Capturing the changing face of Instagram

By March 31, 2016 No Comments

Recently, avid Instagrammers will have been acutely aware of the updates proposed by the folks in charge of the popular photo-sharing app. In the last couple of weeks it’s been announced that users’ newsfeeds will be arranged algorithmically rather than chronologically, and that the maximum length of video posts will be increased from 15 seconds to a minute.

Reactions were varied, ranging from “yeah, and?” to “how dare you!?”, but what do these changes really mean for Instagram’s 400 million users?

New algorithm

The first change, which was announced via Instagram’s blog on 15 March, basically means the platform will rank posts to show you what it “believes you care about most”, instead of simply ordering the posts as they’re published.

This announcement was met with a fair bit of backlash, most notably from very upset famous people like Kylie Jenner, who said, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, and John Mayer, who posed this question to Instagram: “My tastes, interests and curiosities change every day; if I’m not sure what’s relevant to me, how will you know?”

It’s a good point and one that tons of people agree with. In fact, so many people agreed with John’s view that an online petition emerged, Keep Instagram Chronological, which has so far gained 330,000 supporters. This petition, plus the angry outcry on Twitter et al, led Instagram to publish a tweet of its own in an effort to quell the storm.

“We’re listening and we assure you nothing is changing with your feed right now. We promise to let you know when changes roll out broadly.”

Bit vague.

It appears that Instagram’s bosses are still keen to push this change through at some point, but would rather wait until users have time to warm to the idea. Whether that’ll happen or not remains to be seen.

What does this mean?

Instagram reckons that by arranging timelines chronologically, the average user actually misses 70% of the content published on their feeds. The new algorithm will supposedly prioritise each person’s favoured content, putting it above the stuff they’d normally scroll right past. Essentially, Instagram will work in much the same way as its parent company, Facebook, which still boasts the biggest user numbers and engagement rates. If it works for Facebook, perhaps it’ll work for Instagram.

The new algorithm will supposedly prioritise each person’s favoured content

But, the major worry of Instagram’s most prolific users is that their posts won’t get seen at all. I think this is an understandable concern as lately my Facebook feed seems to only show content from a few very active brands and friends. People who post less often don’t get a look in. If Instagram goes the same way, a lot of bloggers and brands could lose valuable promotional opportunities.

If these users want to make sure their followers see their posts, they’ll need to ask them to turn on push notifications for their accounts. And what are the chances of that happening? Pretty slim I’d imagine, especially if you consider the recent reaction to the streams of Instagrammers requesting their followers to do just that.


One of the biggest reasons why I like Instagram is that it doesn’t bother me with notifications. It just sits there quietly on my smartphone until I feel like opening it up to double tap an overly filtered sunset or something. And even if I did decide to turn on notifications, I’m certainly not going to do it for all the people I follow, which means once again many users will get relegated to the bottom of the pile, lowering their engagement rates.

So, if I want to see posts from a particular brand that hasn’t popped up in my feed, now I’ll have to go through the laborious task of searching for them myself. I’m being dramatic here, but you get my point.

Instagram is adopting a more video-focused approach

Longer videos

The second of the changes – one-minute video posts – seems to have been received much more favourably than the first. It was announced on Tuesday this week via Instagram’s blog, which said:

“We want to bring you fun, flexible and creative ways to create and watch video on Instagram. As part of our continued commitment, you’ll soon have the flexibility to tell your story in up to 60 seconds of video.”

Users may have had time to get used to longer-form videos as they’ve been appearing in newsfeed for a few weeks now. The 60-second video was first made available to advertisers in February, with brands such as T-Mobile and Warner Bros. using it in the run up to this year’s Super Bowl.

With the trend in video content spreading further and further throughout the social media landscape, Instagram adopting a more video-focused approach isn’t particularly surprising. In fact, this seems like a natural progression for the platform, as the same blog post states that the time people spend watching video via Instagram has increased by 40% in the last six months. So, by going from 15 seconds to one minute, the platform is giving the people what they want – unlike the algorithm update.

What does this mean?

The 15-second video proved worthy competition for Vine’s 7-second looping clips, so now Instagram is setting its sights on the daddy of video, YouTube. Research shows that YouTube’s users typically jump around from video to video, with viewership generally peaking around the one-minute mark before trailing off. And video analytics firm Tubular Labs found that the average length of the most engaging videos on Facebook is around 1.5 minutes.

To compliment the 60-second videos, Instagram is also reintroducing the capacity to make montages out of existing clips stored on your phone. Users will be able to trim video clips, re-arrange them and add filters right there in the app (no need for external video cropping apps). All of this should make for more interesting and engaging content being published on the platform.

Instagram says: “This is one step of many you’ll see this year”, so it’s fair to say these additions mark the start of an interesting new approach for the platform, particularly as it slowly introduces a restructured user experience. How do you think it’ll play out?

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