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Instagram Gains an Algorithm, Users Lose Their Minds

April 8, 2016

Only those living under a rock missed the recent pandemonium and sheer panic expressed by Instagram’s most avid and popular users, as the photography app announced it would be gradually introducing an algorithm to change the order of the timeline. Instead of presenting photos chronologically (or reverse-chronologically, if you want to get pedantic), Instagram will be looking at the relationships and preferences between accounts to position posts in an order they believe to be favourable to the individual user. For example, when logging into the app the user will be presented with posts from their best friends and favourite brands and personalities; posts from anyone else will fall lower down the timeline or be removed from view completely.

In a blog post entitled ‘See the Moments You Care About First’ posted 15th March, Instagram explained their decision:

“You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. 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.”

The blog post goes on to explain the timeline optimisation will result in users always getting to see posts from their favourite celebs and best friends, regardless of how many accounts are followed or the time zone they live in – handy, right? Apparently not.

The general reaction to this news was negative to say the least. The average user was disgruntled they mightn’t get to enjoy every post from those they choose to follow, while others called out the proposed algorithm for being phony in its proposed ability to identify and present content ‘relevant’ to each individual user. Those who rely on Instagram posts successfully achieving maximum reach to make a living feared there could be more at stake.

Singer-songwriter John Mayer (1.4m followers) criticised the proposed changes, commenting: “My tastes, interests and curiosities change every day; if I’m not even sure what’s relevant to me, how will you know?” His comments came as he expressed concern for the small, burgeoning artists and musicians that use Instagram as a ‘communal’ area to share and promote their music, suggesting this useful tool and even playing field will be stripped from them.

It’s this idea that the opportunity to utilise Instagram as an effective marketing tool will be lost, that has concerned most. With social media marketing as crucial and active as ever before, the platform has become a key component within strategy for brands, ambassadors and celebs alike for several years now. Software meant posts could be planned and published at set times, each slot researched and timed to hit targeted demographics at key intervals. Chronology meant control; an algorithm represents the very opposite.

The change has even caused some to believe (and worry) there are ulterior financial impending motives at play. Kylie Jenner, who is currently ranked #7 of Instagram’s most followed accounts with 56.2m followers, accused the social platform of introducing the algorithm so that eventually accounts could pay a fee to be positioned at the top of the feed. Given the track-record of similar social media giants such as Facebook (who own Instagram) and Twitter, this idea is not completely without justification…

So how do you stop your account from getting lost in the supposed endless abyss that is the impending Instagram algorithm? Shortly after the initial announcement was made, flocks of Instagrammers posted signs and pictures that urged followers to turn on post notifications for their account. This would mean the follower would receive a notification every time one of said accounts posted a new photo or video. While asking followers to enable their notifications for your profile may be effective in ensuring a partial retention of reach, this technique will not be able to guarantee every follower will see every post.

A technique that could offer better results in both the short and long-term is to focus on creating a strong account that the Instagram will naturally allot higher on the timeline. Think of it as creating something of an ‘Instagram Quality Score’.

Here’s how to achieve said rating:

1. Strong content is key – if your account is any good then surely you have nothing to worry about. Focus on creating and posting relevant and interesting content that followers will appreciate and ‘like’. The way you go about attracting new followers hasn’t changed, so continue to create an attractive, strong account and growth is possible.

2. Quality over quantity – one very good post at the top of a timeline is better than four subpar posts dwindling unseen somewhere at the bottom. Instagram is inclined to feature your posts more prominently if they’re occasional and high-quality rather than frequent and unexceptional. Subsequently, you’re likely to get more likes on one great post than shared across several weaker posts. A smaller number of posts also eliminates the chance of Instagram reading your account as spam, too.

3. Engage and encourage engagement – if Instagram is going to start ranking accounts based on their relationships to other accounts then it’s crucial to engage engage engage. Like, comment and reply to others. Other users will in turn engage more with you. Prove your account to be active, engaging and engaged and the algorithm will work to your favour. Which brings us on to the next point…

4. Embrace the algorithm – the true nature of the algorithm hasn’t been revealed yet so it’s important to remember that as it stands, all uproar is purely the product of speculation and hearsay. We advise that, when the time comes and the algorithm is in full swing, the new formula is studied and embraced, and subsequently utilised to its greatest advantage. Although many worry the algorithm will work negatively against them, it’s very likely that this won’t be the case.


Since starting writing this blog post, Instagram have announced even more changes to its platform (60-second videos) and even announced it would be pushing back the start date of the algorithm infiltration. Change is an integral part of both tech and digital marketing, and ultimately this change to the Instagram platform won’t cause any lasting damage. Just keep calm and carry on…

Written by Andy

Andy is Venture Stream’s Chief Operating Officer and has over 15 years’ experience in ecommerce consultancy, design and retail marketing.

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