Let me just start this off by asking one question: Do you know anyone who likes Instagram’s algorithm?
Instagram was–is–a way for me (and other bloggers) to share our thoughts and opinions within the literary community. I joined at the end of March 2016 (though I had a personal account long before that) and I excitedly watched my account grow slowly over time. It’s not like I started out with 15000 followers on Twitter that I could just casually herd over to my Instagram account. No, I literally started with a follower count of zero.
Over the course of many months, I built a framework of trust and friendship with like-minded people, and we’ve happily discussed all things bookish. I was chosen to be a brand representative for businesses I truly cared about, such as Burning Pages Candles, Authored Adornments, Till and Dill, and Bookified Designs. And I was able to further expand on my sphere of influence by becoming a Lit Without Limits ambassador.
When Instagram announced that it would start adding in advertisements to my newsfeed, I wasn’t particularly thrilled about it, but I understood the reasons behind the new addition. For so long, Instagram had been a free platform for virtually anyone and everyone with access to the internet. Of course they would eventually find a way to monetize it. It was bound to happen. It made sense.
And when rumors of an algorithm started circulating our literary circles, I continued what I had always done–dutifully reviewing books, uploading high quality photos, answering comments and liking photos. I never asked my followers to turn on post notifications so that they wouldn’t miss my posts when the new algorithm was implemented.
But like so many other bloggers and avid bookstagrammers, I noticed a steep drop in engagement. A lot less likes. Even less comments.
It seems petty to be worried about the number of likes and comments each post gets, but for those of us who put in an enormous amount of time and effort into producing quality content, it’s extremely discouraging. For me, every photo is a labor of love. I utilize the creative side of me to come up with a setup before I actually start shooting. The picture-taking part is only the easy bit. After I’m satisfied with the pictures I’ve taken, I import them into my laptop and take time to make some basic edits. I then email the photos to myself and edit them through three different apps on my phone. Each photo I post goes through endless scrutiny. But that’s not all! There’s the dreaded clean-up process. I have to put all my books and props back to where they belong.
To be perfectly honest, I spend way more time than I should on bookstagram. When that invested time and energy seems to go to waste, it makes me reevaluate whether or not I should be trying so hard to cater to my audience. Why should I, when there’s no way that most of my followers would see my posts unless they are favored by Instagram’s algorithm?
So basically all of my posts will be buried underneath all the more “popular” posts. The only way to circumvent that is for my photo to immediately gain likes and comments as soon as it goes live. If that latest post doesn’t attract a lot of interaction right away, it’s going to be pushed down the newsfeed that has long since abandoned the much-loved chronological order.
I ended up spending a lot of time trying to gauge the right time to post, when interaction would be optimized at its highest. I researched and experimented with different hashtags to determine which ones were more likely to make others notice my photos. I joined a comment group, where each of us in the group could notify each other whenever we posted a photo, so that all of us could quickly double tap and comment, boosting interaction and convincing Instagram’s algorithm that the new post was “popular.” But this was exhausting and even more time consuming than ever. This was definitely not what I joined Instagram for. (Frankly, the whole popularity contest thing is so old. Instagram is not middle school or high school.)
Others ended up buying likes in an attempt to boost the popularity of their latest photo. Yes, you read that correctly. Buying.
It’s ridiculously easy. You post, buy hundreds of likes off of a website of questionable repute, and then suddenly Instagram and its beloved pet algorithm believe that because you’re suddenly gaining tons of likes per minute, your newest photo is so incredibly popular! The algorithm, believing it is Instagram’s gift to the online world, will put your latest post on top of your followers’ newsfeeds so that they will see it and add even more “popularity” to it by liking and commenting.
Sounds like a great solution, right? Zero research needed. Minimal time commitment. Your account might just be even more popular than it started out!
It’s deceptive. In other words, THE ALGORITHM FAVORS THE DISHONEST. Not the popular. Not the ordinary bloggers. Not you and me. I cannot emphasize this enough.
If you are dishonest enough to buy likes and followers, you are deceiving the businesses you promote and the people who work with you. Your “likers” could all be spam accounts, and the algorithm wouldn’t know shit. You can promise the businesses you promote that you will bring them benefits, but in the end they are deceived by your fake interaction that brings nothing. Small businesses often rely on their brand representatives to promote their products and spread the word about them. By faking your interaction, it hurts small businesses as much as it hurts honest bloggers.
The algorithm rewards honest bloggers for their time, energy, creativity, and arduous planning with low organic interaction. I know many bloggers who are discouraged when less than 20% of their followers actually see their posts, myself included. Those who pay for their interaction ultimately hurt those who are not spending money on shady sites. The algorithm puts smaller accounts at a terrible disadvantage and stymies their potential for growth, while continuously promoting larger accounts that already have a substantial following. I mean, how is an account like mine, with roughly 8000 followers (granted, I know I should not be complaining too much because there are plenty of accounts that are even smaller), supposed to compete with one that has over 100k followers and gets 400 likes a minute? Mathematically speaking, I can’t!
It used to be that I absolutely LOVED interacting with the bookstagram community. It was a constant source of joy. Of course, I still love it to an extent, but the fact that I have to literally search people up to like their posts or do all the other crazy stuff I mentioned earlier in order to prevent my photos from underperfoming really ruins part of the experience for me.
One other thing that irks me is this: Why does Instagram get to decide what I want to see and what I don’t? If I follow someone, doesn’t that mean that I want to see their content?
It just doesn’t make an ounce of sense to me.
I spent a lot of time collecting my thoughts on this. Please, please don’t be one of those people who buy fake followers and likes. Don’t ruin it for everyone. Dealing with the algorithm is already annoying enough.
And please feel free to share this post. It was definitely more rant-like than my usual cheeriness, but I really needed to get this all out. More people deserve to know about the messy intricacies of how Instagram’s algorithm works, especially small businesses who are struggling.
Instagram is my favourite platform, and I am so grateful that it has given me the chance to build friendships with readers from all over the world. I don’t want to lose out to something as silly as fake interaction or a useless algorithm.