The changes will mean its users’ timelines will no longer feature the most recent posts first and the most relevant instead. However, experts and users believe the changes could do more harm than good.
According to Instagram, the average user misses 70% of their feed as “there’s simply too much content”.
Since opening itself up as an advertising platform last September, Instagram has secured 200,000 active advertisers. However it admits that this rapid growth – which means there are currently 200 million users on Instagram, with 57% accessing it daily – has come at a price.
A spokesperson explained: “As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means some people don’t see the posts they might care about the most.
“We’re focused on optimising the order and making it more personalised – all the posts will still be there, just in a different order. Ad frequency and order will stay the same.”
Instagram says the new ordered feed will take into account the number of signals, including the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content and your relationship to a brand, to help shape the relevance-based feed.
However, Instagram, aside from stating it would be testing the new feed on select users, has yet to clarify whether the changes will be optional or statutory.
Storytelling could become ‘less distinctive’
Content agency AllTogetherNow’s MD Steve Parker says the changes could “ironically” make photo and video content even harder to find.
He told Marketing Week: “Ironically, the forthcoming ‘curated feed’ will mean that users will miss far more than the current 70% of content that’s not seen. While users will gain greater exposure to popular content they will also see more repetition, more ads and less diversity from their personal network.
“The chronology is a well-loved feature of Instagram and one that sets it apart from Facebook and Twitter, but the revenue opportunities for Instagram and advertising brands are such that it will be sacrificed in favour of greater targeting and reach opportunities. The changes will make Instagram less distinctive.”
The changes mean brands must now ensure their content is engaging and not just ticking a box. In particular, brands will be forced to move away from linear storytelling – a move that could damage the potency of the popular Instagram Carousel ad unit – according to Charlie Cottrell, head of editorial at We Are Social.
“The change will affect the way brands use Instagram for storytelling. If the platform stops organising content by time then linear storytelling won’t work.”
Charlie Cottrell, head of editorial, We Are Social
She says: “To put it another way, they’ll need to tell standalone stories, not sequential chapters – less Downton Abbey, more Friends,” he clarifies.
Similarities to Twitter’s timeline changes
When social media rival Twitter recently announced its own timeline changes it was met with widespread hostility.
The optional controversial update to its timeline, which will mean it strays away from the usual chronological order system, prompted the hashtag #RIPTwitter to trend globally. And a #RIPInstagram hashtag is already gathering pace less than 24 hours after yesterday’s (15 March) announcement.
We Are Social’s Cottrell adds: “Twitter faced a similar backlash when it introduced its algorithm tweak but in practice users came to like the new feature. If Instagram’s tweak mirrors Twitter’s ‘in case you missed it’ functionality, the platform could appease the naysayers who are already dramatically swarming around the hashtag #RIPInstagram.”
Tim Pritchard, head of social media at MG OMD, believes Instagram will face less fallout from users as it is fundamentally different to Twitter.
“While Instagram has surfaced ‘Moments’ in people’s lives and an element of that has been live it’s always been less focused on capturing moments in real time than Twitter,” he explains.
“What’s interesting is the way in which Instagram is rolling this out, it feels very responsible and that taking great care to show it will be an iterative process rolled out in stages to take learnings and experiment with what quality content should be surfaced. It will be interesting to see how the ‘Live’ elements that Instagram have been experimenting recently with will fit into these changes.”
Pritchard echoes Cottrell’s view that the changes will force Instagram advertisers to become more creative although he’s not convinced they will instantly approve.
He adds: “Overall this is a positive move for advertisers ensuring that the content that they appear alongside will be of a higher quality. The area of caution is that whenever algorithms are introduced brands can end up fixating on the organic distribution rather than focusing their efforts on creative that delivers on their brand goals and ensuring they have a strong distribution strategy.”
Losing its USP
Chris Moon, head of Insights and analytics at Telegraph Hill, says Instagram could lose the romantic nature of its platform if it alters its feed too much.
“The response from Instagram users, of which I’m included, have been negative so far. Many have expressed the desire to choose what they want to see first, rather than giving the choice to the platform.”
Chris Moon, head of insight, Telegraph Hill
Moon adds: “As humans we love the feeling of discovery and finding the unexpected is almost romantic, so with Instagram’s algorithm change they may just lose the ‘feel’ of spontaneously finding something new in your feed.”
However, despite Moon’s reservations, he expects the initial bad feedback to quickly fade away.
He concludes: “Ultimately us humans are fickle and can fear or reject change at first. The new change will likely disrupt a few, but most will be satisfied as they settle into it.”