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Will the return of Instagram’s chronological feed fix its brand problems?


By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

March 24, 2022 | 6 min read

Meta-owned Instagram is bringing back the option to view feeds chronologically, with two choices for users – ’Favorites’ and ’Following’.


The return of Instagram’s chronological feed has been mooted before, but has finally arrived

A press release announcing the move states: ”Favorites shows you the latest from accounts that you choose, like your best friends and favorite creators. In addition to this view, posts from accounts in Favorites will also show up higher in your home feed.

”Following shows you posts from the people you follow. Both Favorites and Following will show you posts in chronological order, so you can quickly catch up on recent posts.”

Despite seemingly adding more choice for its users, the release also noted that the existing algorithmic feed is set to include ”more recommendations to your feed based on your interests” – ie, more ads. Crucially, Instagram also confirmed that the default choice for users will remain the algorithmic feed, meaning that ultimately users will probably see more brand content, not less.

That effectively means that Instagram is pushing for more ads on its platform, which is both a blessing and curse for brands. The Instagram feed has been criticized for being too ad heavy and the increased competition for attention that comes from added content can lessen the impact of ads on the platform.

Zanna Wharfe, the strategy director at We Are Social, notes that this conversation has been had before across a number of different platforms: ”I’m getting a distinct sense of deja vu – we’re back talking about chronological timelines. It seems every few years one of the platforms looks at ‘shaking’ things up by bringing back chronological timelines. A fair few of us will remember the days when that was the only option. And then everything changed, and we were dictated to by an algorithm, supposed to show us what we wanted to see.”

So what should we make of the fact that Instagram has announced it will allow users to choose how they see content? Audience choice is always a good thing. But, what will be the adoption? Let’s say everyone chooses to see the most recent content and not what’s served to them. Timing, in that scenario, is going to be everything. Brands will have to think more carefully about who they want to connect with when they are looking at Instagram, and even what timezone they are posting from.

”But what if people don’t choose it?” asks Wharfe. ”That means the algorithm isn’t totally redundant. As the default experience will remain a ranked feed, our current tactics will still be of benefit.”

Wharfe does note, however, that brands have been here before and that, ultimately, good content will win out when it comes to gaining audience attention.

Polly Roberts is head of strategy and planning at Media Bounty. She says: ”Instagram users have wanted the chronological feed to return for a long time, so it seems like it will be a win in terms of user experience. And, in theory, getting rid of the algorithm should mark a return to Instagram’s roots as a photo sharing app.

”The new layout also offers users the option to sort their feed by Recommendations. If businesses and advertisers focus on making high quality content, optimized for this environment, then there’s a good chance of it appearing here and thereby reaching more people. Advertisers should also think about when they set their post live, picking the right day and time for when their content will be most relevant to users.”

She also notes that there is another reason for Instagram to have made the change now, given that US lawmakers are expressing concerns about opaque and proprietary algorithms, particularly when it comes to amplifying misinformation or the general effect on users’ mental health.

Cody Eastmond, digital strategy consultant at What They Said, believes the change is a step back towards the experience users want: "The chronological feed update, on the surface, is the answer to many frustrated Instagram users’ prayers. Allowing them to have more choice in their experience and an example of Meta increasing its transparency efforts.

"Yet, the filter is optional and feels secondary. Bundled away alongside 'favourites' which dilutes the request and prioritises the revenue-driving algorithm-based feed. But it’s not all bad. We know Instagram has evolved often to keep market share and competitors at bay (Stories, Filters, Shop, IGTV, Reels...)

"However, the chronological update feels different, adding value back into the app for those users, brands and creators who miss the curated experience and feeds they fell in love with years ago – and while its not exactly what they asked for, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Regardless of the reasons, brands are having to shift strategies again. Chronological feeds might be good for the user, but their knock-on effect will impact how users interact with branded content on the platform.

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