3 digital marketing pros sound off on upcoming Instagram algorithm

Many are anxious about Instagram’s announcement that feeds will soon be determined by an algorithm. But is there really cause to worry? Columnist Alison Zeringue asks three veteran digital marketers for their thoughts.


Author Robert C. Gallagher once said, “Change is inevitable — except from a vending machine.”

In digital marketing, we know this all too well. We know that as soon as we get comfortable with a platform, and maybe even achieve a level of mastery, it’s going to change, and we’ll adapt. So why is everyone freaking out about the upcoming Instagram algorithm?

For a couple of days last week, every brand or business on Instagram was posting a “turn on post notifications” image in a desperate attempt to preserve their visibility on the currently reverse-chronological feed platform.

Personally, one of the things I enjoy most about Instagram is the lack of an algorithm. It works for me because I’ve intentionally been more selective about who I follow on Instagram compared to other social networks. As such, I don’t mind seeing posts in a reverse-chronological order, and I think a lot of users agree.

For many Instagram users, however, it’s common to follow hundreds of other accounts, making the experience for those users poorer the more accounts they follow.

Alas, change.

Instagram announced earlier this month that they would “soon” be changing the feed to combat the fact that people on average miss out on 70 percent of their feeds. The online rumors began about the timing of rollout — and soon after, everyone lost their minds.

Digital media specialists everywhere are already lamenting “death by algorithm” for today’s organic Instagrammers, when the algorithm hasn’t even rolled out yet. Perhaps most ironically, users created an anti-change petition on Change.org to “Keep Instagram Chronological,” which garnered more than 300,000 signatures. All the while, Instagram just wants everyone to calm down.

Luckily for you, I’ve asked three respected digital marketing professionals to provide their perspective on this upcoming change.

Read on to find out what they think and what you should be prepared for when the change finally happens.

So, is an Instagram algorithm a good thing or a bad thing?

With Instagram’s more than 400 million users and the fact it’s owned by Facebook, it’s not surprising to most of us in the industry that an algorithm is coming any day now. In fact, many of us agree that filtered feeds across most social media platforms are inevitable. But is this development a good thing or a bad thing?

ComScore’s recent traffic reports show that Facebook, which has had algorithm-based feeds for almost as long as the News Feed has existed, continues to own the market in terms of reach and average monthly time spent by users in the 18 to 34 and 35+ demographics. If users hated filtered feeds that much, you’d expect to see different data.

CEO of Search Influence (my employer), Will Scott, agrees:

I know I’m not alone in following a few too many people on most social networks. For that reason, I’m a fan of algorithmic feed management. Granted, Instagram isn’t as cluttered for me as Twitter, but it can still get noisy. And, of course, as a marketer I know we’ve got the resources to overcome the clutter with design, engagement and if all else fails, dollars.

Reports around the web have indicated that Instagram’s engagement rate was down in 2015 compared to prior years, although Instagram is the closest platform behind Facebook in terms of audience penetration among 18- to 34-year-olds.

Marty Weintraub, founder of AimClear, reminds us that the debate surrounding feed algorithms is an age-old one in digital marketing.

Feed personalization and the argument against it are as old as dirt. As platforms become massive, friend lists large, noise greater and platform revenue hunger voracious, algo driven feeds are inevitable.

There are pros and cons. A con to some is that friends don’t see ALL of their followings ALL the time. Still, it’s pretty tough to keep track of gazillions of friends, many of whom are active. Algo feeds are actually better for many users. Personally, I like only seeing what I’m interested in as evidenced by my previous behavioral affinities.

Ironically, what’s good for users can also be good for platforms. Algo feeds leave room for ads — and the same data which is used to filter feeds may also drive ad targeting. That’s a big win-win, and it’s why social platforms like Facebook and Instagram sometimes turn out to be monstrously huge business players.

What does the algorithm mean for businesses?

Businesses, brands and celebrities are already coming to terms with the idea that an algorithm could mean the end of the “free” ride on Instagram they’ve been enjoying up until this point.

Instagram has slowly but surely ramped up its advertising options this year, and then they announced this algorithm update. Consequently, businesses are having flashbacks to what happened with Facebook in the past.

When Facebook’s algorithm and advertising options were in their infancy, businesses were encouraged to gain as many “fans” as possible with the reward being more organic exposure for their content. Facebook created “fan building” ad units which businesses willingly paid for in order to grow their following and thereby post reach.

Over time, Facebook slowly but surely whittled down the organic reach of business page posts (to as low as 2.6 percent, according to a recent Locowise study) and introduced more advertising units. Businesses are left with almost no choice but to invest in advertising to truly leverage the platform which has almost 100% penetration among highly valuable audiences.

Matt Siltala, President of Avalaunch Media and industry veteran, believes brands need to be prepared with effective visual content.

The biggest impact will be felt by brands, I believe. Something we have been preaching (and creating) for ages at Avalaunch Media is creating more engaging content. If you can put together more creative and engaging content, you will be rewarded more. You can no longer fail to actively engage with your community; the days of just “setting up a social profile to be on it” are over.

Influencer integration is going to be a big player in this as well. Those that have already been playing this game will be rewarded and will be even MORE visible.

If Matt’s right, and I believe he is, it means brands joining Instagram after the algorithm is introduced will have a more difficult time building and maintaining a following.

Since some brands have been present and gaining lots of traction on their content, they will likely already be factored into the feeds of many followers.

What should brands expect upon Instagram algorithm launch?

Per the advice of the pros, brands should expect to invest in ad units on Instagram and develop truly engaging content. Since Instagram has promised to communicate when widespread changes are implemented, it’s not too late to get on board and work on building your following and engagement now, which could help you have a leg up upon launch.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)