Saturday August 08, 2020 |Notes

Instagram Reels + algorithm manipulation

Instagram Reels was recently released by Facebook. The product is clearly the intended to mimic the features of TikTok, in a similar manner to how Instagram Stories took many of the best features from Snapchat.

The goal isn't necessarily to compete directly with TikTok. It's less likely TikTok users will switch to using Instagram Reels. Instead it's more likely many Facebook users will never bother moving to a new social media platform where a new account is required with all followers, likes etc starting at zero.

Reels is being heavily promoted in newsfeeds currently. Ranjan pointed out the similarities to the algorithm manipulation when the Ice Bucket challenge trended back in 2014.

Being on the business side of things, I always assume the business model drives everything. Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014? I still think Zuck + Co juiced the algo to make everyone keep seeing ice bucket videos and cement their dominance in mobile video.

I bring this up this week because it’s terrifying to see the power of the algorithm. In conversations with some marketing folks this week, they were near panicked about how their entire IG feeds had become Reels, while their scheduled content for the next month were images and Stories. Should they shift the Stories to Reels? Should they start immediately focusing on creating Reels?

This reminds me of the backlash Amazon has received for putting their own products at the top of search results, despite not necessarily being the lowest priced, best-selling, or top-rated product. Amazon and, in this case, Facebook benefit from manipulating the algorithm in certain circumstances by focusing on the best results over millions of users and shoppers, not necessarily delivering the best result to the user in every single instance.

There are countless other examples of networks making sudden changes that effect what users end up being shown, whether in search results or newsfeeds. These changes can occur naturally out of changed patterns in user behaviors. More concerning is when these changes are manually exacted in a way that brings sudden, unexpected results. Instagram Reels appears to be in favor with Facebook and brands will be pushed to get on board accordingly.

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