What Does Instagram’s New Chronological Feed Mean for Brands?

Well, it’s finally happened: the chronological Instagram feed is back. Users (and lawmakers) are applauding the move, but many brands are nervous about what this means for their social media strategy.

The bottom line: no need to panic.

We’ll break down what’s happening, what it means for brands, and our thoughts on how to move forward in this new (err, old) Instagram world.

What’s Happening

Rumors have been swirling for months, but Instagram finally made it official and rolled out their new chronological feed options for all users. Both users (nostalgic for the early days of Instagram) and lawmakers (concerned about the impact of addictive algorithms on young people’s mental health) have been pushing for the change, but until recently it was unclear if or when it would actually happen.

What We Know

The new Instagram update includes two new feed options: favorites and following.

Favorites is a chronological feed of content from ONLY the accounts you’ve marked as favorites. You can include up to 50 accounts in this feed, and you can update or change them at any time.

The following feed will feature the latest published content from all of the accounts you follow on Instagram. Content from these accounts will show up in chronological order, from most to least recent, regardless of algorithm indicators like engagement.

What’s important to know is that these two new feed options are in addition to (not instead of) the algorithmic feed we’ve all become accustomed to. The algorithmic feed will remain the default feed and will continue to feature a mix of content from accounts a user follows and content the algorithm predicts the user will like and engage with. Users will have to manually switch to either their favorites or following feed each time they open the app. The default algorithmic feed is also where ads and promoted content will show up. 

What We Think

Now, before everyone panics and starts rewriting their social media strategy, the first question we need to consider is whether users will actually engage with these new feed options. It’s entirely possible that despite asking for a return to “the good old days” users will quickly realize the algorithm actually provides them with better, more entertaining content (Instagram’s internal research indicates that this is the case). And even if they don’t prefer the algorithmic feed—will their desire to see a chronological feed be strong enough to overcome the barrier of having to manually select their preferred feed each time they open the app? 

We’re going to go with “no”—but even if they do—the favorites feed (content from up to 50 accounts) is unlikely to provide enough content on a daily basis to satisfy the typical Instagram user who spends 53 minutes per day on the platform. So we’re likely to see the majority of users browsing multiple feeds (both chronological and algorithmic) on any given day. 

That said, it’s going to be important for brands to learn how to master these new feed options now, as lawmakers have indicated they have a strong (bipartisan) desire to move away from algorithm-based social media in the future.  

The Upside of Chronological Content

If social media does end up inching back toward a chronological feed (it’s unlikely the algorithm will ever go away completely as it represents the vast majority of Facebook and Instagram’s revenue), the upside for brands is an increased opportunity for real-time, organic marketing. 

When you post (in addition to what you post) will start to matter again—meaning there may be more opportunities for live coverage of events, experiences, and brand launches. It also means that if you create great content (as in, interesting and/or valuable enough that people actually want to follow you) that investment in building followers could pay off in organic visibility within the favorites or following feed—something that hasn’t really happened since the dawn of the algorithm. 

The (Potential) Downside of Chronological Content

On the flip side, this change has the potential to push brands back into quantity over quality mode—and away from creating truly engaging content. Be careful not to fall into this trap, as it’s a short-sighted strategy. In the long run, users will become overwhelmed with the volume of content in the chronological feed and will start to curate their “following” tab, eliminating brands and creators who clog it up with uninspiring content. 

The other potential implication of the chronological feed is an increase in advertisers within the default algorithmic feed. This increased competition could result in higher ad costs and more difficulty cutting through the clutter.

The Bottom Line

The chronological feed represents a bigger opportunity for brands than a threat. 

Given the fact that the algorithmic feed will remain the default feed, not much is likely to change for brands. However, the addition of the chronological feeds represents an opportunity for them to win visibility on the organic front as well.

Remember that social media is first and foremost an engagement platform—not an advertising platform. The goal of social media isn’t to interrupt people and put ads in front of them while they’re busy scrolling through babies and puppies. The goal is to create content that’s actually useful to the people you’re trying to reach and start a conversation that builds comradery, trust, and brand love. 

In the end, good content always wins—no matter what Instagram does or doesn’t do to the algorithm. So stay the course, pay attention to post timing and audience engagement, and keep creating content that’s worthy of your followers’ attention.

Still have questions or need helping sorting your brand’s social media strategy? Talk to an Ethos Content Marketing Strategist today.

About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside of Maine. At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its “ethos.” We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference for each client’s unique marketing and business objectives. With Ethos, you get more than a marketing agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals. Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!

Hannah Richards
Written By

Hannah Richards

Director of Brand Engagement