Earlier this week, Instagram changed its logo, leading to a significant amount of discussion on social media. Opinions about the new logo spanned the gamut; Inc. even ran a piece about whether the change was a smart idea.
While the logo change was highly noticeable, for many Instagram users, a less obvious yet far bigger and more controversial change is under way.
On March 15th, Instagram announced that it would eventually be changing people's feeds and no longer displaying images chronologically but rather in accordance with some proprietary algorithm. Instagram--now a division of Facebook--claimed that such a change would benefit users, because they miss about 70 percent of images in their feeds, according to the firm's calculations. A change ensuring that people see the images they are most likely to appreciate, seems, at least at first glance, to be quite positive.
There is a major downside, however. Displaying pictures algorithmically has a dramatic impact on brands and influencers (who are often the heaviest users of Instagram). Under the old model, for example, someone with a million Instagram followers knew that any image he or she posted would appear in the feed of every one of the million who was using Instagram at the time. Under the new model, that is no longer the case. And, of course, Instagram could charge for the right to "boost posts" and appear more often--making the firm money but undermining the profits of influencers and increasing the cost to brands.
It was not a secret that Instagram had been testing its algorithm, nor that many users were upset when Instagram announced its intent to deploy the algorithm.
Yesterday, shortly after the new logo appeared, I noticed that images in my Instagram feed were out of order, and I confirmed that the same thing was happening again immediately before writing this sentence. I wondered if this was a coincidence, or if, in fact, Instagram used the logo change to distract from its actual deployment of the new algorithm. I contacted Gil Eyal, CEO of influencer database and tracking firm HYPR.
"It looks like Instagram pulled the old bait and switch," said Eyal. "On March 15th, they announced a proposed change in their product that would turn their feed into an algorithmic feed, instead of the current, chronological one. The announcement sparked a massive response, with over 300,000 Instagram users signing a petition asking the company to reconsider this change. Their fears stem from a similar change that Facebook, Instagram's parent company, did a few years ago, which significantly reduced the organic reach that brands and influencers get on the platform."
He continued: "Back in March, Instagram's CEO, Kevin Systrom, promised to take it slow and not make any unannounced changes. But the version released this week, along with an announcement about a new icon, diverted the attention from the real issue. As one of our team members, Connor Gallic, noticed shortly after installing the new version of the app, Instagram is testing out the feed on select users in the U.S."
Of course, the fact that I and many others received the algorithmic feed right after the new logo went live could be a coincidence. An Instagram spokesperson I contacted denied that that there was any connection whatsoever between the rollout of the algorithmic feed and that of the new logo, and told me that "We are still testing algorithmic feed, and haven't yet rolled it out broadly." He also clarified that Instagram will let people know when the algorithmic feed goes live for all accounts, but that the service is in the process of rolling out the feature to some accounts now for testing purposes.
Eyal noted that the feed change is far more significant to many Instagram users than the deployment of a new logo: "There is a reason influencers and brands are concerned about this change. If it is similar to the one Facebook integrated a while back, it will significantly diminish their ability to reach their audience without paying Instagram to boost posts. This means that brands and influencers who have spent years building a following on the platform will now see a significant drop in the value of that following. From a user perspective, however, I actually think this is beneficial. If done properly, the algorithm will reduce clutter on the feed and ensure more relevant and engaging content gets pushed to the front."
In any event, Eyal offered some advice for brands and influencers: "Look at your recent posts and see which have gotten the highest levels of engagement. These posts are the ones that are likely to perform best when measured by Instagram's new algorithm. You want to make sure you identify the characteristics of these successful posts, so that Instagram recognizes your content and decides to promote it."