Day 129 - Why Does Instagram Exist? - what is it's main business goal and how does understanding it help you?
You have probably heard me ask the question before - why does Instagram (or Facebook or any other social media platform) exist? It isn't because it thinks you have a great product and it wants you to do well. It isn't because it has a kind heart and wants to help everyone. It isn't because it wants to make the world a better place by connecting people. The no 1 reason why Instagram (and other social platforms) exist is to make money. Once you start to understand that it makes using it and getting it to help you with your business much easier.
So how does it make money and why do you need to know that? Well by understanding how it makes money you get to understand how you can get it to work better for you whether or not you spend money with it. Once you understand how the algorithm works to help it make money you get to understand how to utilise it to benefit you too.
In a nutshell the platform makes money by getting people to pay to advertise on it. But how does it achieve that exactly? Well the answer to that is a little more complex. First you need to understand that Instagram and other social media all have algorithms that decide what content gets shown to which people. The algorithms are designed to show content to people that they will want to consume. It won't make money if nobody likes the content. People just will not want to use the platform and it will fail so it is the algorithms job to work out what content people will want to see and will want to come back for more of time and time again. Your job is to get that algorithm to like your content and show it to as many people as possible.
So how do you do that? Well the algorithms themselves are very complex and being changed all the time. Only the social media company themselves know exactly how they work and they wont share every detail to avoid people cheating the system - however, this is where you apply a little common sense. Remember that the social media platform exists to make money. It only makes money if people stay on the platform and watch their advertisements and so what you have to do is create content that you can show to the algorithm is interesting and engaging content.
The Instagram algorithm will typically hold back 90% or more of your posts from your followers. The reason is two fold - the first is that by doing this you might pay to get more people to see them (remember why Instagram exists above!), the second is that this is part of the platforms quality control. Whilst it will hold back many posts, if it finds ones that are consistently appealing to their audiences it will go the extra mile to show more of that content organically (without paying!).
If you study your Instagram posts, for example, you will find that perhaps 10% or less of your followers get to see each of your posts. That might be due to the fact that many of your followers are following too many people (and they are not on the platform long enough to see everything) but Instagram also puts the brakes on the reach of your posts too, but pay them a little money to promote your posts to more of your followers, giving them priority over other posts from other people they are following as well as reach other people with similar interests not already following you and they will happily oblige. The lesson from this is that unless you want to pay, you need to understand how to get Instagram and other platforms to give your posts more exposure.
OK so you understand that the platform wants to make money. The next thing to understand is that it wants people to use the platform. The more people that use it the more they are likely to spend on it. In the early days before the algorithm growth was much easier. The platforms wanted more people using them, they widely shared posts and growing your account was easy regardless of whether you were big or small, new or established. The bad news is those days are gone. The focus has changed. The platforms achieved the rapid growth necessary to make their paid model work and they changed focus. Yes they still want more growth but their focus is now on showing quality content that will engage audiences so that they enjoy the experience and want more of it, it isn't rapid growth that might dilute that quality content.
Nobody wants to waste their time on a social platform looking at poor quality images and poor quality copy but how does that affect you? Your images are great and your copy is great but you still are not growing. What is going wrong? This is where you need to understand that Instagram and other platforms can measure good content and once they identify it they will show it to more people because they want people to enjoy the experience on their platform because they are then more likely to spend more time on it and therefore spend more money on it.
But how do they measure good content? Obviously an Instagram employee cannot look at every image and read each piece of copy but their algorithm is able to examine a number of components. How it rates each component will change regularly to avoid people monopolising it but a number of the measures are well known and well documented. Some are obvious but some are not so obvious.
A huge one is interaction - if people see your post do they interact? What is interaction? Well that comes in a number of forms. A huge signal is of course 'followers'. If tens of thousands of people follow you then that is a huge signal to Instagram that people like your content and want to consume more. But unless you are a huge celebrity that is going to take some hard work to get those numbers up. As your numbers get bigger you will find things get easier and word spreads quicker but don't get too disillusioned whilst your numbers are still small. It takes time and effort.
Another simple interaction and perhaps the most obvious is a 'like'. If people click 'like' to say they like your post that sends a clear signal to Instagram. But it isn't the only signal - you need to aim much higher! People can comment on your post, people can save your post to come back to, they can visit your profile, they can click a link in your profile. All of these actions send strong signals to Instagram about your account and some send stronger messages than others. It is therefore important not only to post good images and good copy but also to design them so that they generate these responses from viewers. Encourage them to visit your profile or visit a link there, encourage them to interact with you by asking a question in your copy and then respond with further questions in your comment replies stimulating further conversation.
Instagram and other platforms also receive signals from how long people are interacting with your content. Do you post multiple images or just a single image with each post? Does the copy have any depth to create engagement or is it a single sentence that is ready and done in a few seconds? How often do you post, daily, twice daily or every week or two? Do you show up consistently? Instagram monitors this and rewards you with increased visibility if you are ticking the right boxes for it.
Do you post video? This is a huge growth area right now. You keep people on your post longer if you are using video format (assuming it is engaging video!) and it is an easier medium for many than reading long pieces of copy but also Instagram (and Facebook which owns Instagram) is looking to take away some of the market share of YouTube and therefore is particularly favouring video posts right now rewarding them with extra reach. Try to mix in video content in your feed regularly.
Which Instagram tools are you using? Instagram will get different signals from someone that is simply posting to someone who is interacting with other accounts, using DMs, using stories, using IGTV using Instagram live and so on and similar rules of engagement exist with these to. Don't just post a story to look at, look for engagement with polls, questions and many of the other resources available. Consider what tools you are using, use as many as you can and use them frequently and see what signals that sends to Instagram on your behalf. Also consider what posting techniques you could use to help you tick some of the engagement boxes.
Have you ever considered running a giveaway? This Instagram marketing technique typically create a 10% or more growth if you run one properly because it is specifically designed to hit the measures that Instagram is using - it is designed to get viewers to engage with you, to mention you to others, like your post, follow you, visit your profile, click a profile link and so on. If you haven't already seen it checkout Day 71 - Giveaways To Increase Followers.
Record key metrics such as the number of Instagram followers each month so that you can study growth. We have been tracking Lucy Gell's growth here since May 17 and my own since starting my account in March 2019. If you are consistent with your activity it is usually reflected in the statistics as it is when you try new things. Lucy started adding Giveaways to her marketing strategy at around 1000 followers and since 2000 followers has become prolific with her stories and consistent posting which is having a great affect on growth compared to others we are tracking. There is still more to be done though including targeting more influencers, more giveaways, more videos and more Instagram live but what she is doing is certainly making the Instagram algorithm happy right now! My own figures show steady growth but I am concentrating on building content and structure just now not growth, I will be focusing on that more soon and expect my own curve to steepen at that point too.
In summary therefore it can take some time to gain traction on an established social media platform like Instagram or Facebook and it will take much more time and effort than it did when they were first launched but by understanding what their main purpose is ie to make money through advertising to people that spend lots of time on their platform and by understanding how you can reshape your own content to tick their boxes that define quality and engaging content you greatly increase your chance of growth and opportunity for extending your own content reach. Make this work organically before spending any money on advertising then if you do choose to advertise too spend that money to further promote the posts that were working already to make them go even further.