What Instagram’s New Algorithm Feed Means For You

What Instagram’s New Algorithm Feed Means For You

Earlier this week, Instagram announced that they would be replacing the current chronological feed with an algorithm that would order the posts based on your interests and relationships. The response? Instagram users were not happy. In fact, so many people are upset with the changes that there’s even a “Keep Instagram Chronological” petition that has received over 100,000 signatures.

But is it really going to be that bad? Well, the simple answer is: until the feed is live, no one really knows. But based on similar updates to Facebook and Twitter, we can speculate on the changes to come. Here’s what you need to know about the new Instagram feed and how it could affect your account. 

Taking a Cue From Twitter

When it was leaked last month that Twitter would be introducing a new algorithmic timeline, users revolted. #RIPTwitter started trending almost immediately, and founder and CEO Jack Dorsey was forced to quickly respond, noting that Twitter’s new timeline would be opt-in only. But today, Twitter quietly turned the new algorithmic timeline on for everyone. Users can still opt-out, and the timeline changes only amount to seeing “the best tweets first,” and as you scroll down, the timeline reverts back to real-time– a far cry from the death of Twitter everyone was afraid of. 

Sound familiar?

This week, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom stated that “on average, people miss about 70 percent of the posts in their Instagram feed.” In an interview with the New York Times, he explained that the new Instagram algorithm “is about making sure that the 30 percent you see is the best 30 percent possible.” Instagram’s blog post “See the Moments You Care About First” had a similar tone to Twitter’s “Never Miss Important Tweets from People You Follow,” with Instagram saying that the new feed was created “to improve your experience” and that “your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.”

So, why the switch? For Twitter, the switch to an algorithmic timeline resulted in more engagement. “People who use this new feature tend to Retweet and Tweet more, creating more live commentary and conversations, which is great for everyone,” they said. We can speculate that it’s the same for Instagram: more engaged users equals more time spent on the app and more people engaging with photos and videos. So what does that mean for you?

Instagram, The King of Engagement

Instagram’s new algorithmic feed could be a great thing for content creators: those who are making beautiful content that people are liking and commenting on would most likely benefit from the algorithm. But what about the average user who doesn’t receive hundreds of likes on a photo? The algorithm could make it more challenging to have their content shown.

This is especially worrisome for brands, who are concerned that this is the first step in the direction of a Facebook-like feed, where posts are shown to only about 2-3% of  a page’s followers and receive about a 0.2% average engagement rate.  Instagram, on the other hand, is beloved by marketers for it’s high engagement – over 25x that of Facebook. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 9.51.27 PM

As the feed stands now, brands and users have an even playing field on Instagram. If brands are doing a great job on Instagram, they’re rewarded with followers and engagement, and their posts aren’t penalized just because it’s branded content. Facebook, on the other hand, has become more of “pay to play” space, with businesses having to promote their posts in order for them to show up in the Facebook newsfeed. Because of this, many social media managers are worried that the new algorithm is a way to get them to spend money on Instagram ads instead.

While brands may worry about decreased views and engagement, there is the possibility that the algorithm feed will actually increase engagement for the majority of Instagram users. In fact, it probably will. Instagram has stated that they will be testing the new algorithm slowly, and it’s highly unlikely that they would roll out a major change like this if it didn’t result in a better, overall experience for Instagram users. 

Giving Up Control Over Your Feed

One of the main benefits of having a chronological feed is that the user has full control over their feed. They choose who to follow and unfollow, and can tailor their feed to their interests based on this. By switching to an algorithm feed, many users feel that they are losing control over the content that they want to consume. Even John Mayer had something to say on this: 

The balance between man and machine is a delicate one, and sometimes the content that is most special to Instagram users isn’t the content that’s popular. For example, I love my mom’s Instagram’s feed, I love seeing what she’s up to, and I think her Instagram captions are hilarious. But she only has 49 followers, and receives about 10 likes per photo, so would the new Instagram algorithm highlight her posts for me if I missed one? Or would they get buried beneath the photos with more likes? This is the concern that many users have, and like many things in life, giving up control can be scary, so it’s understandable that users are upset.

A Solution to the Noise

Once you get past giving up control of your feed to an algorithm, many benefits of the change emerge. Namely, that you really will see what matters most to you. When you open the app, instead of showing you posts from the last few minutes first, you will now see the most important posts since the last time you opened the app. This effectively cuts out the noise from following hundreds of accounts and prioritizes the best content. If you only have a few minutes to spend on Instagram per day, would you rather see what’s been posted the last few minutes, or the best of everything you missed?

When Facebook introduced the algorithm feed to users back in 2009, it too was met with discord (sense a pattern yet?). But the way we used Facebook in 2009 was very different than the way we use it in 2016, and we had less Facebook friends than we do now. Imagine if your Facebook feed today was chronological, and there was no algorithm to sort posts by your interest or friends. It would be a mess! You would see a lot of content that you don’t actually care about, from people that aren’t really your friends, and you would probably lose interest in Facebook altogether.

Looking forward, the same could be said for Instagram: as the app matures, more and more people are joining Instagram, and we are following more people than ever before. Because of this, a chronological Instagram feed just isn’t scalable: to cut through the noise, users would eventually begin unfollowing accounts in order to keep up with their feeds, which would result in less views and engagement on their posts. Introducing the algorithm now is a solution to keeping people interested in our Instagram accounts for the future.

Instagram's new algorithm feed could save your follower counts: Click To Tweet

In conclusion

Instagram users are upset with the changes because they are afraid of giving up control of their feeds and having Instagram turn into Facebook, where they don’t see every post. Users don’t want to wonder what they’re missing, and they want to make sure that other people are viewing their posts, too. However, expecting that Instagram’s new feed will suddenly be like Facebook’s is pre-mature (though not unfounded). As of now, all we know is that our Instagram feeds will be re-ordered based on our interests and relationships. In fact, Instagram even specifically says that “all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.”

Yes, it’s possible that Instagram could switch to a fully algorithmic timeline in the future. But that day is not today, and  for now, all we can do is wait and see what the new Instagram feed will look like. Who knows, we might even like it.

Learn what Instagram's new algorithm feed means for you: Click To Tweet

  • You rather patronisingly assume people “don’t want to wonder what they’re missing.” No, most users visit Instagram multiple times per day, scroll through their feed until they reach the last post from the previous time they visited, and then close the app. Rinse and repeat. They don’t miss anything with the old chronological feed. Most people are only following accounts they want to see the posts of so there is no noise. Isn’t that sort of the whole point of Instagram?

    I LIKE change but I don’t like having my choices taken away from me. Saying that, I can see why Instagram are doing this. It’s all about the £££ – it’s a free app so who are we to complain, really?

    Well if Instagram goes the same way Facebook did, a lot of people are just going to slowly move onto better things, apps designed to keep them happy.

    • Nate

      Good point Sophie!

    • ASG

      I concur with every word you have said. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      The point that people are missing anything in their feeds sounds like an excuse to move towards monetisation of Instagram posts through ads.

    • The Hamburgooner

      Strongly disagree here. You’re assuming everyone uses Instagram the same way you do. Many people aren’t that selective about who they follow, some are even “follow for follow”, and I’ve personally seen many different uses of Instagram, one of which is the one you mentioned (scroll through their feed until they reach the last post from the previous visit) but it’s not accurate at all to assume everyone else uses it that way.

      • SandraHvar

        I’m with Sophie, sorry.

        • The Hamburgooner

          Absolutely no need to apologize 🙂 Plus you’re only with her because you use Insta the same way she does and are therefore jumping to the same (false) generalizing conclusions as she did 😉

          • SandraHvar

            Looks like pretty much everyone commenting here is an idiot too and jumping to false generalizing conclusions. Ah what a thrill to be a lemming :-))

          • The Hamburgooner

            including you? Since you commented… hahaha I wouldn’t really call any one an idiot, Sandra, use your inside voice! 😉

          • You clearly cannot accept when someone else has a different opinion to you.

          • The Hamburgooner

            Why? I am disagreeing, which I have the full right to. And since she did the same thing you did, my opinion on her opinion is the same as my opinion on yours… I think your comment about not accepting when someone else has a different opinion actually applies to you – It’s called projection

      • I want to point out that the original post did exactly that too, assumed everyone uses Instagram the same way. My comment was to counterbalance that and show how people can use it differently. I didn’t mean to imply EVERYONE uses Instagram one particular way – I should have been clearer.

        I totally agree with what you’re saying: not everyone uses Instagram the same way. But Instagram is changing their feed to fit everyone in one box and force them to change the way they use it altogether for £££

    • taylorloren

      Hi Sophie! Thanks for your comment, good points 🙂

      Everyone uses Instagram differently – for example, I don’t have time in my day to scroll through Instagram until the last photo I saw, so I just kind of flip through during the time I do have. Some users – namely, the engaged, power users – use it the same way you do.

      That’s what hard about writing posts like these…we can’t really be conclusive, only Instagram knows 🙂

      • I totally agree – everyone uses Instagram differently. But your post wasn’t written like that and I stick by my comment that you patronised the audience that uses it by assuming they “don’t want to wonder what they’re missing.” I don’t miss anything in my feed because I scroll right through it and I’ve yet to meet many others who use it differently.

        I should have been clearer that I was trying to counterbalance the argument not show that everyone uses Instagram in the same way.

  • Sasuke Uchiha

    When i open instagram, i scroll down to the post i’ve seen last… I never miss anything.

    • taylorloren

      everyone uses it differently 🙂

      • SandraHvar

        According to the comments so far, most people seem to use it like Sophie and I.

        • The Hamburgooner

          It looks more 50-50 to me 😉

        • Maybe. But the statement that “everyone uses it differently” still applies. Most != all.

  • GeekishlyApropos

    The majority of Facebook users are still dissatisfied with their algorithm 7 years later. Sure, we haven’t stopped using FB, but we’re annoyed that not everything shows in chronological order (even with “most recent” selected). And thanks for the Twitter heads up, I’ve opted out of that.

    Yes, some people may prefer seeing what you think is most important to us and, yes, maybe your algorithm will work. But, maybe some of us check our social media feeds frequently enough that we don’t need someone else determining what we’ve missed because we’re not missing anything. If you really read the petition that 100,000+ of us signed, you’ll see that we’re not necessarily saying that it’s a bad idea, but that we want the option to opt out. You say you’ll listen to our feedback, but unless you actually take it into consideration and do something different than just force us to use your new algorithm, then what was the point of listening to us in the first place?

    On that note, I will say that some of us do have jobs that are social media based so maybe an algorithm that provides the most relevant content first could be handy, but that’s a pretty small percentage of us. While it could be handy during my 9-5, it still not something I want during my 5-9.

  • Jacq

    This is the most patronizing piece of writing I’ve read in a long time.

    I’m so put off.

    And since you won’t stop censoring female nipples, please make it fair and start flagging male nipples.

    • The Hamburgooner

      wtf? lol.

    • taylorloren

      Hi Jacq,

      Just to be clear, Instagram is the app that’s censoring content.

  • I am constantly resetting my Facebook News Feed from the default “Top Stories” to my preference, “Most Recent.” It’s REALLY annoying! Now, I get to do that on Twitter and Instagram too because some algorithm knows what it is I really like.

  • Catherine Johnson

    This is the first step toward locking down IG to monetize it, plain and simple. All the rest is just noise to keep IG users distracted and placated. This is not about a better experience for users; it’s about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. It was inevitable as soon as Facebook acquired IG. The next step will be omitting content in order to “ransom” it. Look at all that engagement on the above graph that they’re not getting paid for!

  • Fitletes

    does this mean that just like facebook the more I seem to engage with one person,their content will miraculously start showing up all the time and push the other people I just so happen to not have recent engagement with to the ” back of the line”. this has happened to me quite a bit on my personal profile. A random friend of mine posts a few things one day that I physically like ad then for the next few weeks I see their stuff automatically taking over my feed and other people seem to disappear completely until I seek them out manually to see what has been going on.

    • taylorloren

      Not sure! We’ll have to wait and see I guess 🙂

  • Thanks for explaining how this may and may not affect everyone. I’m sort of torn, because I do get pretty good interaction relative to my number of followers, but maybe I will get more? I think a better option that would make everyone happy, would be to have two streams of content: one for chronological, and one based on the new algorithm. Then you could opt in and out as you please all day long and possibly see more content than before altogether.

    • taylorloren

      I like that idea!! Another one I’ve heard is to have maybe the first 10 photos be algorithm, and after that chronological. Who knows what it will look like!

      • Thanks! Yes, 10 photos by algorithm would be fine for me as a viewer. Even 20 or so would probably be fine for most people as long as there is the light at the end of the tunnel of chronological! 😉

    • I think a better option that would make everyone happy, would be to have two streams of content: one for chronological, and one based on the new algorithm.

      Which one should be the default? Algorithm or chronological? Most people tend not to change the default settings in an application. The choice of default has consequences for determining which one is successful.

  • This is a bit presumptuous. I hate the way Facebook presents posts and that’s why I don’t use it. I do prefer to see the latest tweets over whatever an app thinks it’s relevant to me, especially based on other relevance-algorithm-based things they do and how far off the mark they fall, like sponsored posts and Twitter’s frankly insulting suggested users section. It has no fucking clue what I’m actually about.

    • taylorloren

      Hi Liz,

      The post is definitely presumptuous, no one really knows anything except Instagram. Something I said in the beginning of the post 🙂

  • Joshua Martinez

    It’s simple. Instagram has see. How much money is being made by sponsored ads and want all the money for themselves. They believe everyone wants to know what pop stars movie stars are doing 24 hrs a day and we all don’t. They want the small shops and big corps to buy their stock photos rather than team up with users that create great content and have unique followers to that niche. Instagram already started to play with the agorythm last year by changing which posts you see and because of that you have missed a lot of the posts from people you follow. Now they use the “missing posts” as an excuse so you can see those that they think you care about most, but it will only be huge accounts and/or celebrities and of course their own ads. They should at least give an option to turn or or off this “change”. A large amount of users are on it for a community based app for networking or may I dare say Social Networking! That will die with this new change. My two cents.

  • The Hamburgooner

    Thx! And funny use of the emoji 😀 To be clear, my comment was directed at Sophie. Thanks a lot for the article by the way, will make sure to discuss this news with my team in our meeting this week!

  • Tori Tait

    On a personal note, I welcome the change because I want to see content from those I engage with most (vs having to manually search for it). From the point of view of a Marketing professional and brand, I also welcome the change. If I can post engaging content that my followers are engaging with, then I deserve to be “top of feed.” I think it will only push brands, bloggers, and businesses to up their strategy on Instagram (which is a good thing all around).

    • taylorloren

      Great points Tori! 🙂

      • Tori Tait

        Thanks Taylor!

    • Agreed! No more instant — no pun intended — easy successes.

  • Mandy

    I always look at my facebook chronologically rather than by top posts. Not everything shows up but I prefer it in order.

  • taylorloren

    Sorry you feel like that! Let me know if you have any feedback for me 🙂

  • I just hope we have the option to choose “most recent” as we do on Facebook. Livable as long as it doesn’t go down the same pathway as Facebook Pages did.

    • Tori Tait

      Interesting idea. I’d also LOVE if we can have lists on Instagram like on Twitter. I would love to make one for family, brands, peers, etc.

  • Steph

    I’m surprised by some of the aggressive comments on here. Thanks for starting a great discussion on the changes to Instagram Taylor! As the founder of a start up I’m interested to see how this plays out for people managing accounts that are still in their infancy. I agree with Tori Tait below, that it just means creators of content will need to up their game. I do hope however that this won’t push out smaller players that don’t have the marketing dollars for paid adverts. As a user, I’m actually excited to have the more interesting posts appear first, as I really don’t want to spend time trawling through less relevant posts. All food for thought.

    • SandraHvar

      Great idea to avoid “less relevant posts:” do as I do, and only follow people/animals/businesses you are really, REALLY interested in.

  • Susan Kim

    For me it means that i’ll have to put more efforts in promotion via third-party tools. Since facebook ad is available on Instagram, i’ve been using Zengram to expand my reach, cause i can’t compete organically with those who pay for the official ads. But now i think i’ll have to have it running 24/7. It is not bad, this service leverages the engagement pretty well, but still, i’m trying to be as natural as possible.

  • I hardly peek at my Instagram feed in any given day, then again, I don’t even look at my Facebook or Twitter feeds as much as I used to. Slickdeals and reddit have gotten my attention lately.

  • disqus_kCMUyurU8Z

    There was some good information in this post but it was packaged in a way that felt very patronizing. It felt like an opinion piece masquerading as an informational post, which in this case resulted in anyone with concerns looking petty and unwilling to “give up control.” There’s nothing wrong with the author having and expressing an opinion about how this algorithm change is going to go down, but blending it with an informative post feels misleading and dismissive.

  • Top stories chosen for me by Facebook aren’t really interesting and I’m missing the updates from pages I would genuinely like to see content from. I stopped going through my Facebook feed as I used to before. HOW can a software know better what I’m more into? It’s a pity this is happening to Instagram as well. I loved this platform.

    • HOW can a software know better what I’m more into?

      I’ll assume from your statement that you are not a data scientist. A system can be built that **learns** your specific habits — we all follow a set of patterns even when we think we don’t — well enough to make reasonably accurate predictions on your actions.

  • Amber Thomas

    Thank you!

  • Jigzaw

    Here’s my reaction to this change, however: I’ll be unfollowing all businesses and celebrities so that this new algorithm doesn’t go favoring them over my friends. I’ll be whittling my follow list down to only people I actually know and who’s posts are most important to me. No more casual following.

  • Instead of hand wringing over the change I have stepped up my efforts to make my Instagram feed more enjoyable and relevant. I have worked on making sure I only share my best images and use relevant hash tags. I followup on every moment left on my feed. I look to see who has like my images and review their profile and feed to find images that I like. I always leave a comment with each like. I’m doing what I can to engage with the community.

    When you open the app, instead of showing you posts from the last few minutes first, you will now see the most important posts since the last time you opened the app.

    The question I have is how will the algorithm determine what’s important to me?

  • @taylorloren:disqus Thanks for the link. This is all I needed to know.

    The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.

    I think regular Instagram users will be OK with the change, @toritait:disqus

  • bladelores

    Im in New Zealand and they rolled out the algorithm a couple of months ago here. I have found I use Instagram far less since. I never had big amounts of likes, about 20 per post on average, they are just photos of my life, nothing spammed and not terrible photos, no over posting and the same content before the algorithm, but the likes have gone to the point where I have given up posting. It very well could become an environment of brands branding to other brands with no consumers left on there.