Several weeks ago, The New York Times broke a story about Instagram’s intention to make a major adjustment to the order in which photos are presented on a user’s feed. Under the current chronological presentation, Instagram asserts that users only see about 30% of posts in their feeds, and that a new algorithm accounting for user interest, relationship, and timeliness will be utilized in the feeds new presentation. Instagram is yet to implement any changes, but with over 100,000 users petitioning for the feed to remain chronological, one is forced to consider Instagram’s intentions.

The outlook for Instagram is hopeful, and the simplistic concept of taking and sharing visual content has propelled the network to more than 400 million active users. Instagram also has no real competitor, with similar platforms lacking the simplicity and promise currently available on the Instagram network. It is important to recall that Instagram is a Facebook owned company, and like Facebook, Instagram is an advertising revenue-based platform that relies on engagement rates for continued success.

As the platform continues to hurtle toward maturity, it has introduced a variety of changes aimed at both users and advertisers. Most notably, Instagram launched the infinite video loop, carousel ads, layout, enhanced search, new filters, additional picture aspect ratios, in-feed advertising, and the ability to switch between accounts. These changes all enhance the core of Instagram and provide advertisers with a variety of new opportunities.

Even though Instagram made changes last year with advertisers in mind, engagement lagged, growth stalled, and brands were increasingly being pressured to engage in pay-for-play. The issue facing Instagram is not in new user growth, but in the advertiser engagement that if the lifeblood of the platform. Users are content with the tools and forum in which they are able to interact with other users, but a recent study noted indicated users may be experiencing advertising fatigue. In seeing advertisements so frequently, users are more likely to simply scroll by and disregard to post.

While none of this is breaking news, Instagram’s issue with advertisers is likely a key driver in the network’s motivation to change their feed algorithm. Of course, users may benefit from being served the posts they are most likely to engage with, but many users are comfortable with the order of their feed, and while likes and followers may be a currency in-and-of itself, many end users just want to see the pictures their real-life friends post. By adjusting the feed, Instagram enable brands to reach higher levels of growth and engagement, which is necessary for the platform to continue growing. This is a similar situation that Facebook experienced over five years ago, with advertisers and the news feed experiencing major changes.

An initial rollout of the algorithmic feed will only roll out of a “single-digital number of users,” so it is unlikely that the majority of users will see this soon. Additionally, the algorithm is sure to be tweaked with user-feedback in mind. With growth and engagement at the forefront, Instagram is betting big on their ability to lure in brands and advertisers with an algorithmic newsfeed to will boost ROI. It is impossible to predict the potential impact of the changes, but if Instagram is unable to keep advertisers investing, the future of the platform is very much jeopardized.

The network could easily argue that the upcoming changes are all made with the end-user in mind, but it is impossible to separate Instagram’s business goals from their upcoming changes. Without advertisers, there is no Instagram, regardless of the user base, and Instagram is very much aware that their changes must assist marketers in reaching their population if they expect to succeed in a similar manner to Facebook. Lucky for Instagram, there is no alternative at this time offering a similar experience, and Instagram does have the financial, and more importantly, the data backing of their parent, Facebook. This will be a critical year for Instagram, and all bets are on the algorithmic feed to reinvent the platform. 
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Peter Portanova

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