Show me proof

Why Instagram comments are the new social proof.

Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform and statistics show that 80 per cent of users follow at least one business.

The world’s biggest brands use it to promote their products and services, and more and more Australian small businesses use Instagram to complement their website or bricks and mortar store.

As of June 2019, Australia has 9 million monthly active Instagram users, around 40 per cent of the total population, so there’s a very good chance of reaching a small business’s potential customers via the platform. A total of 68 per cent of Instagrammers engage with brands regularly, and Instagram provides 58 times more engagement per follower than Facebook, so the business case for Instagram is very strong.

More and more small businesses are recognising the power of Instagram and the part it can play in their marketing strategy. However, your business’s success on the platform is determined by how well you work with the algorithm.

“More and more small businesses are recognising the power of Instagram and the part it can play in their marketing strategy.”

The Instagram algorithm is a mathematical formula the determines post ranking in the feeds of its users.

The algorithm is based on three key components:

  1. interest – how much Instagram thinks you’ll like a post based on past behaviour on similar content
  2. timeliness – priority given to recent posts
  3. relationship – priority given to accounts you comment on regularly and are tagged in photos with.

Other factors include:

  • frequency – the more you open the app, the more your feed will look chronological; the less you open the app, the more your feed will be sorted by what it thinks you like instead of chronologically
  • following – how many people you follow, as the more accounts you follow the more content Instagram has to select from
  • usage – the more time you spend on the app, the deeper Instagram has to dig for more content to show you.

Every time the algorithm changes, so too do the rumours surrounding its functionality. Here are five Instagram algorithm rumours explained further.

1. You will not get punished for using all 30 hashtags on a post; however, your content must be relevant to the hashtag or it risks being removed.

2. Posting a video to your feed won’t get you more reach or a higher ranking in the home feed; however, IGTV video is still seeing impressive organic reach.

3. Posting a lot won’t affect your account performance; however, posting at your peak times is still recommended for maximum engagement and interaction.

4. Using stories or Instagram Live won’t increase your post reach in the feed; however, it’s the fastest way to build trust with your audience as they get to see and hear you.

5. Switching to an Instagram Business Profile or an Instagram Creator Profile will not affect your reach.

Instagram itself is a business, making its revenue when users are shown ads as they scroll their feeds. As the platform continues to grow, Instagram must find ways to adapt its algorithm in order to keep its users entertained and online for as long as possible, to continue its sustained revenue growth.

In May this year Instagram announced two massive changes to the platform:

1. Instagram users can now opt to remove your post from a hashtag if they consider it to be irrelevant.

2. Posts that don’t receive a lot of interaction will be removed from the Explore page and hashtag search results.

This means that if your posts don’t see a lot of interaction, your potential is limited to only those who already follow you, stunting brand awareness and growth.

Then not much later in July, Instagram dropped another bombshell – it was removing the ability for users to see the total number of likes on a post.

To quickly recap Instagram’s history since its original launch in 2010 …

Once upon a time the Instagram feed was in chronological order and you could pretty much guarantee everyone who followed your account saw all your posts.

Enter: insane platform growth.

Instagram had to find a way to ensure you always saw content you were most interested in. Why? To keep you on the platform for as long as possible so they made more money on ads.

Enter: the algorithm.

As long as users liked your posts, you’d still get pretty good reach.

Enter: one billion users – the algorithm changed again.

Now, engagement via comments, previous activity on similar content and the timeliness of your posts became more important than ever.

Enter: bullying concerns and the “mental health of Instagram users”.

In order for the platform to continue to see sustained growth, it needs to ensure its users (us!) are having an enjoyable time when they are on the app and not playing the comparison game.

Enter Instagram’s latest update: the removal of likes on posts.

  • If someone you follow has liked a post, then likes will be visible (just not a total number).
  • If nobody you follow has liked a post, you won’t be able to see any likes on the post at all.

nstagram’s latest update: the removal of likes on posts.

If someone you follow has liked a post, then likes will be visible (just not a total number).

If nobody you follow has liked a post, you won’t be able to see any likes on the post at all.

Instagram claims it wants to take the focus off likes on a post and put the focus back onto the content that is shared.

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri explains that, “We don’t want Instagram to be such a competition. We want it to be a place where people spend more of their energy connecting with the people that they love and the things that they care about.”

Instagram wants users to focus more on the content they share, in an attempt to “reduce social comparison, and its associated negative impacts,” Mosseri says.

The internet has since been divided on the real reason behind this move. Is this Instagram’s strategic attempt to increase the revenue it misses from brands working with influencers instead of paying for advertising or is it really “concerned about the mental health of its users”?

So what does this news and the algorithm updates mean for small-business owners going forward?

Well, like anything, there are the ones for it and the ones against it.

The main concern raised by businesses and influencers globally was that this update eliminates social proof given by likes, and the concept that “users don’t care about likes anyway” is completely false.

Then there are the glass-half-fullers who think this update will level the playing field for businesses.

What we know for sure is: likes are no longer your social proof to your followers. Comments are:

  • interactive content that drives conversation is the new key to success on Instagram
  • the algorithm thrives on relevant content.

This update is going to force users to really consider whether the content they are selecting to share will spark a conversation and encourage authentic comments – rather than just slapping up a pretty picture for likes.

The successful connection between the content you share on Instagram and the content that your ideal client is searching for on Instagram, is ultimately what will determine your continued growth on this platform.

Brooke Vulinovich, social media expert, www.villamanagement.com.au

This story first appeared in issue 26 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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