It's happening. Well, maybe not yet, but it will soon enough.
Businesses face the death of the unpaid marketing ride on Instagram just as they did not all that long ago on Facebook. A couple years ago, Facebook pages began to see their organic reach plummet. These days, the percentage of pages' audiences that most posts reach is miniscule. That is of course unless the post is sponsored.
Things are headed that way with Instagram. Earlier this month, Instagram announced it intends to make some changes to its own feed. The order of posts will be based on the likelihood users will be interested in the content, their relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post. At least at first, all posts will still be there, they say. The order will just change. Still, all posts still being there by no means guarantees that people will see them all. Posts will be buried.
But that's apparently the problem already. Instagram says, "You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most. To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most."
For example, as the company explained, if your favorite musician shares a video from a performance, "It will be waiting for you when you wake up, no matter how many accounts you follow or what time zone you live in," they say. "And when your best friend posts a photo of her new puppy, you won’t miss it."
This was on March 15. At the time, Instagram also said they're going to take their time with this and "get this right" while listening to feedback. Rumors emerged, however, that the change would roll out as soon as Tuesday, and Instagram accounts have frantically been trying to keep from losing the attention of followers by posting images asking them to turn on notifications. This way the user will never miss when that account has posted.
We'll no doubt be seeing plenty more of these types of posts as time goes on, but according to Instagram the change is still a ways off. An Instagram representative reportedly told Business Insider that it will be weeks or even months before the change rolls out.
The company also tweeted this.
We're listening and we assure you nothing is changing with your feed right now. We promise to let you know when changes roll out broadly.— Instagram (@instagram) March 28, 2016
Andrew Hutchinson makes an interesting point about how asking users to turn on notifications could actually end up negatively impacting you in the long run.
If the feed works like Facebook's, he says, "It’ll factor in all user actions, positive or negative, including the amount of people who’ve switched off notifications. That would signal to Facebook that users are finding your content isn’t what they were after, each one of those people switching off notifications could actually be adding to the negative feedback about your profile, which will effectively reduce your future reach..."
"Basically, if you’re going to ask people to switch on notifications, you’re running the risk that they could also switch you off," he adds, noting that if they do that, it will count as a negative vote, and could negatively impact your standing "in the context of the coming change."
And they will switch you off. If they're getting notifications from you, they're probably getting them from other accounts as well, and eventually they're going to realize that getting so many notifications is rather annoying. That's where the potential trouble comes in.
Instagram's change may not be happening immediately, but this issue is very real, and we can't say we didn't see it coming. A little over a year ago, we looked at a report from L2, which looked at how brands were posting less on Facebook and more on Instagram where they could reach more of their followers. Here's an excerpt from our article:
Facebook owns Instagram, and you have to imagine that it's at least a possibility that the company will adopt a similar feed strategy with Instagram as it's done with Facebook – limit organic reach to force brands to sponsor posts. L2 agrees, and warns of this very thing:
"Brands should expect that organic reach will be supplanted by pay-to-play (see: Facebook) on Instagram, and ensure the assets and skills being erected will stand when muscle (money) replaces sweat."
Instagram would let businesses of all sizes to advertise later that year, and Instagram surpassed Twitter in monthly active users.
Engagement rates on Instagram have been plummeting, and it has indeed become more and more of a pay-to-play scenario. This will only be more the case with Instagram's feed changes, but at the same time, it should be good for engagement rates overall. Basically, it's Facebook all over again.
"Instagram has gone from one of the most 'viral'...networks to a pay-to-play platform during the year," said Marko Saric from Locowise, which releases regular reports on Instagram growth and engagement. "If you want to achieve a great growth on Instagram you do need to consider alternative tactics. Organic growth will not get you far."
Instagram recently announced it now has over 200,000 advertisers with 75% of them outside of the U.S. The company says this includes businesses of all sizes in over 200 countries. Instagram considers itself a "home for small businesses".