It spread like a chain letter over the weekend – one person after another posting photos on Instagram with detailed instructions of how you can ‘turn on notifications’. It was a perfect storm – panic that Instagram is ‘changing the algorithm’ and a long weekend in the UK with people Instagramming and sharing photos. The panic spread – with more and more people sharing the photos at the levels many brands would like their content to be shared.

The truth of any algorithm change is hard to know. There’s no evidence the change is imminent, and indeed Instagram themselves Tweeted to reassure people no changes were happening. Not yet at least.

If and when it does happen people are worried that newsfeed being driven by popularity and relevance (rather than just time) will mean that their adoring audience won’t get to see what they post. So they want people to turn on notifications so that they ‘don’t miss a thing’.

Of course there is a logical inconsistency in these pleas. If their content really is that good – and people don’t want to miss it, then this would be the images, videos and profile that their audience are currently interacting with. So it would probably be promoted to them anyway in any algorithm change.

Or to put it more simply – if you need people to override any algorithm so they see your content, then your content probably isn’t interesting or relevant enough to them in the first place.

Moreover, the spreading of the notifications fear and posts teaches us much about how people use social media. We take posts of our lunch, of our dogs, of ourselves. And we want people to see them. We want to know that people want to see them. But we get little feedback. As individuals we’re not told how many people actually see our posts, and the percentage that like or comment  is always small. We don’t get that feedback that we desire to know that people are seeing what we post, that people care about us. So the fear that your posts might be seen by nobody ever again is real.

Of course, the reality is that most things created and shared online are seen by a very small number of people. So much content is being created – by individuals, by media organisations and by brands – that only a very small percentage will ever be seen. And this is perhaps where the ‘insta-fear’ came from over the weekend. We all want to be in that small percentage. Even if we have to do it by begging.

Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Digital Strategy Director for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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