Yesterday I floated an idea with some fellow bloggers and Etsy sellers, and their response didn’t make curl up in embarrassment, so here goes. Last week I posted a photo to Instagram of the Kuang Si Waterfalls in Laos, with a link to the accompanying hilarious blog post. In the space of a few hours, which is the average lifespan for an Insta post, it got three likes. I work in digital marketing so I would have understood if I had tagged the post badly, or done a dodgy caption, or posted a photograph of an actual turd. But the Kuang Si Waterfalls are literally paradise:
My cousin even wrote some comments, so every point on the old ‘how to post a good Insta photo’ check list was ticked: funny caption, relevant tags, engaged audience, LITERAL PARADISE. I gritted my teeth and thought ‘maybe it is time to take a break from Instagram.’ I’ve been cutting down on my social media follows and posts generally lately because I’m busy, and if LITERAL PARADISE can’t reach my other friends and family, let alone potential blog readers, what is even the point? Intagram’s recent algorithm changes are making it harder and harder for people to see recent content, or even just… content. I think I see more ‘sponsored posts’ and ‘recommended posts’ than I do actual posts, and then photos from a week ago show up on my timeline that I completely missed a week ago. I’m not an expert but I did some Googling and here is the science behind why that happens:
- When you post a photo, Instagram shows the photo to 10% of your audience
- If within the first 10-60 minutes, your post gets high engagement (likes, comments, shares), Insta shows it to the rest of your audience (the exact amount of time seems to be debatable, but it’s definitely no more than an hour or two)
- If the post doesn’t perform then Insta, um, doesn’t show the rest of your audience.
TEN MINUTES. Here is a good article with more info, by the way. I dunno about you, but a lot of my followers are in a different timezone and a lot of the rest are spam accounts that don’t care anyway. No one sees anything in 10 minutes! Anyway, that’s not the point. Algorithms used by Insta and Facebook show you posts based on what the algorithm thinks you want to see, based on your history and previous engagement and whatnot, not on what you actually might want to see (again, I am not a computer expert, if anyone has a good explanation for how algorithms actually work, hit me up).
In theory this means all accounts (businesses, personal, robots pretending to be people) have to engage with followers by commenting, posting to Insta Stories, watching Insta Stories, etc. Officially, the new algorithm is a way of rooting out fake accounts that spam everyone. But it is also a sneaky unofficial way to get more people to use the app. To gain followers/readers/customers, we have to give Instagram more of our eyeball time, and thus give Instagram’s advertising partners more of our eyeball time. Small businesses or bloggers are more likely to pay for a sponsored post to reach more people, but how many of us see a sponsored post and immediately engage? I do sometimes, but not when I already follow that account and can’t see their organic posts!
Anyway. At first I was annoyed with Instagram as a regular person, then I was annoyed as someone whose job includes posting to Instagram for clients who expect results, and then I was annoyed as someone with a blog, Patreon and Etsy shop that deserve way more coverage than they get. But I don’t like moaning about a problem without trying to fix it, so I’ve had an idea for a little protest project.
As I said before, Instagram is fundamentally concerned about hooking users into spending more time on the app. It needs us to engage, because it’s a for-profit company that relies on advertisers paying lots of money in exchange for exposure to lots of people. And the only thing that really resonates with businesses is money. If users spend less time scrolling and watching Stories, there will be less exposure for advertisers and less revenue for the company. If lots of users spend less time on the app, citing the algorithm, the boss dudes might consider improving it.
So I’m taking a two week break from my personal Insta accounts, effective Monday 26th February. I can’t delete the app because I have clients who will want me to post for them, but I won’t be on my account, or the alternative Etsy account I run. If you’re annoyed too, join in! Of course, you don’t have to take two weeks. If spending an hour less a week on there is all you can manage because you have customers and friends to keep up with, that’s cool too. I am clearly not going to be monitoring you – this is a fun lil project that will stop me gritting my teeth so often, not Black Lives Matter or the gun control protests. I’m not really expecting to get through to a multi-million dollar company. There’s not really a time limit either – I can’t see this going viral and all 800 million Instagram users taking a two week break, somehow. And I’ll definitely be back on the app in a fortnight, because there are people on there I really care about. But best case scenario, Instagram’s bosses remember their audience is a community and worst case, I get a bit of headspace and meet some other disgruntled bloggers and business owners!
So if you’re taking part, hit me up in the comments – I’m also on Twitter and Tumblr, and my blog Facebook is here. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org too. I wanted to hashtag #FuckInstagram but I think that might be too combative. I’m thinking maybe #ItsNotMeItsYou?