Is Instagram becoming a “freemium” service for brands?

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By: Connor Wickens

In mid-March Instagram made an enormous update, with it came a fresh new minimalistic look and a revamped timeline algorithm. While the new design was met with equal praise and criticism on social media, the changes to the algorithm went completely unnoticed by most casual users – strange considering its major impact on the end user experience. No longer is content seen in the chronological order it was posted, instead the algorithm judges how likely you are to interact with the post and orders the content in that regard. In short, Instagram is promising that the content you see first is the content you care most about.

So how do these algorithm upgrades impact the brands who take advantage of the social media app?

Companies have been using Instagram as free way to connect with potential and current customers since its introduction. The opportunity to receive the benefits of advertising without the expenses has turned it into an indispensable branding tool. Ultimately, these algorithmic changes make it harder for brands, especially those with a smaller audience, to be relevant – or even seen – on Instagram. Since most brand’s content typically receives less interaction than say, a model, athlete, or even a friend’s post, it’s often buried by the algorithm in users’ timelines. If your audience doesn’t see the content posted how can it have any impact?

In response, Instagram has recently introduced Instagram Business Tools, which they claim was developed with the desires of companies to stand out, get insights and find new customers. These tools include business profiles, insights, and promote.

  • Business profile: Puts a “contact” button right on the profile page to allow customers to call, text, or email the business directly.
  • Insights: Supplies marketing information on follower’s demographic.
  • Promote: Instantly turns a post into an ad for a customizable audience and duration.

These tools offer brands an intuitive way to circumvent the algorithm to make sure that their content is seen: by paying.

While the basic rules of creating engaging social content still remain, the fear that Instagram is turning into a “freemium” tool to reach out to potential and current customers is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, smaller brands or those with weaker social media presence will likely end up having to pay in order to receive any exposure from Instagram. While the new Instagram Business Tools do offer more marketing options for brands than ever before, it also puts a strong emphasis on turning posts into advertisements. The social media company claims that these changes only offer a better experience for the users but many think that Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, is simply turning photo sharing app into another major social media cash cow. Using Instagram as a way free way to reach an audience may be a thing of the past as they continue to veer towards to a “pay to be seen” mentality.