The Instagram Algorithm Needs to Change

October 30, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Written for my Advertising & Promotion class

Over the past three months, Instagram creators, influencers, and users have noticed how the algorithm and the way the app is pushing out their content has changed for the negative.

    In the past, the Instagram algorithm was fairly simple. If you posted a picture or video, the app would send your post out to all your followers. Their feed would be in chronological order, seeing the most recent posts on top and older posts as they scroll. If your post was getting a ton of engagement, including likes, comments, shares, and saves, it would push out your post to thousands of people on the explore page and even more if you used a hashtag or location. This made it really easy to reach new audiences and gain followers.

    Now, when you post a picture or video, it is sent to 10% of your followers, typically your most active. If they engage with your post, Instagram pushes it out to another small group. If they engage, the post gets pushed out to another small group. If this group decides to not engage or engage less, Instagram stops pushing out your content or pushes it out less, leading you to receiving less likes and comments on your post. The problem doesn’t stop here. 

    People seeing your post have four options. Like, comment, share, and save. Saving a post is taken as the highest level of engagement, then sharing, then commenting, then likes. Basically, if that first 10% of people only like your post, they are engaging in the lowest way possible, telling the algorithm - “Okay, keep pushing out the post, but to less people in the next batch.” Let’s say that first 10% decides to like, comment, and some people save and share, that tells the algorithm- “People are loving it, push it out to even more people, but not the explore page just yet!” Liking it the easiest form of engaging. As you scroll through your feed, you are liking more posts than you are commenting, saving, and sharing all combined. Less engagement means your posts will not show up on the explore page, further down in hashtags and locations, and are barely reaching a new audience. On top of all of this, users feeds are no longer in chronological order. This means that your followers can see posts 12 hours after posting, even if they’ve been on the app five times since you posted, they just happen to be in a later batch of people that your content was being pushed out to. Due to this, creators, users, and business engagement has gone down a ton.

    Back in mid-august I noticed the change for myself. As a small creator shy of 1,700 followers, I average 300-400 likes per post and for a video I average 800 views. At the end of July I posted a picture that received 506 likes, one of my most like pictures to date. Just two weeks after, on August 7, my next post received 283 likes. The engagement started to go down from there. My photos are averaging at 250 likes, one even receiving a low 161 likes, while my videos were receiving 400-500 views. Even my story posts that would receive 700-800 views were only receiving 200-300 views. The odd thing was that I was not changing my content. I was keeping my aesthetically pleasing, colorful Instagram feed that consisted of pictures with friends, occasionally selfies, nature, and montage videos. Although I am not one to focus on likes and genuinely enjoy posting and sharing my life with others, it can be very frustrating as someone who wants to grow their platform and showcase my videos and photos with the world.

    Beauty influencer and YouTuber James Charles noticed the change as well. With over 23 million followers on Instagram, Charles’ top posts receive an average of 3-4 million likes per post. Around the end of August, his likes dropped to an average of 1.5 million per post. For a creator with over 23 million followers, something doesn’t add up. Charles, not one to focus on likes, expressed on his Instagram story how this change in the algorithm hurts both big and small creators, business, and everyday users. He explained that if a brand is looking to partner with an influencer, they are looking at the creator’s engagement. This means follower to like ratio, likes, and comments. If a brand sees a creator is getting 4 million likes per post, they are more likely to partner with that creator compared to one who receives 1 million per post. The brand is looking for the biggest reach opportunity. If a brand sees that Charles has 23 million followers, but only receives 1 million likes per post, that brand might assume he is buying his followers or that his followers are not interested in his content. Charles expressed his anger in that this change in the algorithm can cause him to lose out on business opportunities and sponsorships, which is how a lot of creator’s make their money.

     What angered Charles the most is how is change affects small creators and businesses. He understood what it was like to be a small creator and how hard it is grow a following, but this change does not make it any easier for people to grow their platform or business. 

    It is evident that this aggravates many people. Personally, I’ve seen many small creators, photographers, and businesses post about how this change in the algorithm is affecting them. As they are trying to grow, Instagram is only pulling them backwards. Whether this leads to less sales, less brand deals, or less interaction in general, it has such a negative impact to people who are working towards growing a social platform. Hopefully, Instagram will listen to its users concerns and work towards making the app a place for people to grow, connect with new audiences, and achieve their goals.



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