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What Instagram’s new algorithm means for marketers

“See the moments you care about first” – that’s Instagram’s value proposition regarding its new algorithm update. But how will it hold up and what will it mean for users and marketers?

Since the social media platform launched in 2010, Instagram has seen continual growth in its user base, which now stands at 400 million worldwide, of which five million are Australian (SocialMediaNews, 2015). Although this rapid growth in users has seen Instagram jump to the eighth most popular social network, its popularity has also presented a problem.

In 2014, the average Instagram user followed approximately 250 accounts, whereas that number has now doubled to 500 accounts. This means that, back in 2014, Instagram users would see about 75% of organic posts by the accounts they followed. As the number of followed accounts increased, the percentage of content that users were seeing began to drop to about 50% by 2015. This meant users were potentially missing out on content that mattered to them most, so something had to be done.

“If your brand can successfully play in these spaces you’ll continue to win with this algorithm update because it will favour more of what users like”.

Following in the footsteps of Facebook

In order for a social media platform to maintain its user base and drive engagement it needs to ensure it delivers a high quality user experience. This means tailoring the experience to each individual so they’re served content that’s most relevant to them, and that’s exactly what Facebook did.

In 2009, Facebook launched its first newsfeed algorithm, EdgeRank, in order to combat low quality content such as click-bait articles that were saturating Facebook users’ newsfeeds. The algorithm incorporated three main factors for serving content:

  1. Affinity – the relevance between the user and the content creator
  2. Weight – the weight of the content
  3. Decay – how long ago the content was created.

However, in 2011 the algorithm was scrapped because the factors it used to sort content were not complex enough to handle the rapid growth of the platform. In 2013, Facebook introduced a more complex algorithm that doesn’t have an official catchy name but is still often referred to as EdgeRank. This new system uses a machine-learning algorithm to serve content to people’s newsfeeds based on content they’re more likely to engage with. The algorithm is still used today and is one of the primary reasons Facebook is still the most used social media platform. Based on Instagram’s latest announcement, it will adopt a similar algorithm to Facebook to remain relevant to its users.

Facebook EdgeRank

The simplified version of Facebook's now-retired EdgeRank algorithm.

What Instagram’s algorithm means for users

Instagram currently uses a chronological system for sorting posts on user’s feeds. The new algorithm will instead use a more complex system, similar to Facebook, where the posts that appear in feeds will be based on the likelihood of the user being interested in it, the relationship the user has with the content creator (person or brand) and the timeliness of the post. Instagram gave the following example in their blog:

“If your favourite musician shares a video from last night’s concert, it will be waiting for you when you wake up, no matter how many accounts you follow or what time zone you live in”.

This won’t all happen straight away. The algorithm will be rolled out in a drip-feed manner to all users, with Instagram stating that they will be actively monitoring user feedback.

What Instagram’s algorithm means for marketers

Marketers who use Instagram will notice that certain industries or interests perform exceptionally well such as fashion, food and fitness. Jill Sherman, Senior Vice President of social media strategy at DigitasLBi, said: “If your brand can successfully play in these spaces you’ll continue to win with this algorithm update because it will favour more of what users like”.

If these topics or interests don’t relate to your customers or your brand, don’t fret. As long as you create quality content that your users engage with, your reach and engagement will be unscathed. That said, there’s no guarantee Instagram won’t go down the Facebook route of being a pay-to-play space. Marketers will need to be prepared that it may turn into an advertising-focused platform in the future. This shouldn’t scare marketers off though – those willing to pay to create quality content should be willing to spend a little extra to promote it.

Looking ahead

All that’s left to do now is wait for Instagram to implement its algorithm, monitor the changes and repurpose social media strategies and tactics to move in line with the requirements of the algorithm. Those owning the social media space with great content should stay the course, fine-tune tactics and reach their audiences without a hassle.

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