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Instagram algorithm updates and what it means for brands

Cast your minds back to 2018 when marketers were rocked when an update to Facebook’s algorithm caused a nosedive in organic results. Well, this update runs in the family and now it’s Instagram’s turn…

After seeing a steady slew of updates in recent months, it’s safe to say Instagram is focused on continuously evolving in order to stay relevant, especially when social media’s whippersnappers like TikTok are biting at its ankles. 

This evolution is evident in the removal of likes, the introduction of dark mode, its new short-form video format Reels, and the very recent launch of cross-platform messaging with Facebook Messenger – it’s hard to keep up!

These updates on both Facebook and Instagram are fuelled by ‘Meaningful Engagement’ – the latest industry buzzword that is credited as the motivating factor behind the recent controversial algorithm updates. 

Since moving away from a chronological ranking in 2016, the content on Instagram feeds has been dictated by machine learnings based on individual behaviours – both of which are constantly subject to change. 

Instagram is encouraging its users to spend time on the app because users enjoy the content in a meaningful way, rather than because scrolling is highly addictive. 

Whilst this sounds like a positive move, in theory, this is creating problems for marketers and content creators who have noticed a sharp decline in the reach and engagement of their Instagram content.

In order to show users, the content that the app believes is most relevant, it’s moved the goal posts in terms of content ranking and so we must learn, adjust and adapt to the new rules of engagement. Taking the opportunity to approach social, influencer and digital campaigns with renewed strategies and KPIs. 

There are six factors that Instagram consider when serving you content on your feed:

  • Interest 
  • Relationship 
  • Timeliness
  • Frequency
  • Following
  • Usage  

 

Since the removal of likes was introduced, there’s been a shift in which metrics are the most valuable when it comes to ‘Meaningful Engagement’. 

These are the four universal engagement factors ranked from most to least important in regards to the algorithm:

  • Saves 
  • Shares 
  • Comments
  • Likes 

 

It’s worth noting that on video content, views and dwell time are also both incredibly important metrics that Instagram considers when ranking content. 

The impact of the switch-up in favoured engagement can be seen on Instagram already, as brands, marketers and content creators begin to adopt strategies to encourage target audiences to engage with content differently.  

The ripple effect of the algorithm can be felt in social, influencer and digital campaigns across the channel. For instance:

  • Instagram competitions – no longer are we seeing the ‘like and comment’ mechanism for entry, but an increase in ‘share to story’ and follow mechanisms
  • Influencers are increasingly featuring content to encourage opportunities for ‘Meaningful Engagement.’ We’ve seen an increased use of Q&A’s and Live’s on Instagram Stories, creating opportunities to generate DM’s and increased dwell times – both favoured by the algorithm ranking Gods
  • Increase in the number of shoppable posts from brands 
  • Higher uptake in the use of carousel posts and longer more detailed captions 
  • Increase in ‘Call To Actions’ directing audiences to the link in bio where posts are catalogued and linked to an external site. The process of going to the link in bio and finding the post you want to visit increases dwell time on your page, even though it will ultimately direct you away from Instagram

 

As we move through the ever-changing landscape of social media, this isn’t the first or last update coming into play, but being on the front foot and keeping up-to-date is the first step.

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