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Late in the summer of 2016 was the big algorithm change on Instagram that set fire to the fury of many of the app’s dedicated users. Since then that frustration hasn’t died down, if anything it’s just gotten stronger. Whilst I have had my fair share of heated opinions towards it, ultimately I don’t think that there’s any point in demonising the very platform that many of us use either for fun or to create opportunities for ourselves. This post, whilst sympathetic, tries to identify why our Instagram likes are down and engagement is so low in a constructive way. These are my personal thoughts that I’ve tried to back up with research but at the end of the day, it’s just speculation and analysis based on examples. Yes, low engagement sucks but the new order of things is not going anywhere and it’s time that we either roll over and accept it or we find a way around to work with it.
Before the algorithm kicked in and knocked our Instagram engagement levels down, a report had shown that likes had decreased by a little over 30% in 2015. Although the picture-sharing app is for everyone, less activity means less advertising value. Something valuable that someone told me is that when something is free (the app), you’re the product.
There may be other reasons why Instagram decided it was time for a big change but for my hypothesis, this is the premise I’m running with. So cue the big update that has us all making a huge fuss. By prioritising the most ‘engaged’ content on our feed, Instagram is hoping to push out the most popular pictures and videos because it naturally deserves to be seen. Okay, simple enough – it still doesn’t explain our low engagement but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Around the end of the summer in 2016, let’s say September/ early October, users in the UK started to feel the effects, particularly when the ‘business profiles’ connected to our Facebook pages were rolled out. What is most telling about this update is the overarching call to action that these pay-to-play posts show. Even as a fashion blogger, there aren’t many things that we can ask our audiences to do, except maybe like, comment or visit our website. But with nothing to ‘sell’ what use is there for paying for these sponsored posts? Especially when strangers instead of our valued audience see these paid posts. Not to mention that the comments and likes of these adverts are separate to what we accumulate on our page.
The real target of this are the brands on Instagram looking for exposure. Now let’s take a step back to these business profiles that we were prompted to switch to and the analytics that Insights provides. Reach, impressions and engagement – these are terms that serious Instagrammers welcome but what it means is that we are now businesses in the eyes of the platform. For some of us, this is an accurate description – we sometimes see our social media accounts as our individual brands. However, the problem truly arises while I was using the business profile and its Insights, and I found that my engagement felt a little… off.
And that’s when I realised that this glass ceiling was a subtle push to pay-to-play. Instagram identified my account as a business (because I let it, duh) and wanted me to part with cash to promote my content. So that’s when I switched back to a personal account and let the healing begin. And heal it did.
After a month or so my engagement was back to ‘normal’ (everyone has a different percentage and it varies depending on where you’re based), which for me is around 7% of my following. Previously, I had written about how this wasn’t the ‘right’ way to judge how well your engagement is doing but without the Insights that I felt had held me back,this was the only measurement I had. Now let me take you to Singapore, where I spent December and January of 2016 in the sunshine but mostly thunderstorms thanks to the monsoon season. I started working on newer content and a more organised feed, aka I started caring about colour palettes lol.
It was when I was in Asia that I hit my first 1k in likes and then consistently kept my Instagram likes high, with outfit pictures hitting around an 8% engagement rate. Life was good and this was all making sense, right? I mean I up my content output and quality, I finally hit that coveted five-figure follower number and my likes climb with it. This is how it should be, isn’t it?
In February, I flew to the UK and within a week of being back home my likes dropped dramatically. My first conclusion was ‘Instagram is location biased’. My second thought was ‘why?’ but it didn’t take me long to work that out.
Instagram users in Asia and the USA are more active, larger in number and also more receptive to mobile commerce and interacting with digital content. It’s exactly what any social media platform with monetisation options would want. I even wrote about it in two previous posts, one about setting a realistic expectation of Instagram engagement and the other specifically about Asia being more receptive to online content. The UK, even compared to its neighbours in Europe, is very low in all of these categories. If Instagram really made these algorithm changes that we love sooo much for commercial benefit, placing emphasis on content posted in advertising-friendly locations makes perfect sense.
Remember that weird glitch when celebrities and big meme accounts were using Singapore as a geo-tag because it gave them more exposure on the app? That was a big clue right there.
Shot by Yip, @iso195
Two Sisters ‘Annabelle’ dress from Moxie.store
House Thirteen bracelet stack
TO BE CONTINUED…
PART II OF PAY TO PLAY: WHY INSTAGRAM ENGAGEMENT IS SO LOW