Instagram is still my favorite social media platform. I love its visual nature, its wealth of inspiration, its ability to help businesses connect with their target audience. I love the new "Stories" feature. I love the analytics for business pages. I love its searchable hashtags.
However, my love has started to break my heart.
In July of this year, rumblings started about Instagram changing its algorithm and the way posts are viewed. Many Instagram users, especially business owners, were up in arms about these proposed changes. Why?
Well, let's begin with a little abridged social media history lesson. Facebook, still the king of social media with over 1 billion users, purchased Instagram in 2012. Facebook used to be the land of milk and honey for business owners. If people followed your Facebook business page, they saw your posts on their feed in chronological order, period. The more likes your page got led to more views, which led to more user engagement, which led to more target customers knowing about your business and building up a relationship with it. In 2014, Facebook began making slow and subtle changes to their algorithm that determines how posts are viewed. Now, in 2016, about 1-3% of the people who "Like" your Facebook for business page are actually seeing the great posts you're making. Even fewer are actually engaging with it. This has less to do with how great your content is, and more to do with the mystical algorithm Facebook uses to order its posts. Facebook determines who sees your posts on the Facebook platform, not you.
Bottom line: they want you to pay them in Facebook ads or "Post Boosts" to get that audience back. If you want more people to see your Facebook posts than the percentage who are already seeing it organically, you will have to pay for it. Period.
OK, history class is dismissed. Back to Instagram. Instagram, up until about July of this year, used to be the same as the "old" Facebook. If people followed your business page, they saw your posts pop up in their feed in chronological order. Hashtags improved the engagement, but if you posted a photo with no hashtags, engagement was still good because your post was actually getting seen by your followers in the order it was posted. Once the new algorithm was rolled out this summer, that all changed.
Managing a number of social media pages for my clients, as well as being an active user on my own Instagram, I got a front-row view of this. It was August of this year that I noticed my client's organic likes and comments begin to drop. I tested it out on my own Instagram - if I didn't add a bunch of targeted hashtags to each post, I got VERY low engagement. My posts weren't different; the photos were still pretty. The captions were still interesting and engaging. I realized that they just weren't being seen! I also noticed that in my feed, as well as my clients' feeds, the posts are no longer in chronological order. You'll see a post from 45 minutes ago from someone you follow, then next will be someone else's post from 10 hours ago, then next someone else's from 4 hours ago.
To be frank - this totally sucks. It means way more work for you or for your social media manager. However, Instagram is still a VERY USEFUL TOOL for social media marketing - in my opinion, it's the most important tool. There are a few simple ways to get around this algorithm change as best as you can.
- First of all - you still need an Instagram, especially if your target market is Millennials/Generation X. As a Millennial consumer myself, if a business targeting my demographic doesn't have an Instagram, it tells me that they're literally five years behind the curve. If a business run by Baby Boomers DOES have an Instagram, and a really well-run one, I'm super impressed and WAY more likely to consider using their services. Example: George Apap Painting (not affiliated with me, not a client of mine, they probably don't know I exist - I just really like their Instagram) was tagged in the account of one of the people I follow on Instagram. I began following them and am super impressed with their up-to-date, attractive Instagram account. If I'm ever in the market for a house painter, you better believe that they'll be on the top of my list - I see their pretty photos regularly and even though I don't "know" them in person, I feel like I know them on social media and would trust them over a random painter I found in a Google search.
- Post regularly (at least once a day), and post GREAT photos. Good Instagram photos are bright and well composed. Detail shots work better than full shots. Styled flat-lays are an awesome way to show off your product, if you're artistically and creatively inclined and have the time to style and edit your photos. Click here to receive our FREE Instagram Photo Guide.
- Target your hashtags. Targeted hashtags are a really awesome tool for me and my clients now that the algorithm has messed around with organic impressions and views. Targeted hashtags are a great way to really find the people who are searching for product or services like yours. It's always a good idea to jump on a trending hashtag bandwagon, too!
- Share other people's content - sharing memes relevant to your business or inspirational images is totally okay, AS LONG AS YOU CREDIT THE ORIGINAL CONTENT CREATOR. It's a nice way to mix up your feed - no one wants to see photos of your inventory all day long.
- Engage with your target customer base. Genuine likes and supportive comments, and targeted follows are the best way to do this. Not spammy comments, but genuine ones that show that you saw your target's image, read the caption, and have something interesting to say. For example, for my clients in the home decor industry, when I manage their account I will comment, "We love that blue color on the window treatments! So chic!"
- Be a real person. Your tone should be fun, relatable, and interesting, not overly formal. People want to look at Instagram for pretty photos and fun content, not unstyled inventory photos and robotic, impersonal sales copy. I encourage my clients to post a LIMITED number of "behind the scenes" photos - but not too many. Your target customers don't want to see five pictures a day of your kids or your lunch.
- Sign up for Instagram for Business. This won't HURT you - my organic engagement on my own Instagram is no higher than the organic engagement of my clients who use Instagram for business. It's great to see the analytics, but I will warn that they seem to jump around a lot with no discernible reason.
If this sounds a little overwhelming for you - don't worry. I'm available for limited Instagram marketing consultation sessions this fall. We can chat over coffee (if you're on Long Island or in NYC) or over Skype/the phone (if you're farther away). Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested!