Written by Liv Wedderburn, Social and Influence Director, TMW Unlimited & Henry Joyce, Marketing Manager, TMW Unlimited
Illustration by Lorena Teruel, Design Director, TMW Unlimited
If you were to look algorithms up in the dictionary – or let’s be honest, Google it – you would be told that they are “processes or sets of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer”. If that makes your head spin and/or your eyes glaze over, trust me: you are not alone. But fear not, you don’t need a maths or computer science degree to understand the enormous impact that they have on how social media works.
Social media platforms are constantly tweaking the algorithms they use to prioritise what content we see, weighing up things like the time, type and popularity of content, as well as the relationship of the poster to us and how much the poster has paid. The algorithms essentially take all of these things, and many more, into account and serves users content accordingly. The end result of all this is that even seemingly minor adjustments can make a huge difference to how many people see different posts. Because of the vital importance of social media to so many modern companies, these tweaks can quite literally transform the success of a business, for better and for worse. It can also be more than a little annoying as a user to have such little control over what you see and when.
Chronological next step
But sometimes, and at the time of writing it is just sometimes, social media companies will allow us to see everything simply in the order in which it was published. On Twitter, this has been a constant tussle between the platform and most of its users, with the company progressively pushing their preferred algorithmic Home feed over the more popular chronological Latest timeline. Last month, this culminated with them updating the design to make it harder to switch back to Latest. As any frequent visitor will tell you, Twitter is angry place at the best of times, so perhaps it’s no surprise the backlash to the change was so strong the company completed a U-turn so swift it would make Boris Johnson blush.
Instagram, on the other hand, have not allowed their users to see a chronological feed for almost 6 years. Well, not until now, at least. In the last couple of weeks, the Meta-owned platform announced a new update on two new ways in which consumers can see posts in their feed moving forward: Favourites and Following. Each of these will allow users to personalise their timeline experience based on a chronological feed, showcasing either their favourite accounts or all of their follower lists.
It’s important to note that Instagram’s algorithmic Home feed will still remain as the primary setting, but even a small amount of chronological content could be a step change in how content will be viewed, and what social media managers and brands need to consider. For years now, the task has been keeping up with the algorithm and acting accordingly. Now it seems a change of tactics could be required.
For one thing, brands will need to take extra care in considering how they push out organic content, as it will be unclear to Social Media Managers how their audience is split on consuming content in-feed. As Instagram becomes increasingly timeline-focussed, looking at key audience insights, such as the time they’re spending online and their more active days, will be helpful when it comes to content planning.
Brands could now capitalise on this shift with carefully placed paid ad placements and organic posting times, such as targeting specific times of the day so that paid content feels natural. For example, you could tailor messaging around mid-week slumps or early morning risers to benefit from those who are engaging with the channel more at this time.
Whilst change brings uncertainty, there’s a great chance this is a positive step. The update is the latest attempt to make the time spent on the platform a more interesting and positive experience, and consumers should be more willing to engage with branded content if they feel like they’re not being served it over their friends and family content. Ultimately, this has the potential to change the perception of trust, both in relation to a brand and with Instagram itself.
Favourites and Followers: what you need to know
- Users will see the most recent posts from the accounts they’ve added to their favourites list. They will be able to add up to 50 accounts at once and make changes at any time. People are not notified if they are added to or removed from this list, and post accounts on their Favourites list will show up higher in their home feed as shown by a star icon – much like what we already see with Close Friends.
- If you’re a brand, you will need to consider what you can do to get yourself onto this list. Whether it’s spot rewards for loyal behaviour or exclusive drops that can be accessed by viewing content first, you should consider adding it as a call to action in your content if you think you truly offer something valuable for your audience to consume. Brands that are not doing the work to create a meaningful and engaging experience online for consumers will not see the benefits of favourite CTAs.
- Given what we see on Twitter, this will almost certainly be the preferred option for consumers, as it requires no editing on their behalf. They will see all their preferred content live and direct at the time of posting. With this in mind, brands and social media teams should again look closely at insights on dates and times, but also monitor the industry and see how those wider engagement benchmarks shift from sector to sector.