It's coming! Instagram has announced impending changes to its algorithm, now making it more like Facebook and putting posts it thinks you'd like to see at the top of your news feed, rather than making your feed chronological.
And people freaked out at the announcement, especially us small business photographers. I had a small heart attack, too. I took time to panic and pout and wonder if I should sign the petition to stop the algorithm that was circling in photographer groups.
The Bigger Picture
I took a moment to do some research and think about the bigger picture (ha! pun intended).
As creatives, we thrive on change and creative evolution. We know that we can't keep doing the same thing for years and expect our businesses to grow. What drives potential clients to our websites and results in bookings is that we offer them something fresh and different from the other photographers out there.
So let's use this thinking when it comes to wrapping our brains around the purpose of social media. The purpose of social media is to tell your story to your audience.
So what is your story? My story is that I'm a writer-turned-photographer who loves using photography to capture the art of strong emotion. I love puppies and horses and piglets, chilly mornings at the beach, ballet, yoga, delicious coffee sans bells or whistles (no sugar, no milk, thank you!), shooting with film and always being in the mindset of "Challenge Accepted!" I strongly believe that you build your family with the people you meet along your journey, and that happiness flows from gratitude. If I won the lottery, I would adopt all the rescue dogs. ALL of them, guys. Goals.
Humans have a natural love for stories (which makes you addicted to a TV show or a book series or a even a foodie blog) and characters that they identify with. The best way to grow your audience is to relate by sharing your life and your story. If you do it in a way that resonates, then people will start to follow your story. Instagram is a beautiful way of doing that.
Yes, it was a great equalizer that Instagram used a chronological feed. But they need to monetize—because making money will always be the top priority for a business, even yours—and this is how they will go about it, with change. So let's accept the inevitable and figure out how to make it work for our small businesses.
Let's start by thinking about this change as primarily a feedback tool. Are your number of likes going down, and are you not seeing the same engagement from followers? Then you're probably not at the top of their feed, and it's for a reason: You're not creating content that resonates with your followers. Simply put, you have to make better work that catches fire in their hearts and pings with their story, or what they want their story to be. If you're not doing that, you're going to fall off their radar.
It's as simple as this: Do better work.
Turn Off Notifications
Have you ever downloaded an app, and once you log in, it asks you to turn on notifications? Have you done it only to be annoyed by a deluge of updates, regardless of whether they're something you'd want to see? Then you turn them off and try to shake that annoyed feeling you associate with that app.
Right. DON'T DO THAT TO YOUR FOLLOWERS.
Unless you have highly dedicated followers who want multiple notifications from you daily (hi mom!), then you're going to annoy the rest of your followers who want to see your work when they choose to check in on your story, not when you choose to ping them.
Or worse, you'll end up notifying a follower with a photo they happen to not love and decide to unfollow you. Because social media can be fickle like that. In short, don't put your followers, clients and potential clients in that position where you could annoy and ultimately lose them.
Also, It's Not That Bad
Seriously guys, it's not that bad. Your photos aren't disappearing from Instagram feeds.
"As we begin, we're focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order," wrote Instagram on its blog.
Your photos will still be in your followers' feeds. Whether they're at the top depends on how good your content is.
What Can You Do?
It'll take some time to see how this change plays out before we can really know the best way to utilize this new feature, but I'll tell you what I think is going to be extremely important: collaboration.
1. Work Work Work Work Work—And Collaborate
Work with other brands, collaborate with other photographers, create something—anything!—with other Instagrammers and then tag the crap out of each other. Focus on collaborating with other brands and creatives who can help tell your story. For example, it would be kind of weird if I started posting sports photos with fast action shots—it doesn't fit in with my story. From collaborating, mentions and tags will be more important that ever, as the new algorithm will undoubtedly take this into account when determining where you should fall on a feed.
2. Engage with Your Audience
Similar to how Facebook takes into account when likes, comments and shares when it uses its algorithm on your status updates, engagement will be incredibly valuable in the Instagram feed. Did someone comment with a thumbs up emoji? Thank them! You should be doing that anyway, but now it will boost you up the feed line.
3. Post 2-3 Times Per Day
There's a sweet spot for each business in how often to post, but at least once and sometimes even 3 times per day keeps you fresh in your followers minds. However, there is a balance to be struck, so don't post things your audience won't care about. Make sure it's a quality photo that continues your story. Consider quality over quantity, every time.
4. Make Better Work
Yes, I'm bringing it back to this point because it's the most important one. If you're not creating something of value for your audience, if you're not giving them a story to relate to, then you're not going to stick in their minds. They'll turn you off without thinking twice about it.
So don't wait until the big change comes through before taking this advice—start now and don't look back. It's the same belief that underlies my new year resolutions: If you wait until January 1 to start, you're already behind. Why not start your resolutions two weeks early so that you're ahead when the clock strikes midnight? And this Instagram clock will strike loudly. Get ahead of the game so you can be at the top of the feed.