If you're an Instagram user, unless you've been hiding under a rock all weekend, you're likely to have noticed some unusual goings-on in your feed over the Easter break. In place of the usual selection of posts, you will no doubt have been bombarded with a repeated message from many of the accounts you follow, urging their audiences to 'turn on post notifications' in order to continue seeing their content. The reason for all of this panic and uproar? Instagram's latest algorithm changes.
Sparked by the same issue that launched the #RIPTwitter tag only a few months ago, the outpouring of complaints from users came after the image-led platform announced that it would be abandoning the traditional reverse-chronological feed in favour of a system which will order posts by 'relevance'. Following in the footsteps of Facebook and Twitter, Instagram's changes mean that you will no longer see the newest post from your followed accounts on your feed first; instead, you'll see those which have been selected by the algorithm.
While the idea of having curated content specifically targeted to your previous likes and interests may seem like a move towards user-friendliness, the alterations have come under considerable scrutiny since their announcement. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the new system is said to include 'post-engagement' as a factor in its ranking process, which for many is seen as a move towards social media elitism. This is due to the fact that those with the greatest number of followers are likely to appear first, due to the large number of 'likes' which their posts regularly attract. Until now, Instagram has been the go-to platform for many self-made businesspeople and demi-celebrities (outside of YouTube, of course!) Everyday users have been able to build up large and loyal followings based on the quality of their content and their post timing/tag intelligence alone, but this pathway could be derailed for future users thanks to these changes.
This change has also come under considerable scrutiny by businesses established outside of Instagram, who until now have made use of the platform's growth and popularity to get their posts noticed by existing and potential customers. This is largely due to Instagram's affiliation with Facebook, and the perceived similarities between the former's latest update and the latter's own new algorithm change haven't helped. The current panic and outrage from businesses is somewhat justified, based on the negative impact documented in the wake of Facebook's own non-chronological feed change. After the changes were brought in, businesses reported all-time-lows from their organic post reach, a move which many viewed as a method of forcing companies into resorting to paid Facebook ads.
And here lies the core problem with content filter changes on social media platforms and search engines: the issue of profits over people. In the eyes of many users, life is being made increasingly difficult for average users and small businesses, as the ability to reach your desired audience without the boost of a large existing following or financial investment becomes increasingly elusive. The prospect of an organic, indiscriminate form of online networking seems to be a dim and distant dream for many, but are the objections to this latest set of algorithm changes justified?
One factor which could go against the presumption that the new change is bad for business is the fact that Instagram does not currently discriminate between business and personal accounts. This means that unlike Facebook, posts from 'real people' are not unfairly prioritised over those posted as part of a business's brand awareness and marketing strategy. While this may not completely solve the question for smaller accounts and those just getting started with Instagram, it does force users to be smarter with their use of trends, analytics, and overall post quality. Popular post times, trending hashtags and calls-to-action should all factor in to the post-algorithm Instagram strategy, which could even mean that those who strive to cater to their intended audience will be rewarded over those who simply take for granted that their posts will be seen. Lazy, repetitive content leads to a decrease in engagement, likes, and eventually followers; this means that, while the new algorithm may give those with an established follower-base a head start, it will still force all users to maintain post quality.
It is also worth noting that urging followers to 'turn on notifications', is probably one of the worst steps that an Instagram user can take in the wake of these changes, particularly those running business accounts. For the network's average users, it was puzzling and slightly laughable to see Instagrammers with hundreds of thousands of followers posting these messages, as one would naturally presume that these accounts will have a better chance of being prioritised under the new system. For followers who weren't already irritated by the barrage of notification posts, it is highly likely that the deluge of notifications facing those who did decide to 'switch on' will strike a decisive blow. As any good social media marketer knows, spam is never a positive or fruitful way to target users, so your main priority regardless of these changes should be the production of relevant, high-quality content.
While it may be easy to attack the faults and motives of Instagram's latest update, it is worth remembering that, unlike previous alterations to the online experience, these changes should not pose an instant impact for users. Instagram themselves have explained that the roll-out will be gradual, and will involve an extensive testing process, suggesting that they are interested in maintaining Instagram's user-friendliness. Though it is important to question the business motivations of companies like Instagram, it is also important for users to see the bigger picture in order to adapt and account for changes beyond their control.
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