Recently, I’d started to believe that a decent number of my friends were blithely unaware of the social rules that dictate proper behavior on Instagram. As in, if you like a photo of mine from three weeks ago … I’m going to assume that you were stalking my account and accidentally thumbed a little too hard. This was an unfair assumption, friends. I am sorry.
In reality, Instagram’s algorithm — which is constantly, and quietly, being tweaked by the company — was just taking that many days, or weeks, to show my followers a particular photo. Which is a pain if you’re a person who wants your followers to see your content just as soon as you post it. Or worse, an influencer whose business model depends on your followers seeing your content as soon as you post it.
There is, of course, a hack to get around this issue, one frequently employed by the two most important user groups online: teens and influencers. (Instagram, unlike Twitter and Facebook, does not offer users the option to turn off algorithmic sorting.) Step one: Screenshot your Instagram grid. Step two: Upload that photo to your Instagram Story and use the pen tool to color over the most recent photo. Step three: Add a caption enticing people to come see that photo and toss in a like. As in, “New post! Click to see why I’m posing in my underwear … again!!” (A body-positivity activist I follow is big on using some version of this curiosity gap.) The less-clickbaity version of this is to just post your latest image in your story outright and label it “NEW, NEW, NEW,” and ask, nicely, for your followers to go see it and like it. Which, ostensibly, they will do since they already follow you, which is a good indication that they like — or like to hate — you.
If you’ve noticed this on Instagram, too, you’re seeing two things happen. The first is simply people trying to beat Instagram’s algorithm, but the second speaks to what Instagram has become as an app. The platform introduced — and by introduced we mean blatantly copied Snapchat — Stories in August 2016, and since then it has become the core of Instagram. Sure, people are coming for the posts and videos shared in their feed, but if users are relying on Stories to ensure that their followers get the chance to see those posts and videos, then that’s what the app is about these days. It’s like Facebook pivoting from being a platform built on the concept of “the profile” and growing into a platform engineered around the News Feed. The central use of the app has evolved past the original vision, and name, of the platform. Basically, what we’re saying is, if you want to know what folks are up to on Instagram, you’ll have to check their Stories. Because that’s what the app is all about now.