Instagram recently announced that they are rolling out a new algorithmic feed. That means when you open your Instagram app, you won’t see a chronological scroll of updates from the people you follow. Instead, Instagram is using math and machine learning to determine which updates to show you first.
Naturally, artists and other users are upset. Instagram has been a great source of free advertising for years for many artists. I’ve touted Instagram as the next big art dealer. Several artist groups that I’m a part of are full of discussions about how the sky is falling because of these changes.
A few people even started a Change.org petition to get Instagram to change their minds about the algorithm.
Lets stop right there.
Instagram doesn’t care about your Change.org petition. And they shouldn’t.
Instagram is a business. They’re owned by Facebook. They have a responsibility to do what’s best for their business.
And truthfully, algorithmic interactions are quickly becoming the new normal across all of our lives. Not just in social media, but also in search engines, plane, theater and concert tickets, news websites, work schedules, and dozens of other interactions.
The algorithm is here to stay. Lets examine why.
What is machine learning?
According to The Guardian, the average user only sees about 30% of what the people they follow post. So they know that people are missing updates that they would think are super interesting.
With 400 million users, Instagram can see which updates are most popular in which networks, just by seeing which updates get the most comments, hearts, and shares. By using this data, Instagram can tell you which things are most popular in your network of friends.
And here’s the dirty secret that most people don’t want to admit: people like being told what to do. Sifting through all of the lame posts about what people ate for dinner is boring. So if Instagram can show you the good stuff first, they are pretty confident you’ll keep using Instagram AND that more people will join. After all, Facebook has gone from 900 million users to 1.5 billion users since they implemented their own algorithmic timeline, and they are far more profitable as well.
So that is what Instagram will do. They will start rearranging the timeline and testing to see whether or not people spend more time in the app – and I’m 99% sure that they will. Because math is a pretty good predictor of people’s behavior.
Whine or Win
Rather than fight against these algorithmic changes, here’s my suggestion: learn to play their game.
I’ve been selling things online since the early days of Google’s Adwords program. Back in the day, it was easy to make money from Adwords. The company I worked for frequently helped other companies make millions of dollars by buying ads on Google and by optimizing websites for Google’s algorithms. Now Adwords is complex and everyone knows about it so its also very competitive. It takes serious professional marketing chops to make money with Adwords.
Right now, Facebook ads is pretty complex, but not that competitive. There just aren’t that many marketers that are doing Facebook advertising well. The ad rates are cheap because competition is low. You should be taking advantage of Facebook advertising.
(Note: we have a Facebook advertising class for artists.)
Up to now, Instagram has been a free ride. You could build a following relatively easily just by engaging and interacting with people, and your engagement rates would consistently stay above 30%, which is miles better than Facebook or Twitter.
But the free ride is ending. The algorithms are going to create better experiences for the people using Instagram, but worse experiences for the brands trying to sell stuff. And that’s how it SHOULD be. Instagram wants people to spend more time with their best content, and see fewer ads and boring dinner pics or selfies.
Test, not Talk
If you are an artist who doesn’t have much of a following, and you would still like to build a following on social media, Instagram will work for a while yet. They haven’t turned the algorithm on for more than a handful of people yet. Read our blog posts on How to Sell Art on Instagram and How Ashley Longshore Sells $30,000 Paintings on Instagram.
If you have a budget, learn to advertise. You don’t need to spend more than a few hundred dollars before you can get pretty good at using Facebook’s ad platform. Your business will grow much faster if you can advertise effectively.
If you just have no money at all, then I would suggest checking out our blog post on 86 free ways to market your art.
If the Instagram update is going to kill your business, then you need to invest in yourself as an artpreneur. Invest in learning. Invest in getting help. Stop whining and find someone to help you.