad-friendly Instagram

Instagram has long been seen as a promising advertising channel for brands and marketers for two key reasons: the app is fundamentally built around visual content, which aligns perfectly with display advertising, and it’s owned by Facebook, a company that has proven itself to be invaluable to marketers for reaching audiences online.

The company has notably warmed up to advertisers in the past year – it opened its ad platform to all businesses in September 2015 and subsequently began displaying ads more frequently in users’ feeds. Even before this move, eMarketer predicted that the social network could generate $2.81 billion in ad revenue by the end of 2017 – surpassing Google and Twitter’s US display ad revenue.

Following in Facebook’s footsteps

When looking at Facebook’s history of restructuring its news feed, starting in 2009 with the move away from reverse-chronological order in favor of an algorithmic feed, the news of Instagram making a similar shift should be even more unsurprising.

As part of Facebook, Instagram has the same advertising tools and network of marketing partners needed to start generating significant revenue. Despite this, the photo-sharing app has been wisely restrained in its approach to advertising, opting to focus first on growing a loyal and engaged user base whose feeds were ad-free.

Now, the golden age of an ad-free Instagram experience appears to be coming to an end, and Instagram’s new algorithmic feed may well be the final nail in that coffin.


Adjusting your strategy

The good news for brands lies in the opportunity to break ground on a platform with more than 400 million users who are highly engaged and familiar with scrolling through a sea of images and videos in their Instagram feeds.

The caveat is that reaching these users may soon require investment in paid ads, similar to what many brands have experienced on Facebook.

Marketers who are familiar with Facebook’s Ads Manager and Power Editor tools will benefit from the short learning curve of using these tools to ensure that paid advertisements are shown only to the most relevant audiences on Instagram – these tools will also be invaluable for measuring campaign performance and optimizing ad spend.

Further, it will be more important than ever for brand content to be aligned with the visual aesthetic that the app’s popularity is built upon and for ads to feel organic among the barrage of artistic photographs that users keep coming back for – marketers may opt to save their text-based advertisements for Twitter or Facebook.

One recent example of a brand optimizing its content for Instagram and engaging with its audience at the same time can be seen with Microsoft Lumia’s #ShotOnMyLumia campaign. Lumia asked its followers to submit photos taken on their Lumia smartphones, and in turn the brand curates and reposts the most captivating pictures that align well with Instagram’s artistically-inclined users:

To stay on top of the new feed, brands  also need to be agile in adapting to an ever-changing platform. This will require regular monitoring and measuring of engagement rates and an increased focus on which types of content resonate most with audiences and will subsequently be more likely shown in users’ feeds.

No one knows for certain how Instagram’s algorithmic feed will impact the ability to reach and engage with audiences – but those who can figure out the recipe for success will reap the benefits of being double-tapped into the hearts of consumers.

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