Instagram users are in revolt, but news publishers are more positive over changes to the platform to emphasise video and show more AI-recommended content.
Meta-owned Instagram will prioritise video and has said any video posts on Instagram under 15 minutes will be made into a Reel, Instagram’s full-screen Tiktok-like format, within the next few weeks. Previously it was any video under 90 seconds, and that limit had only recently been raised from 60 seconds.
The amount of recommended content – what Instagram shows users from people they don’t follow – will also increase, although this plan has temporarily been put back.
Other plans for a full-screen feed have been fully rolled back.
Reach group head of social media Yara Silva, whose remit includes accounts for the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Daily Star and OK! magazine, told Press Gazette she hoped the brands could grow their audiences on Instagram by getting recommended more often to users that do not currently follow them.
“Although we don’t like the look of the new feed I think that hopefully we can increase our audience and our reach by getting recommended,” she said.
“So when Facebook changed the way they were doing it, and they started focusing more on recommendations, we did see a good increase because we were getting recommended to people who hadn’t previously seen or interacted with our content so our audience was growing, we were getting more traffic from that.
“So if the same thing happens on Instagram that would be amazing. We’ve just kind of got to wait and see I think.”
Asked if there was anything publishers could do to boost their chances of being recommended, Silva said it is yet “to be seen”.
“With Facebook at the beginning it was sort of luck and then we started paying more attention to what was working and when it was working, trying to really drill down into the data, times of day, the types of content, so once we have enough information on how things work with Instagram we will try and drill down into the data a little bit.”
The Reach national titles have already been posting more Reels, while keeping the brand identity of each account consistent. There are some stories that may previously have been photo posts that are instead being animated or put in motion “so that it can be a Reel just because it seems like it’s going to get more priority and obviously we want our reach to be as high as possible”.
But Silva said: “We don’t want to do 100% video because I do think the great thing about Instagram was pictures in my opinion so we do want to carry on doing stills but we will be doing a lot more Reels across the board. But who knows – they might roll the whole thing back, they’re getting quite a lot of signatures on this petition [to “make Instagram Instagram again”] and obviously the power of the Kardashians saying stop trying to be TikTok. So who knows?”
Instagram is the fourth most popular social media network in the UK and one of the fastest growing ways for people to access news, according to the Reuters Digital News Report 2022.
ITV News deputy head of digital Chris Achilleos told Press Gazette the outlet has also already been using Reels “a lot more” since the start of the year, concentrating on a mixture of the top news stories and picture or visual-led stories, and said it has been “seeing some success there”.
He said ITV News has been able to build a “loyal following” on Instagram because it has “quality news video” at its core.
But the boost in recommended content will further “allow our content to be seen by more people who may not interact with us”, he said, adding: “I view it as an opportunity for us to grow audience and engage more people with our journalism.”
ITV News also produces The Rundown, a daily series of Instagram Stories aimed at 14 to 17-year-olds, but Achilleos does not expect this format to be affected by any of the changes.
Achilleos said: “I know sometimes there’s been changes where publishers have been a bit concerned, but we’re pretty happy that this is actually an opportunity for us.”
Elise Johnson, head of audience at Press Gazette’s sister title The New Statesman, said the current affairs title had been planning to produce more video anyway as it prepares to invest in a Tiktok channel.
“Therefore Instagram changing their algorithm to favour Tiktok style content more will probably make less work for us in terms of creative experimenting but I’m not sure it’s good for the user’s experience,” she said.
She said she has built a team at The New Statesman that “are willing to create and fast to adapt to a new strategy” meaning they will “relish” the challenge of adapting to a new version of Instagram.
“It’s a new challenge and an opportunity to benefit our business,” she said.
Johnson said she felt it was “cynical” for Instagram to backtrack on the changes once the Kardashians spoke out as it may have feared being hit as Snapchat was on the stock market in 2018 when Kylie Jenner tweeted that she no longer used the app. Last week Jenner told Instagram to “stop trying to be TikTok… I just want to see cute photos of my friends”.
But Johnson added: “I have no doubt the algorithm is going to turn into the one we just saw despite this initial backtracking, and that is because Instagram has projected that it is more profitable for them long-term.
“I imagine the changes now will take place over a longer period and happen more subtly, but overall for publishers it would be wise to be working on their Reels strategy.”
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri acknowledged last week that there was “a lot of change all at once” including an increase in the amount of recommended content and boost to video.
Of video, he said: “We’re going to continue to support photos, it’s part of our heritage. I love photos, I know a lot of you out there love photos too. That said, I need to be honest, I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time. We see this even if we change nothing… So we’re going to have to lean into that shift while continuing to support photos.”
Mosseri added: “We’re going to continue to try and get better at recommendations because we think it’s one of the most effective and important ways to help creators reach more people.”
Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg later doubled down on this, telling an earnings call last week that Instagram wanted to double the amount of AI-recommended content it shows by the end of the year. He also said time spent watching Reels had grown by 30% in the most recent quarter.
However by the end of the week Mosseri and Meta had delayed the immediate increase to recommended content and ditched a test full-screen version of Instagram that looked even more like Tiktok.
Mosseri told the Silicon Valley Substack Platformer “we definitely need to take a big step back and regroup” but made clear the retreat was only temporary.
Of the recommendations, he said: “When you discover something in your feed that you didn’t follow before, there should be a high bar — it should just be great. You should be delighted to see it. And I don’t think that’s happening enough right now.
“So I think we need to take a step back, in terms of the percentage of feed that are recommendations, get better at ranking and recommendations, and then — if and when we do — we can start to grow again.”
A Meta spokesperson said the company was “temporarily decreasing the number of recommendations you see in your feed so we can improve the quality of your experience” and that it wanted to “take the time” to get the changes right.
Some US publishers have also begun being paid for posting Reels that receive above a certain number of views, as first reported by Digiday.
A Meta spokesperson told Press Gazette this was not special to publishers but that some were benefitting from its Reels bonuses, saying: “We continue to test Reels bonuses with all sorts of creators with less than one million followers in the US.
“While we haven’t made recent changes and haven’t explicitly invited nor excluded publishers from the program, some publishers have been invited to join over time. The bonuses that select publishers have access to are no different than what’s available to other creators in the program.”
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