Wake up, crack your eyes open, open the app. Scroll, like, scroll, like, comment. Open up Stories, watch, watch, tap, watch, tap, tap. Repeat. Does this sound at all familiar? Call me crazy, but I find myself opening up Instagram so frequently that I start to get restless if I’m not checking in on my feed every hour or two. That’s how ingrained the app has become in my everyday routine. After speaking with friends and colleagues, though, I know that I’m not alone.
So, after Instagram apparently reprogrammed its algorithm over a month ago, it was hard to ignore what had changed. I noticed a drastic difference in the chronology of my feed, seeing a photo posted 20 minutes ago right after one posted over 24 hours ago. What’s more, I began noticing the same handful of accounts showing up first in my Instagram Stories queue. For a casual user like myself (I occasionally source imagery for my stories there, but otherwise, I just go on for personal interest), this was mildly concerning but not totally upsetting.
But then I started to wonder: If this is affecting my daily experience with the app as a casual user, how is it affecting those whose careers are much more intimately tied up with the success of their account? To get a better sense of how deep the issue ran, I decided to have self-employed creative professionals like influencers, photographers, graphic designers (in other words, those with a K in their follower count) weigh in.
Ellen Kim is an L.A.-based fashion and lifestyle influencer whose approachable style has earned her over 100,000 Instagram followers, an important milestone for anyone in her field. Her style is quintessential L.A.: denim jackets, easygoing dresses, and classic sneakers, with a few It bags thrown in for good measure.
But her success on the app was by no means casual. Kim recently quit her job in e-commerce to pursue her blogging career full-time, and she’ll be the first to admit that Instagram is one of the most important channels for her business. “Many of my partnerships and collaborations were developed from an organic mention or tag. Instagram creates relationships when we are being honest and transparent with our readers and brands,” she explained.
As for what she’s experienced so far, “the significant changes I’ve noticed are in my engagement. Some photos don’t get all of their potential likes or comments until the third day,” she said. This delay in engagement is something I think users across the board have felt as well. For an influencer whose career is often measured by numbers like follower count, likes, and engagement rates, this shift is impactful.
But instead of getting discouraged, she’s thrown new energy into changing up her approach to producing content for the app. “The shift helped me become more creative on finding ways to engage with my audience and make sure that if they weren’t seeing my post on my feed, then I would find a way for them to visit my profile more frequently,” she told us.
For Kim, it’s all about being approachable and relatable. She firmly believes that this strategy is more valuable to building relationships and, in turn, engagement than keeping a close eye on stats and numbers alone. “My readers are the most important. I’ve learned that chatting with them daily, DM’ing back and forth, asking for their feedback, using polls, answering questions and comments not only helps with engagement but builds a stronger community.”
For the NYC-based sister duo behind @nycxclothes, community means everything. So despite seeing roughly 40% lower reach on their posts since the algorithm change, their approach hasn’t really changed. “We feel even more connected to our audience than we used to before,” they told us.
With so many influencers in the digital space right now, competition is high when it comes to partnering with top brands and (ultimately) earning a viable living. The type of outlook held by Shelcy and Christy is refreshing, to say the least. It’s impossible not to get wrapped up in placing value on the quality of your content just by the numbers.
For the sisters, their Instagram account is all on the side for now. Although they keep up with posting at least once per day, their focus has stayed the same: producing stylish shoots (which means 75% of their images come from a DSLR), flexing their creativity, and “engaging with our community so as to build something that’ll last beyond social platforms,” they told us.
While Instagram remains the number one platform for sharing creative visual content, we tend to forget that the lives of creative professionals don’t always revolve around social media. Brooklyn-based stylist and artist Jessi Frederick is an excellent example of this. “A while back, when Instagram made the initial switch from a chronological feed to an algorithmic one, is when I realized that I couldn’t have a social media platform dictate my success.”
She mainly uses the app to showcase her photography and portfolio work, which is dictated by her clean yet warm visual aesthetic and uncomplicated personal style. “The beauty of Instagram, when it began, was having the ability to use the platform to connect with and discover individuals from all over the world as well as stay up-to-date with them,” she said.
Among all four of the women we spoke to, one theme rose above: For Instagram, an app that’s becoming heavily ingrained in our day-to-day life, it’s all about building communities and making lasting connections for those with the most to lose from a shift in its algorithm.