What’s Up with Instagram? How Recent Changes Impact Your Engagement

by | Last updated Jun 21, 2022 | Digital Marketing

Have you noticed your engagement on Instagram is down recently? If so, you’re not alone! Plenty of brands and influencers have experienced a decline in overall engagement and lower ranking on the Explore page and hashtag feeds, leaving them to wonder: “What’s wrong with Instagram?” Here’s what we learned…

Why Is Instagram Engagement Dropping?

The amount of engagement (i.e., post likes, shares, comments, video views) on Instagram among influencers and brands has declined steadily over the last few years. But recently, the social media platform has been making significant changes to its design, features, and algorithm, all of which seem to be affecting engagement levels for users across the platform. Let’s dive deeper…

New Features

Instagram had two major updates in August 2020 and September 2020 that introduced its latest features: Instagram Reels and Instagram Shopping. Similar to updates Instagram’s parent company Facebook makes to its platform with new features, these features seem to be getting priority placement in the home feed, with Instagram running several tests to highlight and give more exposure to users utilizing them.

Temporary Election Test

While this measure by Instagram may not apply in non-election years, this year’s election cycle is having a real impact on the number of users seeing content on a daily basis. That’s because in the lead-up to the 2020 general election, Facebook and Instagram are paying users to temporarily deactivate their accounts as a part of a study to learn how social media potentially affects democracy. With fewer active users to see posts on Instagram, it can mean less engagement overall. While this may not have an impact on large brands, any drop in daily users in a short period of time can certainly play a role, regardless.

Algorithm Changes

A few years ago, Instagram began moving away from chronologically-ordered feeds to feeds constructed using algorithmic machine learning. This adjustment was made to provide users with content that Instagram deemed “most relevant” for each individual user. Instagram claimed back in 2018 that it pushes the content users engage with most often. However, some Instagram users don’t like these algorithm changes because they say they don’t see content from small creators, unverified brands, and friends and family as often as they see content from large brands and accounts that advertise on the platform.

User Feedback

Over the years, Instagram has added more ways for users to provide feedback on posts and ads within the home feed. This feedback includes the ability to mute accounts and unfollow suggestions, both of which could be causing more users to clean up their feeds so that they only see the content they want to engage with on a regular basis. In addition, Instagram ads can be hidden by users for the following reasons: It’s Irrelevant, I See It Too Often, It’s Inappropriate, and I Already Bought an Item in This Ad. This feedback could also potentially be reducing the impressions and engagement brands are seeing on the platform.

Low-Quality Content

Instagram is also reducing the reach of what it deems low-quality publishing, which includes unoriginal content largely repurposed from other sources without additional material value. In other words, if your Instagram account primarily shares the same content over and over or utilizes content taken from another user without providing proper credit and original captions, it’s more likely you’ll see less engagement. On top of that, news content that doesn’t include transparent information about the source could potentially get pushed down in the algorithm or removed for spreading misinformation.

Engagement Bait

In recent years, both Facebook and Instagram have made it a priority to crack down on what they’re calling “engagement bait“—that is, posts that provoke users into interacting with likes, shares, comments, and other actions as a means to game the system. Posting such content may cause Instagram to penalize your posts and hurt your brand’s visibility. This could have major implications for brands that, in the past, have relied on “Like or Comment!” contests, as Instagram may deem those to be baiting engagement.

Bot Removal

One of the major reasons why Instagram users are seeing their follower numbers and engagement metrics drop is that Instagram recently declared that it would be removing bots and other accounts it believes to be spam. If your account was followed by and/or receiving frequent engagement from spam accounts, this would have a noticeable impact. Another side to this platform change is that, in identifying and removing bot accounts, Instagram has asked users it believes to be spam to verify their identities—and those that don’t could see reduced visibility in the home feed or have their accounts disabled.

Buying Followers & Engagement

If you’re purchasing followers and likes to grow your Instagram account, your engagement will definitely take a hit. As previously mentioned, Instagram not only purges fake accounts that are used to boost follower and engagement numbers for accounts, but it also penalizes accounts that buy followers and likes.

How to Boost Instagram Engagement

While Instagram engagement may be decreasing due to algorithm changes, new features, and other updates the social media platform is making right now, brands and influencers can still find ways to improve their engagement. Like with any marketing effort, if you produce high-quality content specifically for your target audience, there’s a higher chance that it will be seen. Instagram wants to keep its users happy, and the more Instagram believes a particular user will enjoy a post, the higher it will appear in their feed.

According to Instagram, there are three main factors that influence the Instagram algorithm for feed posts:

  • Interest: How much Instagram predicts the user will care about a post
  • Timeliness: How recently a post was published
  • Relationship: How often users interact with your account

In addition, there are three supplemental factors that can influence ranking:

  • Frequency: How often a user opens Instagram (to avoid showing users the same posts over and over)
  • Following: The number of accounts a user follows
  • Usage: How long a user spends on Instagram

With this knowledge, here are some tips for increasing Instagram engagement going forward.

Stay Active on the Platform

The more often you post high-quality content that your followers engage with, the higher Instagram will display your content in their feeds. Continually post images, videos, and stories that appeal to your target audience. Be sure to reply to comments and DMs as well, as doing so will not only make your brand feel more human and personable, but it may also help your posts rank higher. Do be careful, though. Your posts need to provide value for your followers, so be intentional before hitting send. Try to use social listening to discover what content matters to your audience and shape your posts around that.

Consistently Produce Stories

Instagram Stories are among the best ways to engage with users on Instagram right now. Recent design changes to the platform have made them more prominent at the top of users’ feeds, so they’re now the first thing users see when they open the app, making them more likely to get your content in front of your followers and keep your brand top of mind. (At the moment, interactions with Stories don’t seem to affect ranking within Instagram’s algorithm, as Instagram typically displays the most recent stories first.)

Encourage Sharing to Stories

Try to create posts that users will want to share in their Instagram Stories, as this can increase the reach and overall engagement of your posts. Instagram says that Stories don’t have an impact on the platform’s algorithm; however, the number of active users posting and viewing stories on Instagram continues to grow. Think of topics or issues that are highly related to what your target audience likes and wants to share, then deliver that content in a quick, shareable way, such as an infographic, call-out quote, list, checklist, or meme.

Utilize Stickers on Stories

Instagram Stories are already a great way to engage with followers, but Instagram increased engagement opportunities even further with the introduction of stickers. Stickers allow you to ask questions, conduct quizzes and polls, encourage donations to important causes, create countdowns, and more within Instagram Stories. These not only give you a way to establish brand loyalty, but they can even give you an engagement boost when used correctly.

Write Engaging Captions

The average Instagram caption length has doubled since 2016, and longer captions frequently lead to higher engagement. Captions allow you to tag people and brands, as well as share motivating stories or start conversations. You can also ask questions to spark conversation and use hashtags so that your posts appear to more Instagram users with relevant interests.

Don’t Go Crazy with Hashtags

As helpful as hashtags are in improving your content’s reach, they can also be harmful when not used strategically. If you overload your post or comments with hashtags, you may look like a bot and be viewed as spam. It’s generally recommended to use around 11 highly relevant hashtags with a new post. Do your own research to identify popular hashtags that are closely aligned with your content. Finding the right hashtags can expose new users to your content, increasing followers, likes, comments, and overall engagement.

Post During Peak Hours

Remember that timeliness plays a big role in how Instagram promotes your posts. If you’re posting at times your users aren’t looking at Instagram, they may be unlikely to see your content. Examine your Instagram analytics and do a few post tests to determine the best times for posting. There’s also national data you can check out as well, but following the habits of your specific audience is a more effective way to gain useful insights.

Need help with your Instagram marketing strategy? Hurrdat can help you build an Instagram strategy that keeps your followers engaged. Learn more about our social media marketing services today!

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