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Don’t Freak Out: Algorithm Shmalgorithm

Here’s what to keep in mind next time that social hotness drops new code, writes Daniel Craig

Your social feed is outraged. Guess why? Something changed, probably.

A couple weeks back, Instagram announced that it would roll out an algorithm to its news feed, displaying pictures from your friends and closest brand pals in an order based not solely on when it was posted but also how awesome other people think that content is. More likes, more views.

This may sound familiar to you because it’s happened before elsewhere. Then, as now, your news feed freaks out. Last week, following that announcement, Instagram feeds filled with the most desperate pleas from brands and personalities. “Please,” they begged, “follow these directions to get notifications when we post, or you may never see our content again!”

I’m sure someone said that, so it’s quoted, albeit anonymously.

The fact is, as a platform matures — which Instagram has most certainly done at more than 400 million users — users have more options for content and follow many, many more accounts. When Facebook announced its move to an algorithm’d news feed, they indicated that users get 1,500 posts in their news feed at a time, and no one is going to read all of those. That’s why the top posts, the ones with the most engagement and potential interest to the user, get shoved to the top. Facebook figures that’s time well spent, and I kind of do, too. I don’t want to see the loser posts (sorry, Dad).

Now — why do brands get desperate? The playing field has changed. It’s slanted now because they have to make truly and actually worthwhile content in order to float to the top of the news feed.

There’s another way, though. Brands, you don’t have to float to the top — you could catapult with the old phrase we have come to know so well on Facebook and Twitter: “Pay to Play.” Even bad content shoots to the top of a feed if you pay enough for it.

Wait. No, no, no. Now even more people associate bad content with your brand. You’re a meme. People don’t know what you stand for. Negative engagement is spilling off the screen!

Ahem. A social presence can’t live on one pillar. DO: Pay to extend the life of your content (1) WHILE also developing content that makes your target stop and take note. (2) If what you’re is really plugged into a larger brand strategy and you stay true to your brand, you don’t have to freak out when the latest hotness grows up and drops some new code.

Instagram may have postponed the algorithm after a week of outrage, but algorithms in social media are a reality, and we have two ways to deal with them.

Yes, pay, but don’t forget that good, good content. Every post and every comment that you, a brand, put out into the world should provide value to your audience. If it doesn’t, you’re wasting everyone’s time, and that dead-in-the-water brand meme is going to sink straight to the bottom.

Daniel Craig is director of community management on the Social Marketing Team at Leo Burnett.

The views expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Leo Burnett Group.