With Instagram’s Algorithm Change, Brands Must Double-Down

Instagram's move to an algorithmic feed means one thing: Brands have to be on their game.

Instagram has long been the go-to social network for the fashion industry. It’s where brands put their best foot forward, where street style bloggers update fans on their every move and where the fashion elite document their lifestyle for all to see.

While the Instagram craze continues, some have worried that Instagram’s decline in sharing is harming the platform. And let’s not forget the rapid growth of Snapchat, which seems to constantly be encroaching on Instagram’s turf.

Instagram’s reign is not as clear as it used to be, but one thing remains true: Engagement on Instagram is strong, especially in the fashion industry. In fact, a report on New York Fashion Week by digital think tank L2 found that Instagram drove the most engagement (likes, comments and shares) on social media out of any platform. Of the 13 million total interactions during NYFW in early 2016, an astounding 97 percent took place on Instagram, with 2 percent on Facebook and 1 percent on Twitter.

Instagram’s recent move to abandon a linear feed and move to an algorithmic timeline, akin to its big brother, Facebook, is an attempt to double down on engagement. People simply weren’t seeing the majority of the content in their feed. Instead, as the company’s thinking goes, the algorithm would show users the best of the best, driving engagement and aiming to increase sharing along the way.

This move to an algorithmic feed means one thing: Brands have to be on their game.

They are now under more pressure than ever to produce the best content. There is a direct mandate to post photos, videos and stories that users want. As user demand increases, brands will now have to work even harder to create compelling and engaging content.

The other kicker is that Facebook, Instagram’s parent, recently moved to emphasize more posts from friends and family in its News Feed, de-emphasizing content from brands and media publications. It’s logical that Instagram’s moves either do or will follow a similar trajectory.

Even so, competition breeds creative and expressive results for brands. The potential upside is even greater now that Instagram further rewards the best content by pushing it to the top of consumer’s Instagram feeds.

Here are the three things brands can do to unlock the power of Instagram:

Build specifically for Instagram

Brands that thrive in this new environment will take exceptional care to craft native interactions built specifically for Instagram. This means mobile-driven content. Videos should be snappy and encapsulating. Images should be striking and inviting, all built for the small screen.

Content for Instagram should be intended only for Instagram. When loyal customers follow brands on multiple social networks, seeing the same media all over the places disincentivizes this behavior, which then cuts down on loyalty. Crafting Instagram-specific interactions ensures that loyal customers aren’t overexposed to the same content and keep checking different social networks for specialized experiences.

Stay within the ecosystem

Instagram is selfish, and rightfully so. Even though many brands use the platform for lead generation, doing so overtly will backfire. Trying to send visitors out of the platform right away, with links and other tactics, is not beneficial, since the algorithm will catch on and punish the offending media.

Instead, brands must build content that keeps people within Instagram, which the algorithm will reward. Driving engagement for Instagram-specific content—which, in turn, drives engagement for Instagram—will be beneficial in the long run. Brands that align themselves with Instagram’s incentives will prosper.

Use the platform’s tools to your advantage

There are a number of tools on Instagram that brands can use to their advantage. Tags, hashtags, filters and locations all allow for opportunities to push the envelope. Sometimes brands use these features as Instagram intended, while other times they find new uses for them.

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