Limited reach of Instagram photography
I’m not sure about you, but I find every post I make on Instagram gets a varied result when it comes to how many people see the post. This episode of the Filter Photography Podcast tells you how you can battle the decreasing reach of your Instagram posts by playing the game properly.
Listen to the podcast episode
Show notes about the music photography gear episode
When the Instagram feed was chronological, life was easier. You’d post an image at a time when people were often online, and you could almost guarantee you would have your post seen by a fixed amount of people. I would time my posts based on commutes, and avoid times when I knew people would be busy. It was that simple.
But everything has changed. Instagram now has an algorithm, or some kind of secret recipe to priorise content. It serves as a two-level approach to monetising their platform. They tell users it helps them manage large amounts of content by showing the most relevant posts, and allows businesses to pay for content to be served within that categorisation.
On paper, that recipe sounds pretty good. But what if you’re not following many people? The average Instagram user follows 150 people. Given not every one of those followed users are going to post, I don’t thin the average user needs Instagram’s help managing the content in their timeline. It’s pretty clear it’s a business move. Which is fine, because every business needs to make money.
I guess, the problem is, the number of people who see our posts is decreased. The number of users that your post is exposed to is called reach. Instagram limits the reach of posts that underperform based on its secret criteria. It’s kind of like Google, where you don’t know for sure how to guarantee your website appears at the top of the rankings. But, there are things you can do to maximise the effectiveness of your post’s reach. You need to prove to Instagram that your content is good.
Think about it. Instagram wants good content because it encourages people to keep using their platform. Younger generations don’t use Facebook because their grandparents and parents are on it posting Minion memes that aren’t even memes. So young people stop using it. They use Instagram and TikTok. Instagram wants to keep the users using the platform, so they want to make sure the content posted, is good.
Let’s get nerdy for a second. I love this stuff because I am a digital marketer by day.
There’s a factor in the algorithm called affinity scores. Affinity scores are one of the many factors that influence who your content is shown to. Every user has an affinity score that is directly relevant to the individual the content could potentially be served to. It’s not uncommon for super optimised users to have an affinity score in the thousands with users who follow similar accounts.
Some businesses try to game the system and artificially increase their affinity score. Ultimately, you can’t control individual accounts in a way that is effective enough to game the system anymore. You can still see accounts doing it on Facebook now. If you ever see any of those posts where you vote by an emoji, that’s an attempt at gaming the system. It encourages people to react to something, or engage with the post, when they otherwise wouldn’t.
If you ever see a post where it’s an image, but the Page has posted it as a video, that’s an attempt at gaming the system. People do this because a video view is counted as three seconds, and a video view counts as engagement between the viewer and the poster, so some people who want to game the system prefer forcing the engagement by means of video view as opposed to hoping the viewer will like the image post.
Facebook cracked down on this. Some businesses started overlaying animated triangles to trick Facebook’s automated monitoring tools into thinking the image was a video. Facebook and Instagram ban accounts based off these kind of gaming methods. But it doesn’t stop businesses from trying.
I see some people saying that Instagram is limiting our reach because we don’t spend money to promote content. That is false. They don’t limit reach in order to get us to spend money on the platform. If that were true, we would be paying Instagram $50 per post to reach the amount we previously did.
I know this is untrue because Instagram and Facebook do not even assign an account manager to a business unless you spend a minimum of $10,000 a month on the platform. $10,000. That’s a huge amount, and our $200 per month spend is not what their business model is targeting. They want the big fish. Sure, they would take $200 from every user and make a lot, but what they want to do is focus their efforts on a smaller number of big fish than chasing every little fish in sight.
But Instagram needs us around, because the little fish like us are used to keep users active on the channel. They dangle a carrot for us to adopt their best-practice methods by giving us a higher reach if we post good content that uses all of the features.
But how does Instagram even know what ‘good content’ is? How come meme content performs well, but is not being posted from one source? This is where the affinity score for the account comes into play.
Remember that the affinity scores are on a one-to-one ratio. There are a couple of things that can affect the affinity scores between the subscriber and you.
- the frequency of previous engagement by that person,
- and the frequency of engagement with the person tagged in the image or mentioned in the image comment.
So here’s tip number one. Ask the person tagged in the photo to like or comment on the post with the tagged account.
Because I’m a music photographer, I’ll use an example that is relevant with my stuff. If I post a photo of a really popular band, my reach almost doubles if the band comment or engage with the post in some way. So I need to look out for the band engaging with my content. They don’t need to share it, they just need to engage with it for it to have a higher chance of being shown to our mutual followers.
If you’re not a music photographer like I am, and you shoot another genre of photography, this factor still applies to you and your potential clients. If you are a real estate photographer posting your work. If the real estate agent you supplied the work to engages with your post, and rival agencies follow you and them, the chances of the rivals seeing your work is higher. And rivals for you means potential business opportunities!
Same with a friend. Friends will hopefully be liking or engaging with your content in some way, which means your affinity score with them will be rock solid. Whereas that school friend you followed because you wanted to lurk will have a much weaker score because they are less likely to frequently engage with your content.
Now that we have run through that, the reason why businesses post memes and make comedy posts instead of all business is far more obvious. They’re chasing that affinity score increase with their customers.
How to trick the Instagram algorithm, or, how to make smarter Instagram photography decisions
There are three things you can do, starting right now, to increase your Instagram reach. Here are three easy things you can do to make better posting decisions.
Where are the tips?
They’re inside the podcast! Take a listen for the full run-through of how to increase your Instagram reach.
Did you miss the last episode?
Episode 19 we talked about the best camera gear for music photography at any price point.