Not Dead Yet: Rethinking the Instagram Algorithm
If you read some recent headlines, you would have heard predictions that Instagram is fading in popularity or even “dead.” Many experts detail user decline and lack of Gen Z engagement as the basis for this assessment. Instagram’s not dead. Yet. But its reason for being needs to change.
Instagram needs to return to its roots, to a time that championed user authenticity and discovery based on individual interests. Users must maintain the ability to self-select their interests, as opposed to receiving a big push of content that they may or may not enjoy. The platform has a major opportunity at the intersection of content, influence, and the ability to shop from a single experience. It just needs to get activated in the right way.
The Future of Shopping
While conversations center on Instagram as a TikTok or Snapchat competitor, Instagram continues to quietly roll out and refine its shopping offering. Recent additions over the past year range from shoppable content in-feed to Shops to product tagging in influencer content. The shopping tab, coupled with the latest Reels integration and the new native checkout functionality, has transformed Instagram into a retail powerhouse, posing a threat to Amazon.com and other major retailers.
The platform has evolved into a retail marketplace in its own right, with one major step up from the rest of the competition: discovery. People discover products through scrolling as opposed to arriving with a practical goal of finding a pre-determined product to purchase. The transaction value becomes higher compared to a known or returning customer. Plus, Instagram has messenger functionality, allowing for direct access to customer service, and Facebook (Instagram's parent company) recently acquired a customer service company that likely will have integration capabilities in the future.
Instagram can curate the future of the shopping experience — if it continues to improve customer experience.
Enhancing In-App Shopping
By improving several areas, Instagram has an opportunity to create a more meaningful experience for customers. Suggestions include:
- Improving the recommendation engine to only be based on signals for what's most relevant to the user. TikTok has mastered this approach. In the spirit of learning from the best, Instagram has room to improve.
- Integrating the virtual storefront for Shops into the Brand pages vs. in a separate tab. This interface change will allow for a more seamless experience and, in turn, increase user engagement.
- Making it easier for influencers to reach consumers, especially given that most consumers want to hear from influencers they follow. Both TikTok and Snapchat recently leaned into enabling their creator communities by inviting them to become part of their core offerings. This move allows them to highlight the top content from creators, while creating a business model for success. Instagram could serve to take a page from this playbook.
- Continuing to align with the best technology in the e-commerce space to give customers with the brands and products they want.
People don’t want to be sold to in a traditional sense. They want a connection with the brands and services that relate to their needs and interests. Brands need to value that connection and use Instagram for context, making the content and interaction enjoyable and seamless. Instagram provides a unique intersection where both brands and users can engage. To maximize on that potential, brands must leverage the platform effectively.
What it Means for Marketers
Brands must consider platforms, including Instagram, as central to retail strategy. These platforms no longer serve as forums for separate advertising; rather, they have evolved into marketplaces in their own rights.
Brands must consider the same elements they would across other digital sales environments, addressing key questions such as:
- Are our content and product feeds consistent and regularly optimized?
- Is native checkout implemented through our storefronts on Shops?
- Are there exclusives or unique offers or bundles we can create?
- Are we activating influencers or ambassadors and tagging products appropriately?
- Are we monitoring referrals and sales data from the channel?
- What valuable insight into customer behavior and their needs can we apply to future business and product development?
Instagram has an opportunity to identify the types of experiences its core users want and create a space where they transpire. Through navigation and functionality improvements, the platform can allow its users to discover new influencers and content, as well as product and services of interest. These changes can help Instagram reinvent what it means to its community, while also creating a meaningful media experience that brings the platform back to its roots.
Jess Richards is executive vice president, managing director, commerce at Havas Market at Havas Media, North America.