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Getting Over the Instagram Letdown

Darsana Vijay

As an Instagram user, I have been experiencing a wide range of very strong emotions about their plan to revamp the newsfeed. Posts will no longer be arranged in reverse chronological order, but based on how likely it is to interest me. I was outraged that Instagram gets to decide what I see and that too, because of what I’d ‘liked’ earlier. I mean, you might not ‘Like’ posts from certain people but you definitely want to keep seeing them and looking them up is just stalker-ish – as opposed to following them and having their content magically ‘appear’ in your feed!

I looked to the internet for allies who also felt betrayed by Instagram and found that several brands and celebrities were feeling as outraged as I was. There is even a petition doing the rounds pleading Instagram to let its feed be. If Twitter can keep its chronological order, why not Instagram?

Brands are probably not upset at the prospect of missing out on their friends’ baby photos, but that their target market won’t get to see their content. I couldn’t help wondering, why is Instagram such a big deal for brands? Before joining Unmetric, I had always thought of it as a space for amateur photography enthusiasts and #obsessive #hashtaggers. As it turns out, the feed change seems to be a huge deal, and brands have strong opinions about it (as do I). However, brands already sponsor a lot of content on Instagram, and that’s not going to be affected. Why the furor, then?

To learn more about why brands are tying themselves in knots, I compiled a list of the top 20 brands from different industries based on the number of Followers they have on Instagram. I then examined their performance during the month of March in detail. Two things became clear: a) Instagram is a big deal for businesses and b) it’s all probably going to be fine with a few changes here and there.

The brands that I looked at are Airbnb, American Express, BMW, Chanel, Disney, Dogfish Beer, Emirates, Foot Locker, GE, GoPro, M.A.C, Nike, Playstation, Qatar Airways, Red Bull, Royal Caribbean, Starbucks, Topshop, Veuve Clicquot and Victoria’s Secret.

If you don’t believe that Instagram is a key component of the marketing mix, check out the chart below. It shows the Unmetric Engagement Score that the same content received on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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The following chart shows the number of Followers/Fans vis-a-vis the interactions that Nike’s social media accounts witnessed in March.

nike-community-size-vs-interactions.png

Now that I see how brands are rapidly growing on Instagram, I can understand the fear better. But, what is the worst that can happen? Most brands fear a repeat of what had happened when Facebook brought in the algorithmic feed in 2013. Several blog posts and opinion pieces have already pronounced organic content dead and advise shifting around the budget to do more sponsored content. If I get to see only 30% of the content that Instagram accounts that I follow post, then the chances of brand posts making the cut look pretty slim. There are far too many Kim Kardashian selfies out there to prevent that possibility.  

I found myself going through the first four stages of grief in  a matter of minutes and a few blog posts like this one ushered in acceptance. What is so bad about seeing better content first? There is an added bonus in that brands will be forced to come up with fresher, more Instagram-specific content rather than recycle posts from other social networking sites.

From the perspective of brands, Instagram’s blog post did allude to people’s FOMO. If 70% of the posts go unseen, brands are clearly missing the mark with their posts, leading to the fall in engagement. Curious to know what impact that had on brands, I  downloaded the engagement data from Unmetric and fired up Excel. I wanted to see if there was any discernible trend when it came to the number of Likes and Comments these brands were getting. This is what I found:

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Granted, this is just one month’s worth of data, but the trendline for Likes shows a steady decline towards the end of the month. The increasing volume of content being published by Instagram users could be the reason for the decline.

To understand if March was part of a larger trend of declining engagement for brands on Instagram, I’ll need to do more analysis (or you could do it yourself if you signed up for Unmetric!).

Coming back to the impending algorithm change – which I believe Instagram is going to implement despite placating overtures since the announcement – it might just be the boost that brands need to ensure that Instagram content does not become boring. Here are four strategies that will help brands conquer the feed change:

  1. Build a personal connection with your audience: Instagram being overwhelmingly visual demands brands to visually express their personality. When a follower sees your post, they should be able to recognize you as if you were a person. While I was looking at the data, I checked to make sure that there was no huge dip in one or two brands that was bringing the trend down. Surprisingly, I found that Nike got around four million likes in a single day, the most any brand in the pool received. The post introducing their latest product was the most engaging. In addition to great copy and visuals, how invested the followers are in the brand is key to driving up engagement.
  2. Create conversations: This strategy goes back to the crux of content marketing – getting people to care. Make sure your posts have some element that can get your followers to participate. This will guarantee that they see your future posts while you will stand to gain from their insights. Polls such as the Victoria’s Secret campaign can be a great way to do this.
  3. Foster partnerships with influencers: Another page from the Nike playbook is them featuring  Neymar, Alex Morgan and Blaise Matuidio in their posts. This way, Nike can tap into these stars’ followers as well. Not only is this a failsafe way to get more people to see your posts, an influencer post comes with extra street cred.
  4. Cleaner, greener content: Content pollution is an absolute no-no in this scheme of things. Posting frequently might not turn out to be the solid plan it seems to be if you don’t have engaging content. For instance, Nike posted 20 times spread over eight days last month and they averaged over 327,000 likes per post.

    Pro-tip: Do not be that person who asks their followers to turn on notifications. Especially since every third account asks you to do this, Instagrammers are not very appreciative of this right now. Give the other four tips a shot and your followers are sure to come back hungry for more.

If you think that your brand is not as mass market to match the likes of Nike and Victoria’s Secret, you might find that the algorithm change is a blessing. If 70% of content is not being viewed in a person’s newsfeed, it’s possible that your content is already not being seen by many people. The algorithm change could mean that your content gets seen by more people (especially those who are interested in your product or service) – if it is relevant and not simply being published for the sake of publishing content.

Watch this space for updates on the Instagram algorithm change, as and when it rolls out. Meanwhile, you can sign up for a free trial of Unmetric Analyze to see how your Instagram account fares when compared to 40,000 other brands.  Or would you rather discover trending topics and find ideas to build content around? We can help you do that as well with our Inspire feature. Fill out the form below and get started.