photography & instagram

On the bright side | Instagram algorithms

05.09.17

I’ve been trying to avoid talking about the current Instagram algorithms for months. Just the odd thing here and there but honestly, I wanted to see exactly how it would shake down for everyone over a period of time before voicing my thoughts too loudly. I know a lot of us have felt it’s been an up hill struggle for a while so I’m hoping to put a positive word in here.

Instagram have always used algorithms. They may seem to use more now than back in the good old days when I started and they are certainly complex beasts but yes, they have always been there. And they have always been a rollercoaster. It’s also true to say there has always been an element of luck, that has never changed.

So let’s start with the negative, to get it out of the way, because actually I really want to focus on the positive…

instagram algorithms

Most of us have noticed a shift in engagement and not for the better since instagram rolled out their non-chronological feed and it’s associated algorithms. The algorithms that choose what we see and when we see it. Posts are hidden from our feeds, easily missed, because Instagram deem other posts more our ‘thing’. Not always correctly either.

The knock on effect has been a bumpy ride of engagement swings and decreased account growth for many of us because if we aren’t seeing the posts we want to see, logic tells us that others may well not be seeing our posts either.

Of course I am simplifying what I write here as I don’t want to offload a thousand observations I’ve made since the algorithm changed… And not everyone has the same experiences. Some have been lucky enough to ride it out without too much of a problem. And if that’s you hooray!

I can tell you though, from a personal perspective, that the number of people who see my photos compared to the numbers last summer (when I first had the analytics at roughly the same time as the algorithms started changing) has been around 1/3 to 1/2 for months. Recently it has improved a little on some posts but most are still seen by tens of thousands less people than last year. I’m sure you can work out the net result of this is fairly rubbish and if I give it much headspace it’s pretty disheartening.

Because it feels a lot like Instagram themselves closed the door that I had nudged open just a crack by working incredibly hard pretty much 365 days a year for 3 years.

And yes, engagement is something I expect to fluctuate as not all people use the app daily for a long time, there is always going to be a drop-off over time and the larger the following the greater the drop off is likely to be. I also think my account is seasonal and winter has always been a lull for me.

the open door

Of course it is all relative and I know a lot of us have experienced that downturn in engagement. As I mentioned recently, I asked a member of the Instagram team about the algorithms effect on engagement (here) and their perspective is entirely at odds with a lot of those I often read, so I want to look at ways to work around this disconnect. Instagram algorithms are ever evolving and unlikely to go backwards.

What she did emphasise was to try and enjoy all the things I love about Instagram anyway!! It’s a creative space, it’s community based. There are countless ways we can get involved. Instagram want us to share the moments we love and explore our creativity. Which is just brilliant because it’s what got me fired up about Instagramming in the first place. That in itself is an open door…

a small aside

I’d like to just reassure you a little here. I don’t know where on your journey you are, how long you have been Instagramming, nor how your account sits with numbers. And I do still firmly believe it shouldn’t be all about the numbers. But they are an integral part of the app so I want to share a few of mine.

When I started using Instagram I had 13 followers by the end of the first month. Less than 8000 in about 15 months when I had a really lucky break and Instagram put me on their suggested users list of old – a thing that doesn’t happen now. And then a second amazing feature on Instagram’s account a few months later. After both these features and a huge drop off – a follower game of old that involved following suggested users then unfollowing them a few weeks later – my following sat at around 103,000.

I was in no way equipped for the jump from 8k to 100k in the space of a few weeks, remember this is before many people sought the numbers for rewards and collaborations. And fast follower growth was really unusual, most people would gain half that amount on the suggested user list if they were lucky. I don’t know to this day why mine grew so much and can still see no logic to it.

It was not the expected thing at all – at least not in the circles I knew. I was Instagramming because I loved photos and the community I met, not for the numbers. But it was thrilling…

That was almost 2 1/2 years ago and the fall out afterwards was reeeeeally horrible because once you come out of the spotlight everything grinds to a halt. And then falls. Engagement decreases and followers leave. In many ways it was a hollow gain. But then I am still slightly baffled and very flattered that even 10 strangers would want to follow my story, never mind the number who actually do now.

My point here is really not to congratulate myself on my good luck back then, but to let you know I’ve been here before, lots of us have. Instagram has always been a rollercoaster of highs and lows and to enjoy the highs we do have to embrace the lows. And adapt. And persevere for reasons other than numbers…

On the bright side

Instagram today is a much more level playing field. I know it may not always feel like it but a few years ago it really was a lucky few of us normal folk who were put in the spotlight for just a couple of weeks. Now you don’t need a feature from Instagram themselves to grow a following fast, many many people have done so on their own. And still do.

I can’t help but keep coming back to the same thought. Maybe we should just let the Instagram algorithm talk go…? Being frustrated and stressed by something over which we have little influence is perhaps a waste of time? Time that we could use better.

Instagram are not the enemy, they have given us a platform on which we have freedom to create and connect with, literally, a whole world of others who love the same things!

Maybe by changing up our own attitude we can reclaim the joy of Instagramming?

If there is an element that is out of our control, then surely we can relax a little. To accept this is far more productive and ultimately better for us than to fight against it.

Or maybe we could simply disconnect more. Yes, really. Put the phone down. I’ve done that a lot these last few weeks and it’s been a relief. Maybe you don’t spend as much time using the app as I have done but if you are a compulsive app opener like me, try not to be. Open it once or twice a day.

Use that app time instead to create content…?

Sporadic posting also seems to have advantages now. I have always suggested that planning and posting regularly are the best way to engage with your followers but since this set of algorithmical (that should be a word…) influences kicked in, I don’t think it’s necessarily the case for us all any more.

The rule book is wide open again, let’s rewrite it!! I have been posting at random times for weeks and I still have the same erratic/illogical engagement I have had for months. Actually it’s been quite freeing. And if you want another reason then it proves your human-ness. In a time of bots and scam likes, it proves you aren’t a robot. Or using them. (I hope you’re not using them.) I am half inclined to think that posting like clockwork each day will flag you up on certain algorithms as using other technology – even if you aren’t.

So may I suggest you try posting at whatever time of day you fancy, forget optimising your time slots even if only temporarily to see how it goes. The non-chronological feed has really thrown a lot of this out of the window by now anyway as there may only be a relatively small number of people who actually know what time you usually post. Let’s bring the spontaneity back.

If you are missing posts and use notifications then turn them on for those whose posts you really want to see. Or use the list of accounts you follow to visit galleries rather than scrolling your feed. Or, as was suggested to me recently, save a post in a collection from each gallery you love to visit and use that collection as a quick reference for people to catch up with.

You can train your Explore page too, did you know that? Tap on a photo and then tap on the three dots at the top … you can tell it if you don’t like a certain kind of content! When you have it well trained it fills with posts that might actually be of interest to you. And then finding new and inspiring content becomes easier again.

The truth is none of us know exactly how all of these algorithms work. We can guess and we can maximise the way we post. But we don’t know anything for sure and what works for one person will not always work for another. The very best way is to find your own way through trial and error. Accept that some posts may not do as well as you hope and enjoy the process.

Make the most of your posts

How? Well some of the same ideas that were always there still apply and some things can be adapted.

Always post your best and if you don’t have a ‘best’ today, don’t worry! There’s always tomorrow. Or the next day…

Use stories more. Oh I love stories. They kind of keep the momentum and remind folk you’re alive AND you can post any old posts without worrying how they sit in your gallery! What’s not to love?

Relax and enjoy the fun of Instagramming, it’s still there. It’s just a bit harder to find. And if you’re interested here’s a post I wrote a while ago about finding your Instagram voice.

There is a lot to be said for adjusting our own perspective rather than hoping Instagram algorithms beyond our control will change, wouldn’t you agree? Yes there are some aspects that aren’t perhaps ideal but you know what? The great stuff is still there if we change how we look for it.

And I think this quote simply sums it up.

J x

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5 comments on “On the bright side | Instagram algorithms”

  1. Love that quote at the end of your advice packed post Julia. I’m definitely taking a step back to reality and not worrying about the numbers so much now. I’m experimenting, playing and having fun again. The reason why I started on Instagram in the first place! I think it’s important to put efforts into other platforms now too.

    I’ll be following your tips on the collections and explore feed. And Love the new logo by the way
    Georgie x

  2. Love that quote Julia – sums up your post perfectly! I like the idea of creating collections of accounts you really want to check in with – will give that a go. And I will have a go at training my Explore page – I never look at it! I’ve been posting when suits me for ages and engaging as much as I can and I really value my daily chats. I’m still really enjoying it. When it all feels like too much hard work, I take a break. But I have to say I haven’t noticed any big changes in my feed – but I think that’s because I use it regularly. When I was on holiday and only dipped in occasionally, I noticed it behaved very differently and only showed me a fraction of who I follow and showed me old things I’d seen before….. Maybe that’s how it is for most people. Anyway, I’m still feeling the love :) Thanks for the positivity xxx

  3. This is a wonderful article thank you! I’ve been trying to post the same time each day because I was advised to, now I’m taking this post as permission to be more spontaneous.
    I believe in the power of photos, I want to hand my children snippets of memories, and for myself, to be able to look back and be thankful. My biggest joys on IG are the wonderfully kind and encouraging people who take time to engage with me, the change in myself in trying something new and how IG has helped me to see the beauty everywhere. Thanks for the reminder of the good xx

  4. Really enjoyed reading your post Julia. I miss instagram feeling like the best fun! I have taken a break from IG as life has taken over a bit, but will follow your advice and just get back to enjoying the community, which is one the best whatever the algorithms. Your quote is just perfect. Alice xx

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