The first few weeks of 2018 has already seen the engagement rates of most accounts spiralling downwards and when it comes to the mystery of the Instagram algorithm there is lots of speculation about how it works and what’s to come. Unfortunately without many public statements from the company, rumours can catch on like wildfire and it is hard to know what you can believe.
Bearing in mind that there is no true way of knowing what is to come we have done our homework, referred to the experts, clocked all the rumours and combined it with our own experiences to bring you our top predictions for the year ahead:
1. Loads more speculation and user experiments
With Instagram remaining tightlipped, understanding the constantly updating algorithm can be a real headache and leaves many feeling disheartened when their content doesn’t seem to connect with their audiences the way it used to.
There is lots of speculation over best practices and theories about what you can do to ‘go viral’ and ‘spike’ your engagement but for every person claiming that something works there will be another 5 that say they can disprove it.
This year will see a decrease in hacks and tactics and the Instagram population on the whole will learn to accept the algorithm for what is it and try and use the platform in a more wholesome and authentic way. There will be less organised pods and engagement groups and more focus on creating great content and genuine communications.
2. Accounts will post less but produce higher quality content
Gone are the days where you needed to post several times a day to stay at the top of your audience’s feeds. Now that the algorithm often serves up posts that are days old, it is less important to post frequently but still critical to post relevant content consistently.
With less pressure to be churning out posts, the quality of content will increase and with less distribution users will have a higher chance of engaging with an image. As each individual post becomes more important we will see less reposting and moodboard images and more emphasis on creating fresh original content.
There is a good reason why Instagram doesn’t come with a repost function and while they aren’t using image recognition yet (or so they claim!) we wouldn’t be surprised if they implemented new technologies soon to reward the use of original images and score it’s relevance higher than reposted content.
3. More time spent watching and creating stories
Browsing habits are already rapidly shifting on Instagram and current users are reportedly spending around 22% of their time on the platform watching Stories instead of browsing their feeds. This will result in less engagement and exposure for posts and more emphasis on creating great content in stories.
Instagram will no doubt keep rolling out the special features, filters and fun ways to enhance your stories and users will keep finding creative ways to apply them. We can expect to see more clever tap through techniques and content that keeps you engaged for longer.
With the introduction of the Highlights feature, which allows Stories to live on your profile forever, we will see an increase in production values and the quality of stories in our feeds. This content will allow for better storytelling for brands and individuals and will be key to building stronger relationships with your audiences in 2018.
4. Less reach for everyone
If January is anything to go by, Instagram users can expect to see a massive drop in reach in 2018. When the introduction of the algorithm was announced back in 2016 they promised to show us more of the content that matters to us and is popular in our network.
It’s not just a popularity contest though, the algorithm watches the accounts you search for and follow, the images you share and regularly engage with and the niche of content you are interested in. The result is that you see less content but images with higher relevance and if your audience isn’t responding regularly to your content they will simply stop seeing it.
It is speculated that in order to determine how much your content is likely to be appreciated, the algorithm will first show your post to around 10% of your audience. If they respond favourably to what they see it will then show your content to more people and so on.
With Instagram reportedly cracking down on pods and automation, previous tactics to spike engagement and serve your content to more of your audience will likely not be as successful.
5. A tidal wave of marketers
With the drop in organic reach will come a virtual tidal wave of pay to play marketers. Instagram is already one of the key players in social media marketing platforms, and 2018 will bring even more of a business boom than we’ve already seen.
The latest Facebook updates which promises to show users more of the content that is personal and relevant to them will no doubt result in the reach of business accounts and pages grinding to a halt. We will see a lot of businesses rolling a larger portion of their marketing spends over to Instagram where the platform remains somewhat brand friendly (enjoy it while you can folks!)
This might be good news for marketers but individuals will need to get used to the idea of seeing a lot more sponsored posts and stories popping up in their feeds.
6. More specific and targeted hashtag use
With the business insights page showing that minimal traffic comes from hashtag use, it will be time to abandon the scattergun approach and focus on more specific and niche tags.
Less is more will be the mantra for 2018 and, instead of using all 30 tags with every post, users will spend more time researching specific tags. This will result in less tags being shared per image but they will be more targeted, relevant and refined.
The ability to follow hashtags will make it easier to build community and niche groups around a particular tag. As well as being able to discover better content, users can browse other people’s accounts to discover which hashtags they enjoy and are following. Once this feature gains more momentum it will be key to conducting hashtag research, allowing accounts to more easily identify popular tags and refine their own hashtag selection.
We will see more hashtagging appearing in stories as well. In addition to followed hashtags showing up in your feed they will also appear in stories so expect to see a lot more content from tags you follow appearing here.
7. Less hacking the system and ‘going viral’
People have used every trick in the book to try and beat the algorithm and try and hit the holy grail Explore page. A popular theory was that if you got enough likes in the first 20 minutes of posting that your content would hit the Explore tab and ‘go viral’.
This led to the organisation of Instagram Engagement pods which was a collection of accounts who would all like each others posts as soon as they went up to help ‘spike’ engagement. Recent reports claim that Instagram is cracking down on accounts they suspect are using these tactics to boost engagement.
You might also be surprised to know that there isn’t a one size fits all Explore page. This feed is customised for each user to display a mix of popular posts from the wider Instagram community and within your own network. Just because your post hits the Explore tab for some users doesn’t mean you are going to get a tonne of views and likes on your post.
Instagram will be monitoring where your traffic comes from in 2018 and if a large number likes are coming from outside your network or niche and is directed from an external source it is unlikely to register as authentic engagement.
8. More users fighting to protect their original content
We are hearing more stories about photographers and content creators pushing back against the very liberal reposting culture on Instagram and challenging brands that repurpose their content. This year it will become less acceptable to share other people’s content without first seeking their permission or buying the rights to use an image.
This year video owners and producers will have an easier way to protect their copyright and monitor where their content is being used with the introduction of Rights Manager. This feature already exists on Facebook although it isn’t fully rolled out yet on Instagram. Using the Rights Manager will allow users control over who they grant permission to share their content and also the ability to block any unauthorised use.
We will hopefully see Instagram extend this management to photo use in the future. This means brands will need to get used to the idea of paying for social media content that they aren’t producing themselves in-house.
Instagram use in 2018 will be all about quality over quantity. It’s no longer a numbers game and this goes for all aspects of the platform - content, posts and engagement. Everyone is savvy enough now to spot a bot user, or someone who bought followers and likes. This year there will be less importance placed on the number of interactions a post has and more value on high-quality engagement.
Brands will continue to invest in influencer marketing but instead of using social channels purely for exposure, savvy brands will become more interested in click through and conversion metrics. For a lot of Influencers this means that likes aren’t going to pay the bills and in order to charge top dollar they may need to start demonstrating an ROI to the brands they promote.
The true workings of the algorithm will always be shrouded in mystery. We can read all the forums, conduct our own experiments and watch the trends like a hawk but at the end of the day every account and audience is unique and one person’s recommendations won’t necessarily work for the next.
Our tips for the year ahead are just to be you! Don’t compare your account to how it was in 2016 or anyone else’s account. Take the platform for what it is now and instead of spending your time finding ways to beat or hack the system instead use it to find creative ways to improve the quality of your content.
Keep adding value to your audience, experiment with new ideas, communicate openly and most importantly of all be authentic and responsive. Make sure you are having fun, the chances are if you put your heart into every post you are more likely to get a lot of love in return.
Happy gramming everyone!