Instagram has been on the receiving end of a lot of complaints from social media marketers over the past year. Since it rolled out it’s algorithm-driven feed in 2016, users have been irritated (to say the least) by the appearance of posts from days, and sometimes weeks ago in their feeds, arguing that they aren’t seeing posts from many accounts that they follow and that it’s harder to increase engagement.
In an attempt to address these complaints, Instagram recently announced that it would begin to push newer posts to the top of people’s feeds. It isn’t the complete 180° back to chronological feeds that many users were hoping for, but it’s enough to stir up some excitement around the prospect of a return to chronological feeds in the future.
But which is better: chronological feeds or algorithm-driven feeds?
Many would, of course, argue that chronological is better, but it does also come with it’s downsides. We’ve been considering the pros and cons of both sides.
A ton of your followers probably haven’t seen any of your posts
We’ll start with the obvious. An algorithm-driven feed will only really show you what it thinks you want to see. As it can’t read your mind, it’s likely to get this wrong some of the time, and you’ll end up missing content from accounts that you love.
This works the other way too – someone may follow you and your posts might not pop up in their feed at all. Which, obviously, isn’t great.
You’ll often see content from the same 10 accounts repeatedly
If you like or comment on a post from a certain account, you will probably see a lot more of their posts in your feed in the future. So, if you like posts from 10 different accounts, they’ll show up in your feed a lot.
This can sometimes create an ongoing cycle of liking someone’s post, their posts turning up in your feed, you liking their posts, and then it all starts again.
Congratulations – you can now only see the posts from the same 10 accounts for eternity. Bored yet?
You like one photo of a puppy and BAM. Instagram thinks you love puppies and only puppies and will only show you puppies for the rest of your life (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I guess)
The discover tab is a great way to find content that you love from accounts that you aren’t following yet but probably should be. Supposedly.
But, like one photo of your friend’s amazing transformation following her recent fitness push, and your entire discover feed is filled with #fitspo and #transformationtuesday posts. Not ideal when you are a well-rounded person with multiple interests.
It doesn’t really matter what time you post
There are some pros when it comes to an algorithm-driven feed, such as the freedom to post whenever you like without worrying about a drop-in engagement.
This means that Instagram has become less of a game, where businesses and influencers who nailed the right times to post would be more successful in gaining followers and engagement. Now, even if you post at 3am on a Tuesday, you can be sure that your post will still be popping up on people’s feeds over the next few days.
It’s also quite nice to watch likes roll in over a longer period of time, as opposed to the mad rush of likes when you first post that quickly disappears as your post gets pushed further down people’s feeds.
Your posts are seen by people who are actually interested in your content
The profiles that engage with your posts the most will see more of your content. This means that your target audience pretty much creates itself.
If you post interesting and visually attractive posts, those people will keep engaging, and may even buy from you in the future.
You won’t miss posts from your favourite accounts
This isn’t always the case, of course, as mentioned above. But, if you spend some time engaging with your favourite accounts, your feed becomes your own personalised stream of content.
You won’t see the posts from that annoying account that you followed as a favour to a friend or can’t unfollow because they’re your friend and you’ll look like a bad person.
You won’t miss posts if you’re online
We’ll start with the good bits this time. If you’re online, you’ll see every post from the people you follow, meaning you may see some great content that you would have missed if the algorithm had been in place.
If you follow a relatively small number of people, you can just scroll down and see every post between now and the last time you logged in.
The posts on your feed will be more interesting
As I mentioned above, the algorithm can churn out a repetitive stream of posts from the same 10 accounts.
With a chronological feed, as you’ll be seeing posts from all accounts that you follow, your feed instantly becomes more interesting, and you can rediscover accounts you followed a long time ago.
The same goes for discovering accounts that you no longer like. Having a chronological feed can help to weed out the accounts with content that doesn’t interest you, allowing you to unfollow and have a manageable number of followers.
Businesses find it easier to grow a following
By finding the right hashtags and times when followers are most likely to engage, businesses can post the right content at the right times and easily rack up the impressions.
This makes it easier for small businesses to compete with big brands and influencers on Instagram.
It all depends when you’re online
Of course, having a chronological feed doesn’t mean that you’ll see all the content you would like to see. If you aren’t online when great content is being uploaded, then you could miss it altogether as it gets pushed lower down your feed.
It also means that you can’t just post photos whenever you want if you want people to see them. You’ll have to wait for just the right time to post, or risk getting low engagement.
Posting at popular times also may not work
However, if you post your content at the most popular times, you risk being pushed down on people’s feeds quickly.
This also happens with popular hashtags – if you post on Monday morning under the hashtag #mondaymotivation, your motivational quote could quickly disappear amongst the hordes of other quotes.
As you can see, there are pros and cons for both types of feed, which does make it difficult to definitively prove that one is better than the other.
We should, however, refrain from criticising the algorithm-based feed just because everyone else is, as they’re certainly not the devil. In fact, there are plenty of ways to argue that they are, in many ways, better than chronological feeds.
Instagram started as a way to share great photos and let people see a snapshot of your life in an innovative way. Algorithms are, in a way, a good way of getting back to what social media was originally intended to be for.
As businesses and influencers have begun to capitalise on social media and use it to interact with their customers and prospects, platforms like Instagram have became less and less about connecting with one another and more about branding strategies and growth. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s a great way for businesses to get their name out there.
However, wouldn’t it be nice if Instagram and other social media platforms began to prioritise the social needs of the average user above the interests of businesses? The new algorithm was a step in this direction, diverting attention away from the ‘numbers game’ and making it more about seeing the content that you actually want to see.
Yes, for businesses and social media marketers, chronological is probably better. However, maybe we need to consider whether this is the market that social media platforms should be catering to.
Let us know your thoughts on Instagram’s algorithm! Are you for or against it?