THE INSTAGRAM ALGORITHM
We’re always a little sceptical when an influencer or brand moans about Instagram. For us it’s a big sign that something they are doing isn’t working, or their content just isn’t well received by their audience. We talk more about this in another article dispelling the myths of the platform but essentially, we can’t understand why a creator* would be surprised that they aren’t getting many likes if the photo lacks originality or is a shift from their usual style (e.g.: a badly positioned advert).
There is a huge misconception that Instagram accounts are owed engagement by their following and in our minds, it’s the reverse – accounts owe those that follow them content that they want to see.
Before reading this, understand that the priorities of a creator are not a priority for Instagram – their focus is the mass market consumer and their experience on the platform. Remember that for every 1000 users, 2 use Instagram for a professional purpose. This all makes perfect sense; Instagram is ensuring users see the content of their genuine friends and family. If a creator or professional wants exposure to these accounts... Well, there is an ad platform to serve that purpose. Influencers are currently given access to monetise their accounts for free, so it’s unlikely Instagram will focus on assisting them when they need to prove their own advertising systems work (where they can make money).
Instagram’s new algorithm (which came into place on the 5th June 2018) would indicate that their thinking is in line with our own. It’s not based on pushing your content to everyone, it’s based on ensuring that users see the content Instagram “knows” they enjoy. Getting to grips with it could be really important for an account’s development on the platform, so let’s run you through it.
The new technology focuses on three areas (please note that they all bring advantages to an account holder as an absorber and not as a creator – this is important). These areas are: Interest, Timeliness and Relationship. Here’s a breakdown of what that means, in simplified terms…
You may have noticed that once you’ve liked a photo via the Explore page, you’ll be suggested a tonne of similar content – that may even be appearing in your feed. For example, after the Royal Wedding we all got a surge of “recommended” posts of the Royal Family. This is Instagram’s way of trying to curate your feed by including stuff it’s guessing you’re into (so stop liking the pics of Princess Charlotte if you want this to stop). It makes perfect sense; Instagram needs to ensure that their users enjoy their experience.
In our minds, this is the greatest change. Users got quite annoyed when Instagram moved away from a “real time” feed, so Instagram’s response has been to move towards to the old ways - or least give a nod to the preferences of the masses. We suspect that this won’t work in a creator’s favour, and they’ll find they actually preferred the new, more responsive feed over the chronological ordering of posts.
Why? Because with the old algorithm if an account holder frequently “liked” content by a creator, they’d see it regardless of when it was posted (in relation to when they themselves logged in to the application). Now that isn’t the case; creators need to work harder to ensure they post at a time when their audience is online if they want to maximise engagement opportunities.
Previous recommendations were to post two hours before a creator’s audience peak, but we’d now suggest they post exactly when they want their content to be seen. We suspect that this change is partially to avoid creators using secondary publishing platforms to schedule and automate posting.
This is a big one, and it’s a clever move on Instagram’s part. If two accounts talk to each other a lot (we’re guessing this also applies to direct messages), get tagged in photos together, and engage with each other’s content then Instagram sees that as a close relationship – and will work to ensure both accounts see each other’s content as a priority.
So, it’s never been more important that creators respond to comments, follow those that follow them, and create cross-account conversations with their followers. We have to give Instagram a high five for this one; essentially, they’re saying that if you want engagement you need to earn it and use the platform for more than just your own content posting. Fair play.
How the Algorithm can work to your advantage
We see this as a sensible change on Instagram’s part, and we’re pleased that the general account holder is being prioritised over those that consider themselves creators/influencers. After all, the ratio between influencers and general users is 4500 to 1, so it makes sense to please the masses. However, if you’re looking to use the platform professionally here are some tips to make the new tech work best for you:
Effective hashtagging. Now, don’t go crazy – it’s well known that including more than six hashtags is perceived as spam by Instagram meaning your content is devalued. That said, with the new “interest” focus it’s worthwhile making sure that users who could genuinely could be interested in what you’re posting can see it. So; include three or four logical tags that apply to the subject matter, and remember to tag relevant brands and include a location tag.
Engage with your following. Remember Instagram is going down the route of peer to peer communication (ensuring genuine friends see each others content). This makes sense, as we'd imagine they're are trying to encourage creators to pay for exposure. The only "way around this" is the algorithm sensing you have a genuine, two sided relationship with your following. Answer their questions, follow them, like their content - but do it authentically, don't just put a one off emoji beneath every single one of their photos...
Create a style and stick to it. Developing and maintaining a content style is essentially you building your brand. It doesn’t mean you need to have a unique presence on Instagram, but creating a familiar and recognisable style means your followers (and prospective audience) learn to know and love what you’re doing and become more loyal to it.
Make sure you are tagged in the photographs themselves by others, rather than having your handle included in a text caption below the image.
Only take on ads that fit perfectly – it’s more important than ever that any paid partnerships you take on are the perfect fit for your account, as a lack of engagement on one post could cause a ripple effect as those who choose not to engage with it may not see the following posts you post.
We really hope that all helps. Remember, Instagram for creators isn’t supposed to be easy. As with any element of brand building and professional work it requires thought, planning and time