Instagram announced this week that it is joining Facebook and Twitter and ditching its clean chronological feed in favor of an algorithm-based personalized feed. No one is surprised given Instagram has inched closer and closer to Facebook since its 2012 acquisition.
What does this mean for users? Instagram's initial appeal was its simplicity: mobile only, pictures only, square size only, chronological order, and one-way friendship. In the last year, Instagram has abandoned those simple principles by introducing an inordinate number of ads, varying visual sizes, and auto-play video, seemingly resulting in a 40% drop in interaction rate in 2015. The big social networks seem committed to complicating their feeds as their companies mature and financial expectations grow. For purists, replacing an elegant user experience with a bogged down interaction is a turnoff. My own Facebook and Twitter usage nosedived once their feeds became messy; Instagram, currently my #1 social app for time spent, is facing a similar fate.
What does this mean for marketers? It means Instagram users organically following brands may miss those brands' organic posts. The algorithm will surface user-generated content over branded content because it prioritizes content that users frequently interact with (e.g., liking, commenting, or video viewing past the Instagram-dictated time threshold). For example, I actively like and comment on more of my sister's posts than the organic SportsCenter or J.Crew posts that I follow. This latest feed tinker may be Instagram's subtle move to push brands into increased paid advertising in order to get branded posts visible, much like Facebook's "pay to play" model. This is ominous news for marketers' wallets and good news for Instagram's fattening coffers.
While a single adjustment to any social feed feels minor, it is the aggregate adjustments over time that will culminate in user distaste and, ultimately, abandonment. The future feels bleak for pure social experiences. Is it time to start a movement to "Make Instagram 'insta' again"?