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Instagram's algorithmic timelines force brands to rework their content strategy

28-March-2016
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Instagram's algorithmic timelines force brands to rework their content strategy

Instagram has followed in the footsteps of sister company Facebook to announce a new algorithmic timeline that will give more visibility to posts based on users' interests.

Users miss more than 70 per cent of their feed, said the company in a press statement.

"To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most. The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order," the company further wrote. The changes are expected to roll out globally in the coming months.

Facebook and Instagram are not the only ones who are pushing to promote a more relevant timeline to users. Just last month, Twitter also announced that it would be introducing a new algorithmic-based timeline, though, after adverse public opinion, Twitter introduced it as an optional feature.

Will Twitter's new timeline challenge brand creativity?

The changes being made in the timeline are of some concern to brands and agencies which use these platforms for communication as they will have a direct impact on the organic reach of their content and might force them to pay up for reach that they were getting for free till now; as happened with Facebook campaigns last year.

On the other hand, it will also force brands to invest more money and time to create better social media content, which is relevant and interesting to the audience and this is something that was inevitable, said digital agency heads we spoke with.

“Organic content will take a back seat with the launch of this new Instagram algorithm. If your Instagram account doesn't have a great follower count or likes, the chance of your post reaching a large number of audiences will be further reduced, no matter how creative or cool your post may be," said Randal Gomes, Creative Lead at MindShift Interactive.

The trick, he says, is to focus equally on engagement ideas that will allow you to increase your follower base and sustained engagements. "Create content that will intrigue your audiences and leverage Instagram-friendly tools such as Hyperlapse and Boomerang to innovate with the way you tell your story," he added.

And this is where the fundamental challenge will come in for digital marketers. As Gautam Mehra, VP & Business Head (Social Media) at iProspect India opines, "Very few brands actually create content for social media. It is more a question of adapting content to the platform."

The biggest concern, says Siddharth Hegde, Founder and MD at Ethinos Digital Marketing, is how Instagram will really show us stuff that we want to see. “I don’t trust the algorithm enough to do that. Many feel that Instagram is going to go the Facebook way, first came the ads, which seem a lot more intrusive and now the algorithms change like Facebook. It seems to be a work in progress and may or may not always work out the way it is was planned. Instagram still has the highest levels of organic amongst the social media platforms and this may not remain for more than 6 to 12 months,” he said.

“The crucial aspect is that increased filters in targeting could result in higher rates. It will most definitely push brands to pump in money on Instagram. This new algorithm will be beneficial for brands as it will target prospective consumers. Though brand managers may have to change their strategy in terms of investment and significance of the content,” opined Suveer Bajaj, Co-founder of FoxyMoron.

The content strategy will change in two folds, he feels. “Firstly, it will impact the frequency of the content, as the quality will increase and the frequency of the content will decrease. Also, each individual piece of content will have to convey a communication point catering to a specific audience. Now that organic reach has been severely compromised, not only do they need to invest on content, but also on pushing the posts, which will most definitely impact the financial allocation of the marketing plan as well,” he added.

Saugata Bagchi, National Head at Quasar, agrees that with Instagram trying to build up its ad business, the change in algorithm was inevitable, which might cause some marketers and users to feel cheated.

“However, this is not necessarily a bad thing in the long run. The quality of branded content will go up significantly, with agencies putting more time and effort to work on individual pieces. The targeting of the content will be sharper – the media dollars will ensure the right TG gets to view the content. This move should help prop the engagement rates back. With the right user receiving targeted/quality content from a brand, the potential of the user to go look for content proactively will also go up, so organic engagement does not necessarily have to die,” he added.

Meanwhile, Instagram's tinkering with the timeline has lead to the expected outrage by users who do not want social platforms to decide what they see or don't. A number of users took to Instagram to express their disappointment while others turned to platforms like Twitter:

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