Instagram’s gradual commercialisation has segregated users into two main camps: the businesses and the casual users, the latter are individuals that fluctuate between private and public accounts. In comparison, bloggers switch between public personal and business profiles (a couple of girls have switched back to personal after reading my first post in the Pay to Play series and reported an improvement – always interesting to see if a hypothesis has actual foothold, so yay!).
The recent announcement of the ‘Favourites’ feature, curated lists of friends that enables users to control who sees their posts, is one more step in towards full commercialisation of the photo-sharing platform. Now we all know that large followings don’t equate to high engagement and this follows in that pattern.
It’s not the algorithm, it’s you
For the last year I have heard ‘it’s the algorithm’s fault!’ time and time again. I’m here to say that no, actually it’s not.
This whole ‘drama’ was initiated by the algorithm but everything else after that, like the even steeper decline in engagement levels – that’s our fault. By finding loopholes like boosting likes by the hundreds or taking part in multiple engagement groups on the go, users are battling for a spot on the Explore page. They’re gaining followers semi-organically but they’re shooting themselves in the
foot in the long run. This is why: The algorithm doesn’t favour one girl over another because she’s wearing millennial pink and has a separate account for her cat. Instagram doesn’t hate you, its algorithm is learning from your behaviour to show you the kind of content it thinks that you like.
The most basic artificial intelligence takes form in algorithms that have the potential for machine learning. This is why the algorithm is adapting to its users’ patterns. If a ton of girls similar to your account can get 300 likes in five minutes, real or not, Instagram thinks that this is the standard. Therefore, everything else below that won’t make the cut. Thus your reach is stunted and hence your engagement sucks. Essentially, we as users are cannibalising our long-term success.
Think about it logically, companies don’t spend money to create a pseudo-smart algorithm to change it every month.
Instagram has bigger problems like pushing Snapchat out of the picture or maximising advertising potential on its platform. And how is it doing that? By putting aside the influencers, a tiny minority and looking after the majority of its accounts – the ‘normal’ people that post photos of their sleeping hamsters and mirror selfies of what they’re wearing to Las Vegas next week. In case you don’t believe me – first of all, did I mention the Favourites list? It’s yet another step to strengthening the user experience for casual accounts, on top of the ephemeral images and videos that can be sent directly to select people via Stories or DM. Instagram is simultaneously taking over Snapchat’s domain and encouraging more activity from its dormant users.
How can we as bloggers or ‘influencers’ rise above these changes that at best ignore us and at worst exclude? We should stop with the loopholes and be more collaborative. And don’t think you tick the box just because you’re part of a few engagement groups. These are not about camaraderie but boosting posts and I’m not condemning that practice because frankly, I don’t believe it’s had any effect on me. But I just don’t see a point in pretending that the first priority is anything other than promotion. This whole lets-hold-hands-and-be-friends thing doesn’t sound very enticing but this is the reality. If you are too competitive, you’ll lose out. Instagram is a community-building platform at its core after all.