On March 28, Instagram users woke up to a barrage of posts that asked them to turn on notifications for accounts they follow. The clamor was due to a huge update that's coming to the photo-sharing app — a change that puts small businesses at risk for losing customers.
Instagram recently announced that it is changing its algorithm to resemble that of Facebook's: users' feeds will no longer display content chronologically. Instead, the posts they see first will be the ones that the app thinks they are interested in. This will include everything from popular posts to posts that are based on users' prior engagement, such as likes, comments and profiles they have frequently visited.
Although Instagram has yet to announce an official launch date for the algorithm update, marketers and businesses were quick to react. And rightly so. After the update, posts from less popular accounts will likely get buried in users' timelines. For small businesses, this will most likely result not only a drop in engagement, but also in customers and sales. [See Related Story: Instagram for Business: Everything You Need to Know]
There is a bright side to the update, however. To stay competitive, businesses with the most targeted followers and highest-quality content will be the ones to stand out from the pack.
Strategically, the new Instagram will level the playing field, said Emmelie De La Cruz, a branding and social media consultant at The Branding Muse and author of "Make Yourself Marketable."
"All those accounts with purchased followers, low-quality content and the ability to post every 30 minutes will not have an advantage with the new algorithmic feed," De La Cruz said. "It is going to separate the fakes with purchased followers and trash content from those with great and truly engaging content."
But is asking followers to turn on notifications for business accounts really the way to go? Such a move actually had the opposite effect, with many users expressing their grief and annoyance over the call to action, primarily because they were bombarded with its ubiquity.
"The solution to the Instagram update is not [getting followers to turn on] post notifications," De La Cruz said. "It’s getting ahead of the game with smart strategies."
To help businesses adjust to the new Instagram, De La Cruz offered the following three tips on surviving its update:
1. Make an extra push to increase engagement now.
The easiest way is to increase exposure and optimize engagement. This means you need to get more eyes on your profile and do it at the right time.
De La Cruz suggests using a tool like Iconosquare to identify the best times for you to post for your brand and increase exposure. Another tool we came across is Bettr, a scheduling and analytics app for Instagram. Bettr offers advanced capabilities like automatically posting at scheduled times and insights to reveal top engaged followers, unfollowers, follower ratios and more.
Other ways to strategically boost engagement include giveaways, collaborations, features and advertising, De La Cruz said.
Businesses should also make regular use of calls to action, such as asking followers to double tap, comment and tag friends on posts. Similarly, to increase followers and engagement on Instagram, businesses should also leverage other marketing channels — such as Snapchat, Facebook and Pinterest — with calls to action.
2. Use hashtags
If there's anything that has stayed the same with Instagram, it's hashtags. Hashtags will continue to be a way to help Instagram users discover new content, so use that to your advantage, De La Cruz said. Alternate between 10 to 15 hashtags that are relevant to your brand to put your content in front of the right people.
In addition to your own brand and industry hashtags, monitor trending hashtags to see if any of the applicable and relevant hashtags are popular, which will give you the opportunity to become part of the real-time online conversation.
3. Use your email list
Email marketing is the most effective way to market your business, and that includes your social media accounts. If you haven't been using Instagram to grow your email list, now is the time to start driving traffic back to other channels. Your email list is the only database that you control, and you can use it at your own pace to market and promote yourself and your business.