So it begins. First Twitter and now Instagram have pushed through a Facebook-style algorithm change in their timelines. Chronological is out. Algorithms are in.

For Instagram, while disappointing, this should come as no surprise. The only surprise is how long this has taken, considering Facebook bought the photo-sharing social network in 2012.

Twitter users, however, can’t help but be disappointed, with many happy to spend time in a network where events happen in real-time, rather than one dominated by algorithms that determine what we should see first. When the news first broke early in February 2016, the top trending hashtag on Twitter was #RIPTwitter. Bleak.

Now we are all at the mercy of the machines.

Why make these changes?

As with any major change to a consumer web service, there has been an immediate, and in both cases, negative backlash. Not many people are happy with algorithms deciding what they see.

And yet both Twitter and Instagram are claiming this is for the benefit of users. That’s partly true. Pushing tweets and images to the top of the timelines - when a user clicks back on an app - shows them what was popular when they were away. In chronological order, those events are missed. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is therefore partly to blame, but that’s not the full story.

Money is the rest of the story. Tech stocks, including Twitter, are getting pretty badly beaten up on Wall Street right now. Investors want a reason for confidence. New users are signing up and a monthly average user (MAU) increase would mean generating more revenue from advertisers. Investors would be happy, or, at least, less unhappy, especially with Twitter, despite the user backlash.

What this means for brands

For many, does this mean the party is over? Instagram and Twitter are where brands have gone to avoid Facebook’s pay-to-play ad environment. Engagement with fans was still possible, in real-time, without needing to pay to “promote” or “boost” content.

These changes will take time to kick in. It won’t happen all at once, but its safe to say that brands need to brace themselves for changes, especially if user numbers grow as a result of algorithm updates. Remember; it worked well for Facebook.

Now is the time for brands to take a look at their performance on Instagram & Twitter. Analyse your performance over the last six to twelve months. See what works, what doesn’t and what you can do to improve the metrics that matter, such as engagement and click-through rates. Algorithms reward high-performance users, since the more people who engage with an update, the more often that users updates will be promoted, thereby amplifying the effect of popularity.

All of which is good news for your social media key performance indicators. There’s a very real, budgetary impact to all of this. Maintaining current levels of engagement will get harder once these algorithms are tweaked and improved - for the benefit of the social networks - therefore, the better you do now, the less chance you will need to pay to maintain current levels of digital brand awareness. Algorithms can work in your favour if you step up your game now.

MBJ London offers Websites as a Service (WaaS), including website management, from branding to content. 

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