4 Ways To Work With Instagram's New Algorithm To Build Your Brand

by Madeline Popelka
Kate Daigneault

Last week, Instagram launched a new algorithm for its news feed.

Instead of being in chronological order, the photos and videos in your feed are now “based on the likelihood you'll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”

When I initially heard the news, my first thoughts were, “Oh no, not again."

We recently went through the same thing with Facebook. If you don't remember, there was once a time when we saw posts from all our friends and we pages “like." Now, we only see posts from our friends we engage with and brands who pay for their posts to be sponsored.

The Facebook news feed algorithm changed so Facebook could monetize. And although Instagram claims the algorithm is in place so people see the posts they care about most, we all know this change is in place so it can make money.

The beautiful thing about Instagram is (at this time) there is no way to differentiate a business Instagram account from a personal account, meaning they cannot screw brands over like they did with Facebook.

So what does this mean for small businesses on Instagram?

For good or ill, the app is evolving, so the way brands behave on the platform need to evolve, as well. Most small businesses don't have the cash to drop big bucks on Instagram ads. Below are tips to minimize the effects of Instagram's new algorithm and keep a strong, organic reach:

1. Create Killer Content

Highly relevant and aesthetically pleasing content has always been a key part of the formula for success on the visual platform, but brands have been able to get by with mediocre content and low engagement. If a low-quality product shot was posted, they still had the eyes of hundreds or thousands of followers. They have never been penalized, until now.

The more people engage with your content through likes and comments, the more likely your post will show up at the top of their feed. So, to prevent your posts from being buried under dozens of other posts (or not being seen at all), you need to consistently produce high-quality content that makes people want to like, comment and share your photos and videos.

2. Influence Engagement

How do you influence followers to engage with your brand?

I recently read Dr. Robert Cialdini's "Influence," where he dives into the psychology of what influences people and why. A few principles apply to content marketing and can help us understand what we need to do to trigger engagement with fans.

The Reciprocity Principle: People tend to return favors. If someone does a favor for you, you feel obligated to return the favor.

Social Media Implication: Like and comment on other's photos, and they'll do the same. Follow someone, and they'll follow you back.

The Likeness Principle: People tend to be influenced by those they like and are similar to. We naturally like people who have the same interests as us, dress like us and talk like us.

Social Media Implication: Be HUMAN. Your followers are human; act like one, not a billboard. Use the same hashtags, geo-tag the same places, talk about the same holidays and events, while keeping a strong brand identity and personality.

The Authority Principle: People tend to obey authority figures.

Social Media Implication: Show your fans how your brand is credible so they're interested in what you have to say.

3. Build A Community

If the order of the news feed is now based on "your relationship with the person posting," you need to have relationships with as many of your followers as possible, building a community of engaged fans. How do you build relationships with a bunch of people online?

One way brands are creating communities on Instagram is creating hashtags that followers are encouraged to use when posting their own photos or videos. This is by no means an easy task. Having people engage with your content is one thing, but getting people to endorse your brand on their feed can be challenging.

The brands who have mastered this are the ones with massive followings, and their fans are incentivized to use the brand hashtag and tag the brand for a chance to be featured on the feed and become “Insta famous."

Smaller brands need to get creative. Why should they use your hashtag and tag you? Maybe they'll have a chance to win something if they do. Maybe there's a charitable donation tied to each use of the hashtag. Whatever the reason, value needs to be brought to the follower.

4. Have A Strategy

This may seem like a no-brainer, but several brands don't have a social media strategy. Some brands create Instagram accounts because they know it's a popular channel, and they know their brand should be there.

With this new algorithm, you are competing to have your content seen. If you don't have a clear strategy to win the eyes and hearts of your target audience, it'll be a waste of time and money.