As photographers, social media has long been an important tool for showcasing our work. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest (not really a social network these days I guess)…. They’ve all helped me market my photography whether that be weddings, music, family shoots or workshops.
I’ve booked weddings from people finding me on Facebook and Pinterest. In fact, more and more of the traffic hitting my website is coming from Pinterest, but I’ll save that for another post. Despite me having almost 10,000 followers on Twitter, I’ve noticed a huge drop in the amount of interaction I receive there recently. And it seems even less popular in Canada in 2018 than back in the UK. But the place people pay attention to photographers the most in recent years is, of course, Instagram.
At the time of writing, I have around 3500 Instagram followers. Not a huge amount by many people’s standards but that’s still a lot of people who have clicked a button that indicates that they’d like to see my photos. Unfortunately for them and me, most of those followers are not seeing the images I post in their feed due to the way Instagram works in 2018. There’s been yet another update to the Insta algorithm and, up until now, it’s been a constant battle trying to work out what the hell is going on and what we, as photographers, should be doing to maximise the number of people seeing our work. There’s also the fact that we don’t just want our followers to see the images. We also want to use hashtags, tagging and other methods to help non-followers find us on Instagram. And that’s getting more and more tricky too.
Thankfully, Instagram themselves have finally given a few nuggets of info to explain what the hell is going on and how we can maybe make some changes to help our images find the best feeds to appear in. It’s been almost two years since Instagram changed its algorithm from showing all posts in reverse chronological order to a more complex, machine-learning driven approach. As soon as the platform announced the change, uproar ensued. Some users even spearheaded a Change.org petition begging Instagram not to move away from the reverse chronological format. It currently has 343,013 signatures. Apparently, though, there are no plans to give users the option to revert to a reverse chronological feed, despite all those people demanding it. Instead, the company decided to educate users about how the algorithm works.
Wonder why your crazy-amazing photo from that waterfall in Iceland got fewer likes than the photo you posted of your lunch in 2016? Maybe you’re delusional and the waterfall photo is actually a bit rubbish. More likely, Instagram’s evil algorithm is working some twisted magic behind the scenes in some windowless room in San Francisco. But now we do know a little more about what’s going on and why it can actually be a good thing for Instagram users.
In 2018, Instagram relies on machine learning based on your past behaviour to create a unique feed for each user. Even if you follow the exact same accounts as your friend, you’ll get a personalized feed based on how you interact with those accounts. Below are the main factors determining what you see in your Instagram feed:
The people at Insta know what images you’ve liked, commented on or even just lingered over in the past and they will assume that’s what you’d like to see more of. So, if you regularly like pictures of smiling dogs or grumpy cats, Instagram will show you similar images more often.
Even though Instagram no longer shows posts in chronological order, it still won’t show you photos posted too long ago. Most of the posts you see are at most a few days old but some were posted just before you opened the app.
If you interact with your friend Kelly frequently you’ll see Kelly’s posts more often. If you regularly comment on Dan’s photos or get tagged in his pictures, you’ll see Dan’s posts more often. Instagram is trying to guess how close you are to the person who shared a photo, with a higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past.
Those are the core factors affecting your feed but Instagram has also clarified what else might determine what posts you see.
The more often you actually open the Instagram app, the more often Instagram will refresh your feed to show you new, hopefully-relevant content.
The more accounts you follow, the more options Instagram has of what to show you. You can, if you choose, follow all of Kylie Jenner‘s 109 million followers. How does Instagram make sure you don’t miss Kelly’s photos of her new nail varnish or Dan’s snap from his plane window? If you follow a lot of people, Instagram will be picking from a wider breadth of authors so you might see less of any specific person.
How long you typically spend scrolling through your feed is also taken into account. Some days I’ll spend half an hour or more checking out what the people I follow have been posting. But sometimes I just wanna have a quick glance while I wait for the kettle to boil. If you have short sessions, you’ll be more likely to see what Instagram feels is the most relevant content during those brief periods. But if you usually scroll for longer periods of time, you’ll see a wider variety of posts.
The good news is that, despite what you may think, Instagram is allegedly never hiding your posts from your followers. It’s just that they may have to keep scrolling a little longer before they see it. But your biggest fan – the slightly odd stalker you don’t even know that likes and comments on every single photo you post, they’re gonna see your posts every time they open the app.
Instagram has also said that they don’t give preference to video or photo posts. As your feed is based on what kind of content you engage with most, if you never stop to watch videos you might see fewer of them in future. They also claim that Instagram weights content from personal accounts and business or brand accounts equally. And that regular users and those that post multiple times a day are not “downgraded” or penalised. Supposedly, nor are those who add multiple hashtags to their posts. For me, this is the best way to help people who don’t follow me yet find my photos, especially now that users can follow hashtags in addition to accounts. So shadowbanning is not a real thing folks! Or is it? Maybe that’s just what they want us to think! There’s sure to be other factors that they’ll never be completely transparent about.
Interaction will possibly help you too. The more you interact with others on Instagram, the more likely your content is to land in Instagram’s Explore section, where users can find content from accounts they don’t follow. This is true even for those with few followers. Instagram offers a mix of popular and lesser-known accounts in its Explore feature which is set to have a big impact on how people find who to follow next.
The main problem is that more and more people, and a significant amount of companies, are joining Instagram and competing for your eyeballs. I definitely see a lot more sponsored posts in my feed these days. People will inevitably complain that Instagram is trying to force them to buy ads, but it’s also an inevitable consequence of increasingly popular algorithmic Instafeeds.
Thanks to “the Original Tattooed Bride Photographer” Mike Allebach for the Infographic below.