What's up with the Instagram algorithm by Helen Perry @notaboutthekids

What’s up with Instagram engagement, and can we blame the algorithm?

My usual position on the Instagram algorithm is – no comment. There’s not a lot of point in talking about something you don’t fully understand, much less have any control over. And I really can’t stand posts that suggest they do get it and can help you beat it. This is not one of those. However, something seems to be happening that’s worth considering. Diving back into Instagram last weekend after a few days away, I found post after post about a sudden change on the platform – and how it was destroying people’s engagement and morale. So what’s up with the algorithm this time?

What is the Instagram algorithm?

al.go.rithm a step by step way of solving a problem, especially by a computer

The Instagram algorithm was introduced in 2016, to overcome the ‘problem’ of Insta overcrowding; the risk that you might miss out on the best posts from the people that you like the most. It organises your feed based on what it decides you want to see (who you interact with most often, have the most shared connections with, how recently a photo was posted etc).

People love to hate it. They accuse it of hiding their posts from followers and of not showing them the accounts they love. The suspicion is that we are being manipulated by it, to encourage us to pay for sponsored posts.

Everything’s changing

So there are always murmurings about how the algorithm is working against us (and Instagram’s PR strategy is much like the Queen of England’s; never complain, never explain). But now the grumbling noises seemed to have turned into something a little more loud and clear.

Instagram users and ad agencies have raised concerns about a sudden decline in reach (the number of individual accounts that see each of your posts – here, read this about understanding your analytics).

Click on this piece in Digital Information World to see how it’s being reported.

Is organic reach suddenly being strangled?

For what it’s worth

This is my experience on Instagram in the past few weeks. Yes, I have noticed a dip in engagement on my posts, and certainly yes, engagement is falling away sooner rather than later (within 3-4 hours of posting). But, I would have to admit that I’ve been less able to spend time on the app because of all the things. That always affects engagement and the quality and consistency of my posts. It’s also true that I’ve had some solid engagement too, on the main feed and Stories, even if it’s not what it once was.

Risky business

Are we right to get frustrated if Instagram doesn’t play how we’d like it to? After all, many people rely on the platform for a living, not just influencers, big and small businesses too. Not according to blogger and businesses owner Antonia Sanchez-Toomey, the founder of online lifestyle brand Tinker Tailor, she says –

Instagram doesn’t owe anyone a living. It’s a completely free to use platform, and the fact that we can advertise our businesses and events – and make a few quid or get the odd gift – is a bonus. No other form of marketing is free like this, so we don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about the algorithm. I’m not on a crusade to defend Instagram, but I think we’ve lost sight of how businesses actually work.

Read this great, honest, piece Antonia wrote for her blog about how to use Instagram and stay sane.

The Facebook example

Facebook owns Instagram – so it’s not a bad place to look if you want to predict how Instagram might function in a few years.

I set up a brand new Facebook page in 2019 (for our events side hustle Elevate come and follow us) and discovered – Facebook isn’t really free for businesses any more. Unless a post receives significant engagement (shares) it is pushed out to very, very few people. Seriously – like 11 people.

So if we have something important to say or sell – we pay to promote the post. The entry point cost wise is very low, and we accept it because it’s never been any different on that account.

Read more evidence in The Guardian of a decline in trust and engagement on Facebook in the past year.

It’s not about you

The algorithm is not the whole story. Actually, it’s become a kind of a catch-all term for Insta problems. So consider this.

Noise. Instagram is an increasingly saturated platform. It is only getting harder to get your work seen, due to the sheer weight of traffic.

Stories. All kinds of experts have predicted that this will be the year when Stories will overtake the feed as the primary way of sharing on Instagram (and even Facebook). If users are spending more and more time there, then they are on the main feed less.

And life. Perhaps we are spending less time on our phones? It’s certainly something I am more conscious of in 2019 (click for my social mental health check)? Perhaps the sun has come out and we are spending more time doing things we love with the people we love?

So what to do

If you are bothered about the Instagram algorithm and declining engagement (and feel free not to be) – it’s generally accepted that more frequent posting, and live posting (not scheduled) will help. You can experiment with a different approach to when and what you post. Then there’s the tactic we often overlook – engaging with other people’s content more – which can really help with an uplift.

Still fed up? Put your eggs in some more baskets. I’m working on more newsletters (sign up to mine in the subscribe box – it’s great ;)) and learning about LinkedIn.

Otherwise, I suggest a glass of rose in the garden. This is the season of lower engagement, when (hopefully) good weather tears us away for our phones. What will you be opting for?

Click here for my free downloadable Instagram resources – there to make your content great.

What's your View?

8 comments on “What’s up with Instagram engagement, and can we blame the algorithm?

  1. Sarah❤️ on

    I’m totally with you on this ! Instagram is a free platform 😃 and doesn’t owe anybody, anything, as it’s free ! 😉 so without being rude ‘stop whinging people’ get on with your business and what will be will be 😘🙌🙌🙌

  2. Helen on

    Hello Sarah – thanks for reading – I’m glad that some of it resonated with you. It’s a tough one, I don’t envy people who have a business built around Instagram when things appear to keep changing all the time. It’s a big challenge to stay ahead of the game. H

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