Instagram's News Feed Is Changing, but Don't Turn On Notifications

You may have seen an absurd amount of Turn on Post Notification photos recently, and this is why:

Instagram is changing its news feed from chronological to algorithmic.

What does that mean exactly? Since its creation, when you fired up the Instagram app you would immediately see the most recent photo posted by one of your followers. Scroll downward and every photo posted by people you follow would appear in the order it was posted, reverse-chronologically. So if you scrolled far enough, you would eventually reach the last photo you saw on your previous session.

In the coming weeks Instagram will change this behavior to match that of Facebook, where using formulas, keywords, and your own browsing history, the social network will decide which photos appear at the "top" of your news feed.

Like Facebook, it will be a combination of whose posts you most often share, like, or comment, what posts are getting the most activity right now, and the post's content. For instance, you may notice on Facebook that you never miss a friend's engagement announcement, graduation, wedding photo, or new baby picture. That's because Facebook "knows" what kind of posts most people want to see. Think about how many of the top posts in your news feed have comments like:

Congrats!

So happy for you!

Or We'll miss you!

It remains to be seen if users will have a say in the matter. Twitter recently flipped the switch on an "algorithm based timeline," but left the option for users to turn it off. Facebook has no such preference, and since they own Instagram (known for its simplicity as a social network), I doubt it will have a preference either.

 
Twitter's "Timeline Personalization" 

Twitter's "Timeline Personalization" 

 

Facebook does allow you to "Hide" people or "Prioritize" their posts in your News Feed, and in my experience it works fairly well. I've prioritized family members and close friends, but you're still not immune from the new job announcement post from a distant high school acquaintance.

 
Tap the "Following" button on a person's profile.

Tap the "Following" button on a person's profile.

 

Why is Instagram making this change? Top priority is monetization. Surely you have seen a stark increase in Sponsored Instagram posts lately, and rightly so. It's one of the few growing social networks, and one with an active user base. But in order to show you more ads, Instagram needs to make sure you see the photos you really enjoy seeing.

Business wise, it's a good decision. Instagram needs to be profitable, and advertising is the only way that's going to happen. Charge even a $1 for the service or the app and users will jump ship. But from the user perspective, it feels dirty.

It feels like a bait-and-switch because for years, we've all been enjoying each other's photos ad-free and uninterrupted.

To be fair, that feeling goes for all three of the big networks: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. All three started out simple, free, and without ads. Not a sustainable business model, but the best way to gain a large user base quickly. We all have a base level distaste for Facebook and other social media, but we keep using it because it has become the default way we share our lives and communicate with each other. For better or worse.

From a business using social media for promotion perspective, it hits even harder. In the beginning, your business Facebook Page, Twitter, and Instagram account had the same "view-ability" as personal profiles. Your product, service, and message were given equal "air time" as every other post. That is no longer the case.

Manage a Facebook Business Page for one week and you'll know that if you want real access to the people who "follow you," you'll have to pay. But in order for the social network business model to work, it can't give you equal access. You are their revenue stream. You need to be motivated to "boost posts" or start an Instagram ad campaign. The era of free advertising on social media is over.

So should we all jump ship? I don't think so (and more importantly I don't think we will). Facebook has run on its algorithmic timeline for years, and it's still #1 in active users and traffic. Just look at any website's referrals, you'll see Facebook at the top of the list.

I also believe from a marketing perspective, spending dollars on social media ads is one of the best investments you can make. Billboards are expensive, paper ads and mailers are losing effectiveness, but social ads are cheap and allow freakishly specific targeting. They also provide amazing demographics about who viewed your ad, who clicked, and more.

Social media started as a fun pass time and a way to send photos to relatives, but has grown into a legitimate, global business. (Who would have thought that Facebook and Twitter would be publicly traded). That transition feels like a betrayal, but it's just business.

So should you spam your Instagram followers into "turning on post notifications"? No. A day with more than 20 notifications from various accounts and people will just turn off notifications entirely. Your friends and family will still see pictures of your kids, don't worry.

If you own a business, make stuff, or market yourself on the Internet, it's time to suck it up and pay for advertising. Social media is no longer the free pipe to your prospective clients, but it may be the one of the best.