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Instagram’s Algorithm: Stand Out Or Step Aside

Oh, how timely.

Right after #PiDay, the number that never ends, and in the midst of the biggest tech nerd gathering of the year, Instagram announced “See the Moments You Care About First.” Read: algorithm. What they want you to read: relevance.

Now, for all of us in advertising, it’s no surprise that Instagram would change a user’s feed from reverse-chronological to personalized. What’s interesting is that this change comes after Instagram’s ad revenues have increased from $0 in the beginning of 2015 to a projected $5.3 billion by 2017. It’s very different approach than its mama bear, Facebook, took, implementing an algorithm and slowly removing organic reach from brands to rapidly increase the need for paid Facebook ads. Only time will tell what this will mean for Instagram’s overall revenue, but my only assumption points to more money, more problems.

These observations aside, a few other implications for this algorithm need to be considered in the coming months, other than our impending necessity to allocate paid dollars.

Stand Out Or Get Left Out
Millennials are already visiting Instagram about 10 times per day. It seems crazy, but I have to tell you it is oh-so-true. Even so, users miss about 70% of the posts in their feeds on average. So by optimizing the posts you see first based on your historical interactions with the people and brands you follow, the 30% of posts you do see should be the best ones.

And if users are seeing the best, you’d assume they would stay on the platform longer. The longer users stay on the platform, the more ads Instagram is able to serve. The more ads Instagram is able to serve, the more important it is for your brand's ad to stand out.

Quality Over Quantity
Though Instagram is one of the most popular social networks, it’s always been my perspective that it’s a platform much more concerned with quality than it is with quantity. Whereas tweeting regularly is important to keep your followers interested, and posting at least daily on Facebook helps maintain a brand’s reach and overall engagement, frequency is less important on Instagram.

It’s a network that is all about beautiful photography, artwork, fashion, food, etc. And aside from the Kardashians, the accounts that are followed the most are the accounts that maintain that standard. With Instagram's feed change, this difference will become even more important. Brands must focus on quality to elicit the highest engagements per post. This is what will keep them top of feed and top of mind for users, versus posting every day.

Repurposed Facebook And Instagram Ads
Now, Facebook will tell you that you can use its ad platforms interchangeably, publishing the same ad across both Facebook and Instagram. But this feed change tells me otherwise.

If we’re constantly looking at the best of the best in our feeds, then the only conclusion I can come to is that the ads we see when we’re looking at these would need to be pretty supreme. They will need to be platform-first beautiful, and they’ll need to focus on a user’s Instagram habits. What are they on the platform for? Inspiration, beauty, exploration.

It’s not the same as Facebook and so it’s important that your production dollars and time is spent focusing on the nuances that make it differ from Facebook.

As this personalized feed rolls out, we’re sure to hear some outrage from Instagram diehards. But as with Facebook’s timeline and every other change we see, that is sure to die down. But will our use of Instagram die down as well? Time will tell.

See what the Twitterverse is saying about social media:

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