Instagram’s Algorithm: Don’t Be Scared, Create Better User Experiences

instablogThe times they are a-changin’.

Instagram announced March 15 that its feeds “will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.” I panicked. This changes everything, I thought. My favorite platform just got a lot less favorite. *poof* There goes all my hard-earned likes.

Yet, the more I thought about this inevitable change, the more I came around to the idea of it all. This might actually be a good thing — a great thing — unless, that is, your brand is bad at content. If there’s one platform I feel like I can trust, a platform that seems to truly value the user experience, it’s Instagram. I didn’t want to believe that they’d betrayed me, so I dug deeper. This is what I’ve discovered, and these are ways for you to thrive amidst the times that are a-changin’.

The Current User Experience

I started thinking about how this change would affect my own user behavior on Instagram, so I opened up the app. I soon realized I don’t even utilize the ‘Home’ section where this change will take effect. I scrolled through the feed anyway, just to see what I’ve been missing. What I found: A marshmallow here. A few selfies there. Babies. Lots and lots of babies. Oh yeah, this is why I avoided the ‘Home’ section in the first place — babies.

I only keep tabs on a handful of Instagram accounts, and it’s the ones for which I have the strongest affinity. I’ve memorized their usernames, and I type them in manually. The rest? Well, I’m probably missing out on a lot of good stuff. Because babies.

And that’s why Instagram is making the change: “You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds.”

Algorithm [al-guh-rithuh m] noun: a procedure for solving a mathematical problem. The problem is that content is going unnoticed. Rich, quality content is not being seen because an overabundance of mediocre photos is overpowering its beauty. The algorithm is now here to solve that problem — by bringing you the freshest, most relevant photos to the top of your feed.

Your New Social Media Action Plan

1. Nurture Relationships

Affinity matters. Just like Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, high priority will be given to content that is proven to be important to a user based on previous behavior. If your people talk to you, talk back. Bond with them. Facilitate a social environment that encourages and values back-and-forth dialogue, and your posts will naturally begin to rise in users’ feeds. Contrary to some notions, small business owners don’t automatically lose because of this change. A brand’s success ultimately hinges upon engagement rate — a  normalized metric. Fifty-thousand un-engaged fans are less valuable than 5,000 who are committed to your brand.

2. Quality Over Quantity

Create better content, not more of it. Your brand will suffer if you post simply because your content calendar said to. Be selective and intentional. Never publish a photo or video without asking yourself what purpose that media serves and whether its aesthetic lives up to your standard. Let’s say you’re being pressured to get out the word on an event with high information and low visuals. There’s probably a flyer for that. Don’t touch it. Our data shows that flyer-style Instagram posts receive very low engagement. Take that information and craft it into a catchy, concise caption that operates in tandem with a custom visual to express the same information in a more visually appealing manner.

3. Budget Accordingly

The ROI darling no more, Instagram’s absurd level of engagement rate left it no choice other than to capitalize. No longer does Beautiful Content + $0.00 = Quality Brand Recognition for Free. That was yesterday. Today, we must adjust our budgets and start allocating resources toward this platform just as we do with Facebook.

4. Consolidate Your Efforts

Go on the hunt for visual creatures and join forces with them (e.g., identify your top influencers and tap into their talents). For some, this consolidation means taking a step back and asking yourself whether you really need three different Instagram accounts for your one organization. From an institutional standpoint, our audience segments into four primary categories: Prospective students, current students, alumni, and parents. We wouldn’t use separate accounts for separate audiences because that would dilute our engagement rate. Instead we funnel each audience’s energy into one central institutional account, and the outcome is a high engagement rate, resulting in higher placement in the new feed.

Instagram is positioning itself to give its users a chance to see the moments they care about first. Our team already invests much effort into making our platform the No.1 Best College Instagram Account, and we accept this challenge to continue giving our Rams something to care about.

Along the way, they’ve promised “to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way.”

I believe them.