Twitter has recently turned ten, with around 320 million users. Instagram has over 400 million, despite the image-based social network only being five years old. Both are making massive changes to their core product.
At the heart of both is the timeline, which is about to get an algorithm-driven makeover. Chronological is out. Algorithms are in. For Instagram, this should come as no surprise given the fact Facebook bought the photo-sharing social network in 2012.
Twitter users, however, can’t help but be disappointed, with many happy to spend time on a network where events happen in real-time, rather than one where algorithms determine what users see. When the news first broke early in February 2016, the top trending hashtag on Twitter was #RIPTwitter.
It is worth asking the question: would Twitter be much use if the Arab Spring were happening today? Real-time updates have directly supported real-world events. Algorithms weaken that online to offline connection. Hossein Derakhshan, a blogger who was imprisoned for sparking a blogging revolution in Iran, believes all three – Twitter, Facebook & Instagram – are harming the web as a free-sharing source of ideas and inspiration.
Why implement algorithms?
Not many users are happy with algorithms deciding what they see, and businesses aren’t happy either. Generating an ROI from Facebook was easier before algorithms. Now, with organic reach around 2.27% for Pages with over one million fans, Facebook is almost exclusively a pay-to-play platform.
Twitter and Instagram may never be as big as Facebook, but clearly, revenue is the main reason behind these changes. Tech stocks, including Twitter, have lost investor confidence on Wall Street. Investors need to see an uptick in key metrics, starting with monthly average user (MAU) numbers. That should restore investor confidence, even if it comes at the expense of the user experience.
Pushing Tweets and images to the top of the timelines – when a user clicks back on an app – shows them what was popular when they were away. In chronological order, those events are missed. The modern digital curse, fear of missing out (FOMO) is, therefore, another reason for these changes.
How brands can adapt
For many businesses, does this mean the party is over? Instagram and Twitter are where brands have gone to avoid Facebook’s pay-to-play environment.
These changes will take time to kick in. It won’t happen all at once, but it’s safe to say that brands need to be ready to set aside a budget for Instagram and Twitter or abandon these platforms altogether.
Now is the time for brands to take a look at their performance on Instagram & Twitter: analyse your performance over the last 6 – 12 months, see what works, what doesn’t and what you can do to improve the metrics that matter, such as engagement and click-through rates. Algorithms reward high-performance users, since the more people who engage with an update, the more often that user’s updates will be promoted, thereby amplifying the effect of popularity.
All of which is good news for your social media key performance indicators. There’s a very real, budgetary impact to all of this. Maintaining current levels of engagement will get harder once these algorithms are tweaked and improved – for the benefit of the social networks – therefore, the better you do now, the less chance you will need to pay to maintain current levels of digital brand awareness. Algorithms can work in your favour if you step up your game now.
This post is brought to you by MBJ London.