The days of seeing content posted in chronological order are numbered (no pun intended) as Instagram becomes the latest platform to move to a curated feed.
Social media may have begun as a trickle of information, with a few early adopters and trendsetters posting the occasional blog post or online video, but it has become a growing torrent of user-generated content on a diverse array of channels, as well as an even larger secondary flow of sharing, commentary, and remixing.
There simply isn’t enough time in the day to see everything, which means good content can get lost in the noise and users can find themselves with a bad case of dreaded FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), symptoms of which include checking their phone every thirty seconds.
Facebook was only two years old in 2006 when it created the News Feed, a constantly updated list of friend activity. Almost from the start, an algorithm was in place to maximize user affinity, showing the posts it thought users would want to see. That algorithm, called EdgeRank, was replaced in 2011 by a machine learning system that now takes over 100,000 factors into account.
But Instagrammers weren’t sold on the prospect of ceding control of their feeds, and several expressed their opinions on the photo-sharing network itself last week. Many posted images requesting that their followers turn on notifications, which would inform them of every post. Similarly, when Buzzfeed leaked news that algorithmic timelines were coming to Twitter last month, users made their displeasure known by amending #RIPTwitter to their tweets.
But the outcry that went out when YouTube and Vine switched to curated feeds eventually died down, and users became accustomed to the change. In response to the Twitter hubbub, former Facebook CTO Bret Taylor tweeted: “Algorithmic feed was always the thing people said they didn’t want but demonstrated they did via every conceivable metric.”
Facebook clearly believes curation is better at driving engagement, and it has the numbers to back it up: According to analytics firm ComScore, it still has the widest reach and the greatest average monthly time spent in both the 18-34 and 35 and older markets. What’s more, its closest rival is Instagram, a subsidiary.
Twitter, which has been suffering from a stagnant stock price, must see the advantages of tighter control of its feed as well. The company began experimenting with curation in 2014 with a promotion for the World Cup, which then CEO Dick Costolo said was a big engagement driver. Last week, it announced a bigger move, partnering with the NFL to livestream Thursday Night Football for the upcoming season.
Going from chronological to curated is doubled-edged sword for marketers. On the one hand, curated feeds create space for advertising and make its inclusion more seamless (“…the same data which is used to filter feeds may also drive ad targeting”). But it also means that brands and advertisers will increasingly have to pay-to-play if they want to make it to user feeds. The other solution for marketers is to up their content game, creating advertising that users can’t help but engage with.