Staying Ahead of the (Instagram) Curve

Just when you thought you’d mastered social posting, Instagram takes two steps ahead while you’re stuck one step back. Between the ever-evolving algorithm and the impending extinction of likes, the future of influencer marketing is more important than ever to strategize. We’re diving into the latest changes to bring you up to speed on what you need to know as we head into Q1 planning.

Demystifying the Algorithm

Confusion. Frustration. Illusion. For months, we’ve all wondered how Instagram’s elusive algorithm operates and, more importantly, how to successfully navigate it. Despite constant shifts to the system, what we’ve gathered since the retirement of the chronological timeline is that the higher the engagement on a post, the higher it ranks in the feed of your audience. According to online marketing platform Later, where a piece of content falls is the direct result of analytics blended with a user’s past behavior based on similar content. The more engagement your content acquires, the higher you’ll rank on the algorithm’s scoreboard.

An Instagram official shared with Business Insider that there are a total of seven factors impacting the algorithm we know and loathe:

  1. Your Engagement Rate: A combination of likes, comments, shares, views, etc. that your content has organically earned.
  2. How Long People View Your Post: Lingering eyes with the help of longer captions (hello micro-blogging) can help increase your engagement.
  3. Relationship Between You & Creator: If you regularly engage with an account, you’ll see more of their content within your feed.
  4. What Time You Post: Posting when a majority of your followers are active online will give you a better shot at increasing user engagement.
  5. Content Genre: If there’s a specific topic you post and engage with often, you’ll see more of it in within your feed.
  6. Account Searches: Suddenly seeing posts from an account you recently viewed? You’ll see more of what you’ve searched for, plain and simple.
  7. Direct Sharing Posts: If people are sharing your posts to one another via DM, that’s considered a significant uptick in engagement.

Rest in Peace, Red Heart

It’s no secret likes are fading into the abyss of irrelevance, ever since Instagram began testing the hiding of likes last spring. Now with testing expanded to Canada, Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand—it’s only a matter of time before the heart button within the United States gets hit with an “out of order” sign.

“We want people to be less interested in how many likes a post gets, and focus more on connecting with other people,” Mark Zuckerberg shared while addressing the shift in Instagram’s focus towards authenticity.

To avoid numerical competition over creative expression, Instagram is giving users a (not so subtle) push towards authentic sharing. With monetary motivation driving a large number of the platform’s users, content creators are now left wondering if these changes will have significant implications on the future of influencer marketing.

With the current engagement equation of (Like + Comments)/Followers x 100 to measure ROI no longer applicable, brands and agencies will need to shift focus to direct communication with their chosen influencers to report the success of their marketing partnerships.

“The removal of visible likes is by no means a threat to the influencer marketing world, but rather an opportunity to shift how we see success in the digital age,” said Ali Grant, founder of Be Social Group for Fast Company.

Your Saving Grace

So, is social marketing as we know it six feet under? Don’t send your condolences quite yet. Because you can’t keep social enthusiasts down for long, they’ve already discovered the next clout currency—saves.

Instagram saves first appeared in 2016 as a way to collect and curate your favorite posts into a private library. With the impending phase-out of likes, saves have risen to sudden importance as a private success metric. According to Later, saves are also a key signal for how the Instagram algorithm works. Since saves indicate a quality piece of content, highly-saved posts present to a wider audience—thus, increasing engagement rates.

So what makes a post more “savable” than the rest? While a creative eye always helps, crafting content that tells a story, sparks inspiration or shares a tutorial can increase the amount of returning readers. The concept of “micro-blogging” with captions that are a few paragraphs in length opposed to only a clever line or two help increase the amount of time spent viewing your post.

Looking Ahead

Much like a fierce game of chess, it’s hard to predict the algorithm’s next move. When it comes to the changing landscape of social media marketing, it’s time to take a page out of Instagram’s playbook and shift towards finding ways to incorporate your brand’s mission into authentic content that tells a story.

When strategizing for our client’s feeds, we’re asking questions in captions, replying to comments and producing content worth saving. Instead of clogging the inboxes of well-known accounts, we’re combing through UGC to discover authentic voices with existing connections to our clients’ products. A passionate creator with an authentic audience is a more rewarding partnership than a larger yet disconnected creator.

Challenge yourself to strategize proactively and create authentically. We’ll see what new engagement trends and challenges are awaiting us in the new year.

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