If you’re a designer or brand that uses social media for marketing, you may have noticed some changes lately. Your engagement with followers may not be what it used to be. You may be noticing extremes: 10,000 video or Reel views in a matter of minutes, but only 10 likes and comments. What’s going on?
Usually, it pays to be an early adopter. Typically, social media platforms have valued their long-time, most loyal users. But with Instagram — part of Facebook’s parent Meta — making so many changes, newbies to the platform have some advantages. If you are an Instagram veteran, it may pay to adopt a beginner’s mentality.
While social media companies announce changes to their platforms and algorithms when they want you to engage with a new feature, if you spend time on a platform and speak with others who do, you can begin to understand unannounced changes and strategize how to work with them. Some of Instagram’s modifications don’t resemble the original photo-filter sharing app at all.
I’m going to break down for you:
- What no longer works on Instagram
- What does work
- What’s new with Instagram’s algorithm
- Who the new winners and losers are on social media
What no longer works
Being repetitive — not to be confused with being cohesive (more on that in a minute) — means Instagram will ding your content, flagging your posts as spam. Duplicate content will likely be a trip wire. Examples include:
- Reposts from other accounts as inspiration
- Resharing your past content
- Reused and overused hashtags (e.g., #interiordesign)
- Cross-sharing TikTok videos with their watermark on Instagram
It is important to be active on the platform, and sometimes these things may work to maintain your page. Maintenance is important, too. They just won’t be keys to growth the way they might have been.
What still works
What remains consistent is that Instagram values original content, quality content and accounts that use all of the app’s features. When I refer to high-quality, original content on Instagram, I mean:
- Sharp, in-focus photos and videos
- Images with a vertical orientation
- High-contrast images — both in terms of theme (e.g., before-and-after room scenes) and in terms of aesthetic (e.g., black-and-white photos or maximal scenes next to minimal scenes)
- Storytelling that includes longer, informative captions and thoughtfully curated grids. Do your posts tell a story from day to day, as opposed to feeling entirely independent of one another? You want your feed to read more like a magazine than a catalog.
On Instagram, more means more. The more features you engage with at one time — in an original and quality way — the better. As an example, feature a collection of videos and images in a carousel post that appropriately geotagged. Another example: Engage with other brands and people featured in your content by tagging them in the image, as well as in long, informative captions underneath.
Every social media company’s goal is to keep users on their platform for as long as possible. When you start to adopt that as a framework for building your own content, you will begin to see increases in engagement. You can also begin to anticipate changes and better understand them as they roll out. Right now, pay particular attention to Instagram’s Reels and its Creator Marketplace.
What is striking about Reels is the ways Instagram values less polished, DIY-style, candid content, as well as more sophisticated videos and photos with high production values. This speaks to the platform’s preference for high-contrast content I mentioned earlier, and is part of why before-and-after reveals always perform well. They are dramatic, visual storytelling. The important thing is to not fall in between: Whatever you do, don’t be mediocre.
With the increasing rollout of more shopping features, Instagram’s Creator Marketplace was an easy update for observers to anticipate. Its two main features are discovery and payment integration. It is a great opportunity for retailers (or wholesale brands looking to dip their toes into direct-to-consumer retail) to partner with influencers, artists, makers, designers and creators. Instagram’s goal is to cut out agents, managers, third-party apps, etc. with their payment integration. Brands can now discover and pay creators within Instagram.
Who loses? Who wins?
If you can straddle the high and low markets and sell something that can be purchased right away (e.g., a ready-to-ship product, as opposed to a service like a full home renovation), you are in the best position to “win” on Instagram.
Could you sell wall paint and high-end antiques (like Kelly Wearstler)? Can you sell $10,000 sofas but also candles at Target (like Magnolia Home)? Both are successful examples of striking a balance between aspirational and accessible. Still, they have identifiable aesthetics and are not trying to be everything to everyone.
If you are a designer or brand with a singular aesthetic — whether it’s high end or lower end — you win. If you are a designer or brand whose projects or products vary widely in terms of style, it may be harder to establish a cohesive brand and aesthetic on Instagram. One of the ways to manage this is by working with the same stylist and photographer to create a sense of cohesion.
And if you’re a designer who is uncomfortable on video and doesn’t sell a product that can be purchased right away, my best advice is to not compare yourself with those who love to star in video and sell lines of products. It’s perfectly fine to let your design work speak for itself. For some people, this works. Sometimes you just don’t have fresh video content to post all the time and that’s OK. If you’re too busy to do it, take a step back and recognize that can be a good problem to have.
The important thing is to manage your expectations and clarify what you and your brand can do to maximize results on social media. Strategize accordingly: How does your content help Instagram keep users (like you) scrolling through Instagram?
Courtney Porter is a designer, author, host and media director. She specializes in seamlessly bringing interior designers, architects, furniture manufacturers and showrooms’ physical products and services into the digital world. She is co-author of “Green Interior Design: The Guide to Sustainable High Style” with Lori Dennis. Porter also is a host and producer of design shows. You may have caught her on “Behind the Bar,” interviewing your favorite celebrity designers or sharing her favorite decor finds on the live sales network Lit Live.