Instagram made a lot of changes in 2017, from Stories enhancements to follow-able hashtags. But no update was more widely talked about, especially in the blogosphere, than the algorithm modifications, when Instagram fully transitioned from a time-based feed to one that is more Facebook-like, predicting what will be most interesting to users. And this will lead to an exodus of the creator community that initially caused Instagram to flourish.
I’m an Instagram blogger/influencer myself who has worked hard to amass lots of followers within the male fashion niche and LGBTQ audience. But, since these changes have rolled out, my reach has dropped significantly. What used to be a fun hobby of posting a few times a week has become pressure to post every day in order to maintain the same reach. Bloggers likely will keep their accounts and continue to post, but the future investment and energy on growth and content production will not be focused on Instagram. In fact, a number of major influencers have posted pleas to Instagram to ditch the algorithm – a rebel cry of the “digerati.”
The Content War is On.
The former creative playground has now become a restrictive and competitive content battle. Instagram first attracted bloggers because of the potential to be discovered – as a time-based feed, your content was just as likely as anyone else’s to be seen. By creating great content and not much else, it was possible to steadily grow a following. People came to Instagram because it was visually rich and full of new and interesting people to discover.
Amy Roiland, a verified Instagram influencer feels the same way. “Instagram used to be fun for me,” said Roiland. “Now I never want to post because I am not seen by my followers due to the algorithm. Instagram is now all about the money, not the user experience. I have over 80,000 fans and have worked as a blogger on this platform for over five years. My engagement has dropped along with my enthusiasm. Instagram is slowly dying and becoming more and more cluttered, with zero focus. I miss the ‘OG’ Instagram…those were the days.”
The Data Devil Made Them Do It.
As an associate director of data analytics in the e-commerce industry, I focus on ways to use data to improve customer experience. And when I think about the algorithm changes, I can see why the use of data has hurt the overall richness. Time-based feeds provide the opportunity of discovery and surprise. They are democratic in that every voice has a chance to be noticed. That’s how Instagram and Twitter used to be, and it’s what made them juicy and worth perusing. Humans naturally gravitate towards that feeling of discovery.
Predictive content algorithms (like Facebook and Instagram) are authoritarian – these systems can lift up or suppress content for days, and select what you will see based on what others want to discover. Algorithmic decisions are based on the metrics “views” and “engagement” which in theory should find “sticky” and interesting material, but in reality, creates uniformity. And, thus, it takes out the element of surprise and discovery. In this blogger’s opinion, Instagram should have restricted the algorithmic-based feed to “top posts” or “explore” areas where people want to see what’s trending. They should not have messed with the home feed.
All of these changes were part of a shift towards paid promotion on Instagram, where brands and businesses (including bloggers) must pay in order to receive reach. In other words, it was an adjustment made to allow the Instagram platforms to make more money off of their users. This change punished bloggers and influencers who were already creating small economies on the platform, because Instagram couldn’t find a way to get its cut.
This doesn’t only affect bloggers and influencers – brands will now have to pay a price to launch generic ad campaigns. The “cool” factor of brand discovery on Instagram is quickly disappearing. Where Instagram was a place to find new fashion brands and elevate underground movements, it is starting to fade into the mainstream.
Daniel Betancourt, an established men’s fashion blogger looks to the future. “I started blogging seven years ago, and Instagram gave me exactly what I was looking for: a place to get inspired and be a point of inspiration for others,” Betancourt recalls. “It was a beautiful community full of creators sharing their love for what they do. But now they have completely destroyed the platform. All you see on your timeline is countless unwanted ads and the so-called algorithm doesn’t really allow you to grow. Pretty much anybody who’s a true creator –photographers, bloggers, designers, etc. – is completely “over it” with Instagram. It no longer gives you a place to connect with what you love. I’m low key waiting for someone to give them a run for their money.”
- Influencers will be hesitant to build on any single platform and will diversify.
- A land grab will give emerging social networks like Ello more opportunity.
- Twitter may have a resurgence among thinkers and thought leaders.
- Video will be a mandatory format for bloggers. YouTube and others will benefit.
- Bloggers will focus on websites, subscription platforms like Patreon, and may even build their own social networks.
- Brands will partner directly with influencers and avoid Instagram altogether.
Instagram’s shift away from bloggers and influencers will create an opportunity for these content creators to find new channels and platforms. It will also force brands to re-adjust once again to the ever-changing social media landscape.