Is my Instagram broken?

In short, no. But that two-word answer would make for a terrible blog post, right?! 

So let’s talk about Instagram a bit more and some of the things going on with your engagement, story views and the general feeling of WTF-ness Instagram is giving business owners at the moment.

Instagram and your business.

I don’t think you’d be here reading this blog if Instagram wasn’t important to your business and I understand how frustrating it has been for the last few months. This subject has been a hot topic in my industry for a while now and “OMG what’s yours like today?” is basically how Social Pip and I say hello.

Some of the common themes of disgruntlement around current-Instagram (am really not keen to just be blatantly Instagram-bashing as frankly it is still an incredible tool for business and has a place in the marketing mix) are:

  • Lack of engagement
  • Low reach
  • Non-existent reach from hashtags
  • Low (lower than you usually get) story views
  • and, dare I say it, fewer likes 

Any that I forgot about? Tell me

To be honest, I am not concerned with the “less likes” one as I don’t advocate number of hearts as a measure of a successful piece of content — likes don’t really pay bills. I manage some client Instagram accounts that have had the likes feature removed and it has not impacted on the success of their account at all.

So what is Instagram’s problem then?

In all honesty, nothing. And in the same breath, nothing that has been confirmed. Head of Insta, Adam Mosseri is super active on his account and not shy about doing Live Q&A sessions with creators and influencers, answering questions around Instagram and talking about updates or changes. He also hosts weekly “ask me anything” sessions. 

My point being that if there is something to be said, he says it. Contrary to “experts” or so-called social media gurus who mostly share theories and not facts, which then leads to the hazardous Chinese whispers effect.  

However, experience and industry knowledge does show me that sometimes, when Instagram is testing features on some accounts and not others or there is a change coming, things can go a little off. I would add that low (and sometimes non-existent) numbers on hashtags or low story views have been around for a few months now, so if change is coming, it’s been a long time in the making! 

It’s worth reading the rest of this blog as I cover some of the theories and rumours around hashtags, story views and the algorithm.

Instagram theories and rumours.

Hashtags vs. keywords?

One theory for the low hashtag numbers is that keywords were introduced to the explore tab and that has been taking some of the hashtag limelight. A very legit claim, as keywords have been introduced and typing a word in the search bar does throw up more keywords than hashtags nowadays.

Equally, Instagram is a super clever data-driven learning machine. It has evolved as an app and now serves you more of the content it thinks you want to see as opposed to you having to spend a lot of time on hashtags searching for the content you want to see. Reels, IGTV, story lives, keywords and the explore tab are just some of the ways Instagram has evolved with how it serves you (as the user) content. All the stuff, right?!

Story layout changes?

Story-layout-change rumours have been rife for a while, as stories are mega popular (numbers show more so than the grid) and Instagram has been testing making them a more prominent feature of your Instagram-app-experience. That would potentially contribute to the low (lower than average for your account) views.

Algorithm changes?

The algorithm-has-changed-rumour has been on and off for years and frankly it isn’t true. The algorithm changed once circa 2015 from a chronological feed to the algorithm it is today and that (as a super super quick summary) is “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post”. It’s all data-driven and machine learning and is really pretty fascinating! But it is driven by how someone uses their Instagram app and the only influence you have over that is to create hot content and build an engaged online community.  

So it has more to do with your content and what your audience do with it (like, comment, save or share), when you post and how you engage on the platform with your audience and other accounts. Which is why the likes of me in the industry put so much time and effort into your strategy, target audience, engagement methods and research into the content that will resonate with that audience. 

Creating content for your Instagram feed should be a research-based thoughtful process (as opposed to just a cool and pretty image!).

Saves as the best type of engagement?

And the “saves are the most important type of engagement” rumour. False. No level of engagement is ranked more than another within the algorithm. Saves are cool to see as it helps you determine whether a piece of content is valuable or not which, in turn, helps you build a content plan that resonates with your audience. Resonates as in it gets a reaction – like a save

Reels taking over?

It wouldn’t be an Instagram blog without mentioning Reels either! Arguably one of the biggest additions to Instagram from 2020 and (love them or hate them), they are making a splash with high reach numbers and being pushed via the Explore tab.

This part of the conversation is important when it comes to understanding the change in numbers from things we already know worked (like hashtags and story views) as Reels is a competitor to the likes of Tik Tok and reclaiming that audience segment is a big deal for Instagram. 

Rumours, theories and algorithm aside, should we consider that your content might just need a shake up?

I can promise you that your audience will tire of your puzzle grid, template posts, tightly planned schedule and branded content long before you do!

Instagram variables.

Instagram variables are what I call the things you can (and can’t) control when using the app and creating content.

I think this is an important part of the “what has happened to my Instagram” conversation. As business owners, we can sometimes forget to look up and see past what we want from our content and audience.

Things you can control.

  • Your plan
  • Your strategy
  • Your attitude 
  • Your time
  • Your content 

Things you can’t control.

  • The weather – think sunny day, less phone time as people get outside
  • The world – lockdown ends, less phone time as people get out again
  • Other people – they’re having a bad day, less phone time to help their mindset
  • Content overload part 1 – they are watching a new series on Netflix and chatting on a Twitter thread at the same time 
  • Content overload part 2 – there is just so much more content out there compared to 12+months ago and more for a consumer to sift through
  • Social media detox – screen overload is a thing, digital detox is a thing and hearing of people removing social media apps off their phone for a period of time is no longer completely alien
  • New apps and technology – whilst I don’t believe that Clubhouse is the new Instagram, audio-only content from the likes of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces is doing some interesting things in the social media marketing place and that will mean your audience’s time and attention is split
  • The fact that people use more than one social media app 

The Instagram numbers.

The thing with numbers on Instagram, or any social media app, is that as users we are preconditioned from years of school maths, card games and family monopoly sessions to think higher is better.

But some of the most effective Instagram accounts (measuring metrics by business objectives and strategy) have “low” numbers, and some established businesses have zero social media presence. That is a pretty extreme example and I am not suggesting you delete all your social media accounts, equally I am not suggesting that high numbers are not important to some Instagram strategies.

If you have properly delved into your Insights, you would probably notice that current numbers are similarly matched to 2019 stats, which make sense as we were in lockdown for most of 2020 and had nothing to do but digital stuff

And of course we want to see growth on our Instagram business accounts, but this blog is about perspective not growth.

What’s next?

Hopefully, you are feeling a little better that Instagram doesn’t hate you as a small business and isn’t trying to cut you out for not advertising or making a Reel. Perspective is super important when using Instagram as part of the marketing mix as, quite frankly, you have your business to run!

I’d suggest running a mini social media audit on your account. You can do this yourself by taking a look at the Insights over the last 3 to 6 months and making notes around what has worked or not worked according to your strategy and what type of content has sparked a reaction (of any kind) from your audience. You can also commission a social media audit from an expert that will analyse the numbers and make recommendations for going forward. 

Another option is to revisit your Instagram strategy and remind yourself what you want out of the app for your business and the methods you will implement to achieve this. In that same conversation with yourself, remind yourself of the time you have to create content and run an engaged Instagram community too!

Lastly, I’d refresh my overall marketing strategy for the business and spend some time understanding where my customers come from and what other elements of the marketing mix need my time and / or attention to achieve this. Instagram is pretty damn cool, but is only one element of the marketing mix.

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