Implications for Organic Reach as Instagram Unveils New Features
Instagram has expanded its attempts to bring users closer to relevant content recently by introducing two new features to the platform.
First, Instagrammers can now follow hashtags the same way they would follow individuals. Second, each user has their own algorithm-driven Recommended For You section, which will show posts liked by their friends.
For marketers, these extra features will have an interesting array of effects both positive and negative. If you’re a brand, a publisher, or an influencer, you’re going to want to pay attention to the implications of this development on your organic reach.
Here’s how things are going to change for Instagram.
Clutter Will Increase
Instagram said the new changes will not impact where paid ads will appear within user feeds, so posts backed by a paid Instagram strategy are unlikely to be affected.
Organic advertising content, however, will find itself buried under a mountain of posts tailored to the users' interests. Since 2016, when Instagram switched from a chronological algorithm to one that accomplished such tailoring, brands have had more user-generated content to compete against.
The hashtag-following tool will follow the 2016 curated post algorithm, determining which posts to show the user in their feed based on the recency and quality of the posts. If a user follows a certain hashtag, say #beauty, there is no limit on how many beauty-related posts will appear in a user’s feed.
The “Recommended for You” section will include 3-5 posts, and it will only appear after a user has viewed all of their new posts. This means that users who spend more time on the app will see this section more frequently, as their feed refreshes.
A benefit of the new feature is enhanced discoverability.
Despite the fact that organic advertising posts are more likely to be buried, marketers have high hopes that sponsored posts will find their way into the “Recommended for You” section. “ If Instagram follows Facebook,” said Samantha Skey, President and Chief Revenue Officer at SheKnows Media, “I imagine we’ll see plenty of sponsored posts, which could make for strong advertising as it captures a trusted referral.” At the moment, however, Instagram said it has no plans to place sponsored posts in the “Recommended for You” section.
Now that users can follow hashtags, brands can seize the opportunity to capitalize on emergent conversations. For instance, on Dec. 15, Target used #StarWars in a post to appear next to other posts that reference the opening of “The Last Jedi” movie. Now if a user follows #StarWars, they might see Target’s post in his or her feed.
Letting users follow hashtags is also a benefit for influencers. Those who express their personal brand with a consistent hashtag have a better chance of being seen by interested users, and newer influencers will appear alongside more established ones in the hashtag feed.
The ability to follow hashtags might lead to a strong temptation for marketers, who can take advantage of the tool without the need for large follower counts or paying for posts.
Brands are likely to begin adding more hashtags to their Instagram Stories and their standard posts, which could lead to cases of hashtag spamming.
Users can only hope that as marketers look to add hashtags to their overall strategy, they also consider which ones are relevant and can add something meaningful to the conversation. Brands will find out soon enough that throwing a lot of random hashtags onto a post will cause immediate distrust amongst their target consumer.
Allie Arends, social media engagement supervisor at Space150, said brands and influencers will have to start strategizing about their organic Instagram content almost like they would an SEO strategy. “The image, copy and especially hashtag usages should serve a specific strategic purpose to maximize organic reach,” she said.
In the future, Instagram may decide to enact another algorithm that prioritizes which posts get featured for a specific hashtag that is being followed. No matter how well marketers choose their hashtags, this could sink their content even further to the bottom of a user’s feed.
Regardless, brands are looking forward to learning which hashtags their demographic chooses to follow. The new features may have some negative side effects, but watching the trends carefully will give marketers insight into how to create more attractive, engaging content.
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