Picture this: It’s been a while since one of your customers has checked into their Instagram account.
They log in, expecting to see the latest updates from all of their favorite users. Instead, they find the top of their feed filled with photos and videos that Instagram thinks they wants to see, compiled from their user list, regardless of when those posts were originally shared.
Will your company’s latest posts be part of the mix? They will be if you keep reading.
Instagram: It’s Not Just for Keeping Tabs on Friends and Family Anymore
First things first. If your business isn’t using Instagram, you may want to ask yourself, “is Instagram right for my company?” The service is home to a community of more than 400 million regular visitors and is projected to bring in over $2 billion in ad revenue by 2017. It’s a global community as well, with more than 75 percent of users living outside of the U.S.
Studies show that while people don’t engage with branded social content very often, low-clutter, brand-friendly photo-sharing apps like Instagram are a noteworthy exception. Forrester recently named Instagram “the king of social engagement,” citing the fact that the top brands generated a per-follower engagement rate of 4.21 percent. That’s 58 times more engagement per follower than Facebook, and 120 times more engagement per follower than Twitter!
Instagram isn’t just a tool for restaurants, retailers, or larger, established brand names like Ford Fiesta, General Electric, and Lululemon. Many startups and SMBs are turning to the partner in an effort to jump start sales, gain exposure, and increase online brand presence. While B2C marketers are slightly more likely to increase Instagram activity in comparison to their B2C counterparts, social media budgets among startups/SMBs range anywhere from a few thousand dollars a month to in excess of $100,000 annually, and rising, making Instagram’s per-follower engagement rate especially enticing.
Here’s What’s Happening : Algorithm Change
While there are a number of articles written about the complexity of the change, the fundamental idea is that Instagram is shifting away from the reverse chronological order that the service has used since its launch in 2010. The new algorithmic filtering system will rely on each user’s specific behaviors and interests to determine the images that appear at the top of their feed, as opposed to sorting content by the order in which it was posted. You can read more about the co-founders’ rationale for making the switch to an algorithm-based personalized feed in a recent New York Times article.
The change follows similar moves by Facebook in 2009, and by Twitter just a few months ago. It’s about giving users a simple, linear way to get the information they truly want, while adapting to the steady increase in volume flowing through parent company’s network. Instagram is betting that users would rather see updates that pertain to what they most recently “liked,” than whatever was posted five minutes ago.
Instagram co-founder and chief executive, Kevin Systrom, explains in the NY Times’ article, “On average, people miss about 70 percent of the posts in their Instagram feeds. What this [change] is about is making sure that the 30 percent you see is the best 30 percent possible.”
Making Sure “The Best 30 Percent” Includes Your Brand
If you want your Instagram presence to work for you, the first step is a practical one. You’ll need your followers to “turn on notifications” for their accounts, in order to allow Instagram to alert them every time you post new content.
Under the new system, consumer engagement is more important than ever. If a user rarely likes or comments on a newly posted photo, subsequent photos from the same account may be less likely to show up in that user’s feed. The more you’re able to motivate users to engage with your account, the more likely your branded content will make it into the top tier of their feeds. Strategies like being sure to cross-post your Instagram images to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr will be equally critical.
Otherwise, the typical best practices related to any successful social media engagement campaign will still apply; strategically selecting how often to post, establishing a robust and relevant content calendar, and choosing appropriate content themes.
One major difference between Instagram and other forms of social media is that Instagram’s backbone is imagery. Considering the visual style you want to represent your brand will be vital. Apart from Instagram’s own built-in filter controls, mobile editing apps like VSCOcam and Whitagram can help you pinpoint the right “look” for your posts (consistency is key). You’ll also want to pay attention to the non-visual elements of your Instagram content, like caption formats, style language, and even your handle. It’s all part of your Instagram M.O., and should reflect your brand’s identity.
Don’t Panic! There’s Still Time to Figure All of this Out
“Despite the rumors, no feed changes are being implemented right now – we still have weeks, or even months, of testing to go,” said an Instagram spokesperson, in a carefully-worded statement, after news of the company’s plans sparked a backlash among its users.
That’s good news for marketers, who won’t be forced to scramble overnight to adapt to the company’s new personalized feed. But more broadly speaking, Instagram’s latest move should be a wake-up call impelling all of us to reflect on how responding to the consumer’s need to experience “the next best thing now,” is fast becoming one of the pillars of any successful marketing platform.
More than 80 percent of top global brands actively post on Twitter, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and, yes, Instagram. Marketers seeking to develop a robust social engagement strategy of their own, or maximize the ROI on their existing investment, should talk to us.