The popularity contest that is Instagram just got even more high school cafeteria cliquish. Last week, an update, that bubbles the images it thinks you want to see up above the images presented in chronological order, started rolling out. If you haven't noticed the change, that's because Instagram is currently testing the function in small groups. We reached out to Instagram, who informed us "that there are still weeks, or even months, of testing to come before Instagram rolls this out broadly. Currently, the test groups are very small, and we will let the community know before any official changes are made." What the eventual algorithm change means, however, is that Instagram will function more like Facebook, and, therefore, highlight the posts that have more interaction—aka the popular ones.
In a blog post from March 15, 2016, Instagram explained that most users miss 70-percent of their feed. “This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most,” it wrote. (Am I the only one who stays up past his bedtime scrolling through my feed, double-tapping until I get to the last image I remember from my last scroll?) The new IG order is “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post.”
What this means is that you need an active network, that is invested in your content, for your photos to be seen. You’ll also be seeing more straight-up branded content. Part of this play is to monetize Instagram’s feed the way Facebook has done. Brands will now be able to pay Instagram for top shelf placement on your screen. This will push you and your friends’ posts beneath the more popular ones. As of now, there isn’t a way to opt out of the update, but there are ways to ensure your filtered selfie gets seen and that virtual validation is delivered.
The easiest way would be to “Turn on post notifications.” By tapping the three dots in the top-right corner of a photo, you’ll add that user to a list, and get alerts when the said person posts a photo. Of course, this means more notifications and phone vibrations, which no one really wants. The other option is to play Instagram’s game and brand the crap out of yourself: Master the “I just stepped in gum” fashion blogger pose; find a color palette and stick with it; invest in photo editing apps; hire an Insta-assistant; sell your soul to the Devil.
Essentially, you have to get to understand what your audience responds to. Photographer Jasmine Star wrote a blog post outlining a possible way to go about it. Test the times you post and what types of photos you’re posting. Which photo gets more likes and comments: the muted selfie or the #TapForCredits #OOTD? If the latter underperformed, what lessons from the muted selfie can you apply to your other posts? Your Instagram future now rests on your brand and social media worth. That’s not encouraging, but it’s how we live in this day and age.
If you want to try and fight the power, there is a Change.org petition, urging Instagram to keep its chronological order, you can sign. Otherwise, time to get creative. Farewell carefree posting; hello super-curated feeds, zero spontaneity, and the insidious need for likes.