Ask any creative for a list of things they’re struggling with at the moment, and theres a 99% chance that the Instagram algorithm will make it.
And trust me, I get it. I have been struggling, I men seriously struggling with growing and building community on Instagram for the better part of two years. Yes, you read that right!
I finally found my style, voice and started to hone my photography and editing skills right around the time that Instagram dropped that huge algorithm change on us. Lucky me. When the algorithm first changed, everyone freaked out –large bloggers and influencers and smaller ones alike. There were calls to turn on notifications, articles on how to hashtag your posts to be seen were published almost weekly. Basically, no one knew what to do.
Fast forward to today. Our timelines haven’t been chronological for a few years and the impact that this has had on bloggers and content creators is so real. Two years ago, all you had to do was nail the photo and edit it to online perfection. Now, you have to nail the shot, edit well, analyze the time when your audience is most likely to be online so that they can engage with your post in the first 10 minutes it’s active, then hope that preliminary engagement is enough to keep your post being seen throughout the day.
Are you exhausted yet?
Frustrated with my slow growth (despite pretty healthy engagement rates) and the app as a whole, I decided to embark on an experiment. I would switch to an Instagram business account for at least a month, put some money behind my posts and see what happened.
Then share those results with you all, obviously. Hence this post.
Here were my goals…
My goals were pretty simple. Once I switched my account over, I was hoping to see the following happen:
- An increase in followers gained/day greater than what I see now (which was roughly +5-10 followers a day)
- An increase in engagement on each post (likes and comments)
- An uptick in referral traffic to the blog from Instagram (as a result of an increase in profile fews)
These seemed like reasonable goals to me. If I’m paying money for more people to see my posts and my profile, you’d expect to see results that looked something like more eyes on my content = more engagement with my content.
Oh, but one caveat…
I wasn’t willing to spend more than $15 on boosting a single post. For one, I didn’t want to break the bank on this experiment. Also, I knew that if this did yield the results I wanted, I wouldn’t spend hundred of dollars a month boosting content moving forward, so I wouldn’t do it now. Even though I didn’t boost every post during this time, I stuck to my $15 max.
And here’s what happened:
I boosted my first post right before bed, I made sure it was approved to be boosted before I went to bed, then turned in for the night. I expected to wake up to dozens and dozens of new followers and the most likes I’d ever seen on a post. I went to sleep almost giddy knowing I’d done it! I’d finally submitted to the way things are now and I was going to be rewarded.
I was wrong.
I woke up, and the post was doing about average. People definitely kept seeing it for a longer period of times, and boosting it put a lot of eyes on the post. But my followers grew at about the same rate and my likes didn’t go far beyond what they would organically.
I kept at it, and generally saw the same results every single time. I was so disappointed, but not surprised.
The worst part? Any post that I didn’t boost, pretty much flopped. Way lower likes than I’d ever get on a post, zero comments and I wouldn’t see any follower growth that day (because the posts weren’t boosted, no one saw the post and therefore didn’t find my profile and couldn’t follow).
Instagram, it seemed, definitely penalized me for not spending money on a post when I’d elected to have a business account.
Even worse than the results was the mental impact this had on me. I became obsessed with my Instagram numbers. I would spend almost triple the time editing my photos before I posted. Once I finally posted, I would freak out if I wasn’t getting likes within the first few minutes (should I delete it, was the caption dumb, are people even seeing it). Losing a follower felt like losing a real life friend. I couldn’t see beyond the numbers, and I wasn’t having fun.
After a month and a half had passed, I decided that I wanted out. I turned off the business account and switched back to the told thing. A lot of people would argue that it was worth keeping the account for the analytics and insights, but I use the Plann App, and find those stats and insights to be more than enough.
Since letting go, Instagram has become fun again. I’m (less) obsessed with numbers and post performance. And I took away a really important lesson about blogging, sharing your work and where it’s best to invest in this changing digital landscape.
So…. what’s your recommendation?
I can’t say a definitely yes or definitely no to the question of switching your account either way. I will say do what works for you. Some people have done the same experiment and had opposite results. The algorithm sucks, and you have to find a way to make it work for you.