Is Instagram's Free Ride Coming To An End?

It was aways going to be a pay-to-play channel, wasn't it? Facebook changed from a time-driven timeline to an algorithm that was eventually tweaked to dial down organic reach.

Now, social media agencies are wondering if the same is on the cards for Instagram. Some claim it is already happening.

The concerns raised this week remind me of the fevered anguish every time Google has tweaked its search algorithm. Chat rooms and forums fill with media executives wondering aloud whether it's just them seeing unusual results.

There are, apparently, a lot of social media marketing executives out there currently wondering why some posts are dying an invisible death away from the oxygen of free, organic exposure to audiences.

For now, Instagram is saying it hasn't altered anything -- it's business as usual. Whether this means that no major tweak has officially happened by little bits of tinkering going on is anyone's guess. 

What is almost certainly the case is that Instagram is becoming a tougher place to achieve mass organic reach. From what social media execs are saying, it seems that posts have to get a lot of early traction to get wide exposure to users' feeds.

There is also a lot of chatter that making posts shoppable has led to a more crowded market place, as have IGTV, Instagram's answer to YouTube.

It is probably not a coincidence that these concerns have risen to the surface at a time when Instagram has empowered brands to boost influencer posts. We now have shoppable posts and "brand-boostable" influencer campaigns, and that means timelines will become crowded with paid-for posts. 

It is all very similar to what has happened with Facebook over the past couple of years. People got angry, but then ultimately accepted that as with any media channel, advertising is always the guaranteed way of getting exposure.

So, if posts need early traction, how are you going to get it? Chances are that more people are going to be tempted to boost. If you want to get particular audiences that you're not quite hitting in enough numbers organically, the answer, again, will increasingly be to pay.

Brands may choose to boost their own posts or influencers, or most likely, a combination of the two.

What is almost certain is that as with Facebook, Instagram is approaching the end of its golden era where marketers could expect wide reach for free. Just as with Facebook, new ways of paying to engage with users are being investigated which can only take the site in one direction.

Like a drug dealer that has got marketers hooked on the pictorial equivalent of catnip, the free "hits" aren't going to be taken away altogether but if you want the good stuff, it's time to release some budget. 

2 comments about "Is Instagram's Free Ride Coming To An End?".
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  1. Rachael Herman from Your Imprint, LLC, June 11, 2019 at 2:17 p.m.

    I attended a webinar that addressed the changes.  Here's what I learned:  

    1. Newsfeed content changing to more personal engagements. 

    2. FB and IG removing low-quality posts from the hashtag and explore pages.

    3. IG is testing removing LIKES from posts.  You'll see them as admins, but users will not see them. 

    4. The algorithm prioritize content based on what they think users want to see.  Their reason for this"On average, people miss about 70% of the posts in their IG feed.  What this is about is making sure the 30% you see is the best 30% possible."

    5. FB groups,here's what FB had to say:  "Starting in the coming weeks, when reviewing a group to decide whether or not to take it down, we will look at admin and moderator content violations in that group, including member posts they have approved, as a stronger signal that the group violates our standards." 

    6. testing combining posts and stories; So far, this has shown a 23% reduction in organic reach.

    7. Organic posts are seen by people going directly to your page.  

    8. click-gap data - business pages with poor clicking metrics are deprioritized. If you get 100 visits to your website and 98 of them are from FB, this is considered disproportionate and will lead to a lower quality page.

    9. If you're getting negative feedback or people are hiding your posts, will label your page low quality.

    10. Mark Zuckerberg made a public admission to the reduced organic reach.  "As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like organic posts from businesses, brands, and media.  And the public content you do see will be held to the same standard to encourage meaningful interactions.  Pages creating posts that people generally don't interact or comment on will see the biggest decreases in reach."

    11. Reactions are more valued than a like

    12. If you're not replying to comments, FB and IG will deem you "unengaged" and start deprioritizing your page and posts

    13. Facebook and IG do not like ORGANIC posts that try to sell, have strong calls to action, or promote something.  

    14. Linking off the platform or asking people to leave the platform will result in a de-prioritized post.

    15. Organic reach is at 1.6-2% max (down from about 20% average in 2014)

    16. Boosting posts; There is very low conversion value because it doesn't target users.  It just shotguns your post out there to anyone who is online.  

    why not just give up? 
    According to G/O Digital's June study, 60% of consumers visit your pages; 80% of consumers purchase if they see a credible social presence; and 62% say FB (and probably IG) is the most important and usual channels to research a business.  

  2. Sean Hargrave from Sean Hargrave replied, June 12, 2019 at 5 a.m.

    Thanks, that's really helpful. I guess Instagram has the same issue as FB of far too many people wanting to get in each timeline and it makes sense to rank on quality and engagement. I can't help but think this ultimately still paves the way for Instagram to follow the FB example of encouraging wider reach through advertising. It's always been the case but with organic reach potentially harder to obtain, it's going to increase reliance on advertising, particularly boosting influencer posts. That's my prediction, for what it's worth!

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