ANYONE WITH a smartphone may have been alerted by now to the drastic changes made by the world’s most popular image-based social-media platform, Instagram, during the past couple of weeks, notably its logo.
But beneath the apparent vibrant changes it has made behind its symbol are the (proposed) invisible modifications it has made to its algorithm, which will have major implications for small-business accounts.
Debates have been sparked already over this issue and the impact it will have on the world of social media.
Users in general have been cynical about the proposed changes to the platform’s algorithm, which stipulate that “if you really care, we will share”.
This is ambiguous at best for the common Joe, but the algorithm will virtually replicate that of Facebook, as the parent company looks to monetise the Instagram platform’s popularity fully since its US$1-billion takeover a while ago.
To put it in layman’s terms, you will no longer see the posts in your feed in chronological order, but the programming will instead prioritise the posts in the order it feels you will like most.
The app will predict and anticipate the posts that you will like, based on the engagements you have had with existing relationships on Instagram.
This basically means we will gradually experience the death of organic reach on Instagram, as we have already seen with Facebook. The era of the Instagram free ride is over.
This has not been well received overall, with the likes of small businesses saying it will be much harder for them to build up the number of followers on their accounts and to drive customer engagement.
However, Instagram argues that on average, 70 per cent of the posts an account owner receives from the people he or she follows are already missed.
But what this ideally means is that brands will have to pay more attention to the quality of content it is feeding on its Instagram accounts, or how it is being seeded with its associated influencers, instead of paying attention to its reach.
Reach is no longer free in the case of Instagram, and in order to gain reach, creativity will have a larger stake on the success of any post or campaign launch.
Alternatively, each brand account owner will actively seek for its followers to “turn on” its notification, so that its posts are guaranteed a reach.
Now that we have spoken about the “hard” issue of changes in the algorithm, let’s focus on the softer side of things that has sparked an even bigger debate.
Instagram has gone through a radical facelift.
Unlike when Google and Facebook changed their logos, which were in essence tweaks at best, Instagram went full throttle in terms of really evolving the symbol but staying consistent in how users will navigate with the app, and placing more emphasis on content.
Naturally, human beings are very adverse to change, so it was not surprising when the new logo enraged hardcore Instagram fans.
IPG Mediabrands’ social listening tool Prophesee indicated that during the past week when the logo was changed, almost 5 million mentions were made around social media (excluding Facebook), most of which came from Twitter.
Art is subjective, but the most important implication stemmed from the negative sentiment over the logo change in the social-media world is that people really feel that they are the ones who own Instagram, because it is they who provide the content, not the platform itself.
Facebook can argue all it likes that this simply is a business and it will soon capitalise on the huge investment it made in this acquisition. But imagine if, one day, the revolt became so severe that a petition was made to boycott the platform.
How could it survive without content, in essence created by the people, for the people?
From Day 1, newspapers weren’t free, because they were ones developing content, and the physical form of this traditional medium incurred expenses before it could reach readers through the various distribution systems.
But social media are very different in nature, and the way content has been democratised has given people a real sense of ownership of that content.
Hence it is understandable that the two aforementioned issues have caused a backlash. Facebook and Instagram will need to realise this, as they have an unspoken partnership with the billions of people who have made their platforms popular.
Let’s wait and see when the algorithm is officially announced. Only time will tell whether the platform’s popularity will see a decline or not.
Pradon Sirakovit is associate director for corporate communications, IPG Mediabrands Thailand.