Instagram, Like Facebook, Embraces Algorithmic Feed

(This post first appeared on Voce Nation)

By now you’ve probably seen the news that Instagram will be following the lead of parent company Facebook and introducing an algorithmic feed designed to surface what it feels are the most relevant photos your friends have shared and show those to you. This would kick to the curb the unfiltered stream that’s been in place to date and, as with all automated feeds, presumes it will know better than you what you’re going to be interested in.

The announcement post points out people miss 70% of what’s posted because they’re not looking at the app within the timeframe that would show them those pictures. So if you’re looking at Instagram for five minutes every couple hours you can only scroll back so far, with the rest falling like the proverbial tree in the forest and leaving you to later explain why you didn’t ::heart:: Caitlin’s picture of her frappuccino because come on, adorbs!

The problem with this is that the algorithm…doesn’t actually fix that issue. It’s true that in a fire hose-like stream environment like Instagram has been and Twitter is you’re going to miss stuff when you’re not looking. So while I’m writing this post I have Twitter open on another monitor but I’m not really paying attention, so I’m missing everyone’s latest jokes about Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland (whose name makes him sound like a utility infielder in 1922), comments about the presidential primaries and more. That’s alright, though, since I have RSS and will catch the *actual* news.

Algorithms, though, present their own problems. You still miss some percentage of posts because they don’t get enough engagement to make it into your feed. And there’s little recourse to go back and find what it is you’ve missed. Facebook and other networks that take this approach default to the filtered feed and make it difficult to “view all” or turn that feed off. It offers the end user less control over their experience than the fire hose approach because in that environment you can at least trim your friends/follows if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

From a brand management perspective, this is yet another algorithm content marketing professionals will have to contend with and figure out. There’s already research showing engagement on Instagram is dropping, which is bad news because that platform has always been an engagement powerhouse, making up for in that area what it lacked in the ability to drive traffic. If that’s going to change — and there’s no reason to think it won’t when it switches to a filtered experience — then the value proposition for brand publishers shifts dramatically.

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