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Instagram Prioritizing Original Content | What Does That Mean For Brands?  

June 29, 2022

Instagram has long been at the forefront of adopting and incorporating the latest social media trends and evolutions within the platform. After rising to massive levels of popularity among Millennials, Instagram effectively stopped rival platform Snapchat’s meteoric rise by its introduction of Stories. Next, Instagram created Reels in an attempt to thwart the rise of TikTok. Whenever something happens on the social media landscape, Instagram is quick to adapt, act and remain relevant.

Instagram’s latest move is one against reposted content. In April 2022, Instagram announced that its algorithm would begin prioritizing original content over material that was posted elsewhere. The idea is a simple one — those that create content should be recognized. And, by extension, Instagram would gain further prominence as a source of original content.

The reality, though, is not quite as simple as the idea. How does Instagram define “original”? How are accounts who publish original content across multiple platforms treated? And most importantly, how does this shift affect the ability of brands to market on Instagram?

Instagram’s Announcement, Explained

Anyone who’s spent any time on Instagram has come across “curator” accounts. These are accounts that simply post the work of others — potentially without even crediting those original content creators — and reap the likes, followers, and ad revenue that come with posting compelling content. Meanwhile, the creator of this media gets nothing, least of all recognition.

This issue doesn’t just pop up when it comes to memes, by the way. Some business accounts and even brands themselves repost the work of others to try and get some shine from Instagram users. Even if it’s well-intentioned and above board, it’s not original content.

Instagram’s changes aim to change this dilemma by promoting original content — and, by extension, de-emphasizing reposted content. It’s not hard to see why. Too many people have made a fortune off Instagram by making low-effort posts that do nothing besides rip off other people. Instagram wants to stop this, while simultaneously bolstering its status as a place for consumers to view fresh, original content. Not coincidentally, TikTok has emerged as a highly original platform, and it’s drawing attention far beyond its original demographic of teens and Gen Z.

As we saw with Instagram Reels, Instagram’s algorithm changes aim to take attention off TikTok and bring it back to Instagram. But can the platform do what it claims it will do?

Defining “Original”

The first question most people had when reading Instagram’s announcement was a simple one — how do we define what constitutes original content?

Obviously, reposting someone else’s video or infographic doesn’t qualify as original. But what about a company that publishes an infographic, puts it on their Facebook page, and then decides that it would make a good Instagram post as well? It’s original, but it’s been posted somewhere else previously. At the same time, nothing can stop an Instagram user from downloading an exclusive white paper, screenshotting an infographic from that white paper, and posting it — after all, since nobody else has put it on social media, it could be classified as original. It’s not hard to see the significant gray area here.

For its part, Instagram has been honest and stated that the platform can’t truly tell if something is original or not, at least not right now. However, Instagram plans to work towards an algorithm that is able to identify what’s truly original — as in, something the poster has created, even if it’s something they’ve already posted elsewhere. This may take time to implement, and it’ll take even longer to perfect.

What Instagram can do, and is already doing, is penalizing curator accounts — the accounts that exist solely to post the work of other people. If Instagram can’t fully push original content upward in the algorithm, at least it can do everything possible to make curated content less of a priority. By doing this, Instagram can accomplish a significant part of its goal while it works towards fine-tuning its approach. It’s a good start.

What About Brands?

Everything we’ve discussed so far is important for anyone that uses Instagram, but it mostly affects everyday posters and aggregators. The impact on brands, small businesses, and retailers isn’t quite as clear — at least outside of the obvious encouragement to not steal other people’s content and try to pass it off as original work.

So how does this algorithm shift impact a brand’s marketing on Instagram?

User-Generated Content

A potential concern for brands is the impact of this new algorithm on user-generated content (UGC). Digital-facing brands have historically relied upon user-generated content as a way to create user engagement and to market in a more viral way. However, it’s not impossible that Instagram’s changes could negatively impact the way user-generated content rates in the algorithm.

Make no mistake, user-generated content is still a good strategy because it produces excitement around a brand, it gets people talking, and it gets people posting about the brand. That said, there does exist the chance that Instagram sees a user post UGC, then the brand reposts that same content, and then the brand gets dinged for posting unoriginal content.

The worst part is, as of right now, nobody really knows how this is going to work. It’s worth noting, though, that Instagram has stated that post history will be a consideration. So as long as brands aren’t constantly reposting other people’s content — as in, the user-generated content is a small piece of a brand’s overall posting profile — they’ll likely be just fine. But the potential impact on user-generated content is something to consider.

Content Created Off-Platform

In theory, Instagram could consider only a photo taken through their app, using their filters and their layouts, and posted immediately to Instagram as an original piece of content. Fortunately, Instagram isn’t going that route — even though, as discussed, the company isn’t completely sure how it will discern originals from facsimiles.

In any case, brands will still be able to create their content using their own tools, only uploading them to Instagram when those materials are fully ready to be posted. Instagram won’t penalize brands or marketers that choose to do this. As we saw with user generated content, post history is a factor. A brand that doesn’t make a habit out of posting other people’s content should be fine in most cases.

Cross-Posting

On a similar note, brands that publish content on multiple platforms should find that their Instagram stature won’t be affected by the algorithm change. Despite this, though, there will be plenty of consternation on the part of marketers. After all, the entire point of this change is to punish people who repost TikToks onto Instagram. What’s to stop Instagram from going after a company that’s simply posting content created for one platform onto another site?

This is an area where further clarity from Instagram would be very welcome. Although the announcement seems to indicate that it won’t be an issue, it’s not hard to imagine where brands — particularly brands that are still establishing themselves — are forced to prove that they created the content they posted, creating a headache that might drive those brands off the platform entirely.

Product Tags and People Tags

No matter what Instagram tries, people will still post other people’s work. The good news is that Instagram is making it easier for people to credit content creators through their posts. Product tags and people tags allow posters to credit original creators for their work, or to acknowledge products that are featured in their reposts. It’s a way for those pages to put out the content they want, acknowledge it’s someone else’s creation, and still credit and link directly to those responsible for creating the content. It’s one compromise in the battle between creation and curation.

The exact future of Instagram is uncertain, and in some ways, the announcement about the prioritization of original content invites more questions than answers. However, brands that don’t routinely aggregate the content of others and repost it should have little, if nothing, to worry about. If you’re having trouble understanding Instagram’s changes and want a little guidance about how to proceed, contact us at Commit Agency today.

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