If you decided to take a browse through Instagram over the weekend you would have found a feed filled with images like those below.
The blogsphere is panicking. Followed closely by brands and even just general users. TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS they scream. They are wrong. Here is what Instagram’s algorithmic change actually means and why you don’t need to touch your Instagram notifications as a blogger, brand or user.
1. You will still see posts without turning on Instagram notifications
Revolutionary. A social media channel that shows you posts without you having to turn notifications on. This is the reason for the ‘follow’ button – the posts from people you follow will still make up your feed, albeit with a few sponsored posts thrown in. The difference the new algorithm will make, is that your posts will be ordered by factors such as who you follow, who you engage with the most and the posts that are gaining the most traction across the channel (still from the people you follow). This means that all of your posts will still be there, but just not in chronological order as before. The main difference brand and bloggers should be worrying about is that time-anchored posts may decay more quickly. For example, your lovely Easter Egg image which you post on Easter Sunday may not be seen by followers immediately, or even at all. This happens occasionally on Facebook, with realtime opportunities missed or slowed by the algorithm, rendering a well-timed opportunity useless. Saying that, if your real-time post does gain traction (i.e. is a quality piece of content) you have nothing to worry about and this may even help it surface to the top, therefore gaining you more traction and engagement than a post would ever have reached in the chronological setting.
2. Turning notifications on for every user makes Instagram noisy
With every blogger and brand imploring you to turn on notifications for their posts, Instagram becomes very noisy. Rather than scanning at leisure and then receiving notifications for your work (which is quite a nice UI when you think about it), notifications mean that you receive a nudge every time a user posts. Not only will this flood your bar with notifications you probably don’t need, it also distracts you from the friends and family you probably would like to see as well as ignoring the structure of the feed you have carefully curated.
3. This is social media now
Facebook has been doing this since 2009. Twitter has had its ‘While you were away’ feature since early 2015. If rumours are true, Twitter will also similarly enter into an algorithm-organised timeline before the year is out. Instagram moving to an algorithm timeline is nothing new nor revolutionary. Turning notifications on may circumvent the change for a time, but eventually Instagram will find a way to regain control of your feed (as will SnapChat and YouTube in time). Also, notifications only work for iOS.
Unfortunately, the ‘turn on notifications’ hysteria is coming from some of Instagram’s biggest influencers with huge follower counts, which therefore gives weight to the chain-letter style panic. The reason Instagram’s influencers are under such panic (more so than brands) is because they often rely solely on organic reach, followers and brands in order to grow and also to negotiate brand contracts that are based on numbers. At current, Instagram (unlike Facebook & Twitter), doesn’t provide metrics on posts or an analytics platform, therefore making it difficult to decipher the route behind traffic and engagement. Without huge follower counts and ‘free’ reach, bloggers may find themselves left out of the loop.
Saying that, bloggers have some of the most loyal, engaged fans in the world and you can guarantee that those providing excellent content will find themselves at the top of the ‘best first’ algorithm – which may even lead to more followers and engagement than they would have seen in the traditional format.
4. It’s not happening yet
Even when these changes do roll out, they will be gradual and only affect a small proportion of users before mass roll out. Instagram itself has released a message to qualm the outburst, explaining that changes aren’t happening today and when they do, users will be the first to know.
5. There’s a better way
Social media is changing. All the signs point to it becoming a complete pay to play field for brands moving forward. This doesn’t make it any different from other marketing channels such as magazine adverts, banner ads, TV advertising and so on. Brands can’t expect to play for free forever. Many reports suggest that social media and content is travelling towards a micro-targeted ads model, where brands zoom in to speak to an identified audience through paid social media ads, facilitated by micro-targeted ad platforms such as the ones offered by Facebook and Twitter. The attitude from brand managers and social media managers should be that social media is a paid channel – any organic reach is a bonus. Like other marketing practices before it, traction and virality can be achieved through clever content, targeted comms and well thought-out campaigns on social media, but this will be the exception and not the rule. Also, social media advertising is still an emerging channel and as a result you can often achieve better results with a smaller budget – take Buffer’s $5 Facebook Ad experiment as an example.
Begging (and intimidating fans) into turning post notifications ‘on’ won’t help your brand or your profile to gain the loyalty of new or existing followers. Providing excellent content, investing in paid where required and giving users a reason to return will.