Your Favorites First on Instagram

The latest target of the Facebook algorithm – Instagram. The photo-driven social media app announced it will no longer serve up photos in chronological order, but rather “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”

Instagram is already training users to break their reliance on timed posts. You may have noticed the subtle change to the location of the posted time, which now lives in a smaller font below the comments, instead of prominently in the top right corner.

Instagram’s rationale is users miss up to 70 percent of what’s actually in their feeds. This is true; follow too many brands or celebrities and the photos of your friend in the TODAY Show crowd may get lost in the shuffle. From that rationale, the algorithm change makes sense. But for brands, this change is just the beginning of the increased pressure and costs associated with doing business.

The change pressures users to post the most engaging photo, rather than a steady stream of photos from a live event. The need for on-the-spot posting will be eliminated, allowing brands more time to edit the photo and come up with an engaging caption. No longer will we see #latergram. With the pressure for one perfect event photo, Instagram can expect to see fewer photos uploaded overall.

The new algorithm has not been made clear and much like Google’s SEO reward system, we will never know the exact science. But, if posts you’re more inclined to like show up first, what’s to stop users from liking posts they don’t actually enjoy just to make sure a brand keeps appearing in their feed? I’ve already seen one small business owner asking for more likes so people can continue to see her photos. With half-hearted likes, how does this help brands know what content is actually engaging? Brands will have to alter their strategy, and it may be trial and error to refine it.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see more pay for play on Instagram soon, with brands paying to boost their posts to the top of users’ feeds, similar to Facebook. When Facebook bought Instagram in April 2012, users and brands were worried Instagram would lose its charm, the simplicity of its feed and lack of ads. Four years later, Instagram has become more like Facebook with its ads and top posts, but the photo-driven community still rallies for a sense of authenticity that is unique within this platform. Balancing engaging posts with transparency and accessibility will be the next challenge for brands on Instagram.