For a platform that is so successful at engagement and growth, it is shocking to imagine any need to change. Still, despite its success, Instagram could be generating more revenue. For social media platforms, that is the primary impetus for change, and Instagram is no exception.
You may not think of Instagram changes in the same way that you think of changes to Twitter, but both are publicly traded platforms trying to turn a profit consistently. Of course, Instagram is owned by Facebook, which has found ways to make money. Its stockholders expect that Instagram’s changes will be successful, too, so they want Instagram to be more like Facebook.
Generally, these revenue-generating changes fall into two categories:
- User experience: Meant to improve the experience and increase audience.
- Business restrictive: Intended to promote ad spending by limiting free promotion on the platform, sometimes at the expense of user experience.
These new Instagram features are primarily the latter, and marketing and communications pros should take note. The way you’ll use Instagram to communicate is probably changing even as you read this.
1. New timeline algorithm
“Posts are ordered based on factors like how recently the post was shared, your interactions with the person who shared it and whether you’ll find the post interesting.”
Probably the most striking difference between the old Instagram and new is that the timeline will no longer be presented in reverse-chronological order. Instead, an algorithm will determine which posts you see first. (Instagram calls these the “Moments You Care Most About.”)
As on Facebook and Twitter, you probably will see posts that you are more likely to engage with (possibly improving user experience). Instagram will try to entice businesses to use its ad product for greater reach.
To get a sense of the challenge that this creates, read about the development of the Facebook algorithm. Of course, Instagram has an interesting challenge as it is exclusively visual content with various degrees of context (writing and hashtags).
2. API change/third-party tools
If you use third-party tools to manage Instagram, you probably got a message about the change to Instagram’s application programming interface (API). In apage out of Twitter’s handbook, Instagram overhauled its API rules. All apps that formerly used the API had to reapply, demonstrating that they meet one or more of these criteria:
- Helping individuals share their own content with third-party apps
- Helping brand managers and advertisers understand and manage their audience and media rights
- Helping broadcasters and publishers discover content, get digital rights to media and share media with proper attribution
3. New business tools
For businesses, Instagram is emulating Facebook. It will soon roll out three features specifically for businesses:
- Business profiles. These are analogous to an organization’s Facebook Page. Similarly, businesses would post hours and address(es) and offer a contact button so users can call, text or email the business directly.
- Insights. This is an improved (mobile) analytics product for business users.
- Promote. This feature enables mobile users to promote posts directly from the app.
Probably the most useful business factor aspect is the capability to put key information on Instagram. The flip side is that it identifies you as a business entity. It remains to be seen how the algorithm will treat your business posts compared with personal posts.
4. Ad planning via the Facebook ad network
This isn’t a new feature per se, but basically, Instagram ads can be run directly from the Facebook Power Editor and Ads Manager (even without an Instagram profile).
Especially in light of algorithm implementation, it’s important to understand that Instagram ad planning happens from Facebook (at least as of this writing), and that you must have a Facebook Business Page in order to create Instagram ads.
5. Video counts added
This “change” is a couple of months old but presumably ties into the business analytics implementation. You can see the number of views your Instagram video gets.
The big changes for marketing and communication professionals involve posting to Instagram and reliably getting your desired result. Algorithmic sorting means timing has little bearing on reach, and business profiles could add additional obstacles to accomplishing desired reach without promotion.
Instagram is on its way to becoming a pay-to-play platform just like Facebook. If you’re planning to communicate or to promote on Instagram, it’s important to understand its new dynamics.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Cision blog.Save