instagram-algorithmRecently, Instagram confirmed the rumors: they are changing to an algorithm-based feed. Just like Facebook, their parent company, has already done.

What’s an Algorithm-Based Feed?

It’s a secret, magic formula devised by the individual social media platform, that shows you the posts it decides you’re most interested in. It incorporates a few factors (no factors are ever fully declared nor is the weighting), including if you engage with a particular user, and how recently. They use the philosophy that if you’ve just followed them, you’re more interested in them than a person you followed months or years ago. You want to see their posts and engage with them more.

The same algorithm is why you see your best friend’s Facebook posts, but not those from that boy in your eighth grade French class.

What Does this Mean For Marketers?

Many marketers are freaking out over the announcement. In a recent #HootChat, one participant claimed to only get 4-7% Facebook reach. So only each post was only seen by 4-7% of followers or page likes. There’s a common perception that you need paid Facebook advertising to get your posts seen.

But is this really the case?

Personally, I don’t see the algorithm as a problem. I don’t with Facebook, and I don’t expect to have a problem with Facebook. For some campaigns (like new follower acquisition) there’s a place for it, but not for the every day, engagement posts. This is where I should admit I’ve never paid for social media advertising. I’ve never seen the need for my campaigns.

What’s the Alternative?

You can actually do marketing.

It’s harsh and blunt, but marketing breaks down to the right message (or product) to the right people at the right time. Hit all three and watch the dollars roll in. The main areas where people get caught on social media is the right message to the right people. It’s not simple, and it’s not quick. You need to understand your audience. What are their pain points? Where are they? Physically and online. What are the messages to reach these people and solve their problems?

Getting these right will generate engagement and make you more prominent in algorithm-based feeds.

An Algorithm-Feed Case Study

This is what we did for the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia on Facebook. It took a few months, but luckily we started low (3% reach), so it was a slow and steady incline.

We started off with our perceived audience and what we thought they needed. We tried a lot of different things. News posts (ours and from other faith organizations), event announcements, spiritually challenging blog posts, personal stories. We tried time of day posting, and original snippets introducing the links versus a quote from the post.

We got things wrong. Our audience is more internal than we suspected. It was clergy and church leadership teams, not the people in the pews. And they wanted to be challenged spiritually (lots of personal stories and discussions). They didn’t want event announcements or tips on running churches.

We moved from the 3% reach to an acceptable base level of 15%. If we didn’t hit that on a post we either changed or didn’t do that style of post again. It hurt a few team members’ feelings. We used data to explain that while their event was great, perhaps they should use email to announce it. We tested, we tried, and we shared the data.

We ended the project (and my employment there) with a post hitting 100% at least once each month. Our best was 557%, and we were dancing. It took time, work and data. The data was mainly to bring others on board with the process. It wasn’t personal; it’s not that we didn’t like their activities – our audience wasn’t enthused about it.

This is the same approach I plan to take with the Instagram algorithm-based feed. Be thoughtful, and strategic. And do marketing.