Social media marketers are on pins and needles as they watch the clock tick down to "Instageddon"—the day Instagram changes how you discover content in your feed.

In case you've been buried under a social feed filled with trash pandas and pictures of your cousin's new baby, here's the scoop: Instagram announced in March that it caught the "relevance bug" and will soon change the way platform users discover moments.

At present, content is shown instantly, filling feeds chronologically. Though the insta-nature of the platform is great for keeping followers up to date with the latest pictures from the handles they follow, the good folks down in Menlo Park contend that the average user misses 70% of content because he or she is not on-app to see it when posted. In looking at the issue, they must've thought, "There has to be a better way."

That way is relevance.

I, for one, welcome our not-so new algorithmic overlords

The number of handles followed by the average Instagram user tends to be big. Really big. The average is 400–500 accounts per person.

Considering the impressive rate of daily activity by handles on platform, the average user can easily be overwhelmed by a flood of disorganized content. In an age of on-demand programming and personalized curation for everything, an algorithmic approach to social content discovery seems to fit right in. Instagram's new algorithm will help optimize your ability to find the content most interesting to you by assessing and ordering it through:

  • Your personal and network's relationship with the poster (Birds of a feather share content together.)
  • The number of engagements it receives ("Oh, I think they like it… You probably will, too.")
  • The kind of content you share with your network ("You see my food pic; I see yours.")
  • The timeliness of posts ("I want it now.")

If you think this approach sounds familiar, that's because you've been discovering content on Facebook via a relevance algorithm for years. Facebook has always attempted to bring some order to your news feed. By and large, that has been a successful approach, and I'm confident it will be on Instagram as well.

So, what's the drawback?

Unfortunately, this approach has drawbacks, but perhaps they're not as significant as they sound.

Technically, a relevance-based approach to content discovery has the ability to significantly limit organic engagement. Fewer eyes will see what you're posting from the get-go. However, brands' social organic engagement across all platforms has already been noticeably and consistently decreasing year over year. In looking specifically at Instagram, which still sits atop the engagement rate rankings, we see a nearly 50% decrease in rates from 2014–2015.

Additionally, the age of organic, linear storytelling direct to audiences' feeds is now over. With the extinction of chronological discovery near, there's no way to ensure that your content will be presented in the order you intend it to be seen unless visitors make their ways to your page. That is certainly disappointing. After all, gradual social storytelling was one of the most effective methods for content distribution.

However, don't give up on the channel just yet.

Content may still be king, but paid is undoubtedly queen

Your best chance for content discovery and engagement is (and really has always been) through the quality of your content.

Take the time to understand who your target audience members are. Get to know their interests, wants, and needs. Invest in an audience-first approach, and find the common ground between what your customers want and what your branding/marketing goals are.

By staying true to this approach, Instagram's algorithm may help brands to cut through the content clutter.

Moreover, the nature of brand and product marketing on social media has fundamentally changed. In the not-so-distant past, social media was a free means by which bands could score big with great quality content.

Today, it is a pay-to-play world. We can (and many do) look at the shift cynically, linking it to the desire of social platforms to monetize their offering.

On the other hand, we can look at the shift through the lens of the exponential growth of brands' presence on platforms and the mind-numbing quantity of new content being published each day. (This is my preference.)

The opening of advertising options on Instagram has been immensely beneficial for brands—whether looking to get their content in front of a hyper-targeted audience or driving real business results via funneling traffic to other digital properties. Content engagement ad units will be brands' best friend as brands work to  regain the ability to tell multi-part, linear stories and ensure that the right audiences see the right content.

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Everyone Really Needs to Stop Freaking Out About the New Instagram Algorithm

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image of Vincent Bates

Vincent Bates is a digital and social marketing manager at Eastwick's Digital Brand Lab, a tech-focused communications agency.

LinkedIn: Vincent M. Bates 

Twitter: @VincentMBates