Social Media

Instagram Update: Content to Now be Ranked in the News Feed

March 16, 2016

Yesterday, Instagram announced an update coming to its platform in the next few months in the form of an algorithm-based news feed.

Like many of Instagram’s recent updates, which have included the introduction of portrait/landscape images and the expansion of its direct messaging capabilities, this transition was influenced by user behavior data. The sharp increase in active accounts (both personal and branded) and post volume on the platform has led to a corresponding decrease in content visibility; namely, Instagram claims users generally miss about 70% of the content in their feeds – and that 70% of what is missed could include content that users would otherwise find most engaging.

To address this, Instagram will be surfacing content to the top of users’ feeds based on past behavior and interests. As such, the update will directly impact the reach and engagement of organic content, since time posted and audience size are no longer a guarantee that content will be seen. Instead, brands will have to look increasingly to paid media to ensure impressions – an approach that’s already become the standard for platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Instagram has always prioritized the creative integrity of the platform, considering its audience to be, primarily, a community of content creators. As such, engagement on content has been considered a form of validation for users, leading to negative reaction from platform loyalists who believe the update will not only decrease engagement, but will disrupt the experience of their highly-curated user feeds. However, this change can also be seen as a way to bring content creators back into the spotlight, with highly relevant content being served up to those most likely to engage with it – and making an already curated experience even more personalized.

What Factors Will Determine Which Content Is Surfaced?

Unlike Facebook, Instagram has confirmed users will continue to see all content, with the most relevant content being bumped to the top, and subsequent content following in chronological order. “Relevant” content will be based on:

  • Previous Engagement: Instagram will tailor individual feeds based on users’ past engagement, using that as a prediction for what they will most likely engage with in the future. Engagements include likes, comments, and video views.
  • Interests: Instagram defines “interests” as the accounts a user follows and the content with which they engage. For example, someone who follows more dogs than people, or only engages with dog accounts, will have images of dogs prioritized in their feed.
  • Dwell Time: A person may not engage with an ex-relation’s content, but they may very well spend an above average amount of time looking at and reading it. The amount of time spent with content will also indicate interest and be prioritized in the feed.

Marketer Implications:

This update will have several implications for marketers’ content strategies on the platform. Here are ways that brand marketers should approach leveraging the platform given the recent update:

  • Integrate paid media into platform strategy: Like Facebook, organic reach will likely decrease as a result of the update, but Instagram has noted that the algorithm will not affect content supported with paid media. As such, to guarantee impressions, paid media will be vital to any Instagram strategy.
  • Focus less on fan acquisition: Though fan acquisition has been shown to have little impact in determining Instagram content success, it should be even less of a focus for marketers now – as a large audience base is no longer a guarantee of impressions garnered.
  • Anticipate fewer – but more relevant – engagements: The personalized feed will take many signals into account, such as the relationship between poster and user, timeliness of posts, and how likely it is that the content will be interesting to the user. So while the quantity of engagements may decrease, the quality of those engaging with content will be of higher value. Brands can be reassured that engagements are coming from fans that have expressed interest in that type of content previously. And if users are seeing the content that they would likely engage with first, the chance of engagement increasing over time is probable.
  • Reconsider the role of “timely” content: Since the algorithm will prioritize relevant content in the feed, the time content is posted may no longer be a way to drive significant, increased engagement. And as such, heavily time-sensitive content may also be less relevant. A post about a celebrity’s Oscar speech for example may not be served up to users until well after the fact, making Instagram a potentially less viable option as a platform for “real-time” conversation.
  • Expect increased shelf-life of content: In line with the above point, content may not be served up to users until well after it’s been published – meaning that engagement may not peak on a post until several days later. Until now, the amount of engagements content had within 24 hours was, by and large, as high as it would be; now, depending on when users log in and interact with content, that is likely to change.
  • Re-evaluate how influencer success is measured: Influencers often have the ability to drive more engagement than brands due to their third-party credibility and engaging storytelling – but this update, which Instagram says will affect personal accounts and brands equally, may result in a small engagement dip. As such, marketers may have to adjust KPIs and criteria for evaluating influencer clout and value, particularly as followers are no longer a way to guarantee impressions.

Overall, this update reaffirms the importance of creative on the platform as competition for attention will be heightened among users and brands alike. Brands should strive to create impactful content that is optimized for social, and marry that with a targeted, paid approach to see success. Users can expect to see the update within the next few months.

Jwala Gandhi, Senior Social Marketing Manager; Jessica Velastegui, Associate Social Marketing Manager; and Marie Goldstein, Social Marketing Manager at 360i contributed to this post.

Cover photo via Instagram.