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Phil González: “The algorithm change on Instagram has been a big mistake”

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We spoke with Phil González, creator of the largest community of Instagram users in the world, who has just published the book “Instagram, much more than photos!”.

Certainly, Instagram is much more than photos … How would you define it?

From the beginning of Instagram I realized that this was much more than photos, images or likes. When everyone was talking about social photography – and it is true that it gave the app a more human point than Twitter – I saw that the power of the image was leading people who used Instagram to get to know each other.

This is something that did not happen on Facebook, where people already knew each other. In addition, Instagram allowed those who had always wanted to be photographers to remove the thorn. You have it all: you upload photos and, also, this is an excuse to meet people. I always say that Instagram and similar social networks are the best way to fight loneliness in this hyperconnected world.

And so, more and more people link on Instagram …

It is something that exists from the beginning but has been slow to assume one hundred percent. When we organized the first user meetings in 2011, a large part of the success was motivated because there were no direct messages at that time. People wanted to meet, get to know each other, but did not dare propose it because a public comment had to be left. That is why the group meetings were successful.

Instagram could one day be an Instameetic … Actually, any social network is good for flirting, but on Instagram it can be done elegantly and focusing the shot, since you already know a lot about the person you want to meet.

Instagram is a great remedy for loneliness in this hyperconnected world

Be that or another, the important thing is to have a goal to be on social networks …

The first goal to be on Instagram has to be having fun. The secret of Instagram is that at first it was based on the like of Facebook and the cult of the follower of TW to unite those two passions in one. That was the first motivation on Instagram and some are still having fun getting more followers. But from there the social network became a personal challenge to make more and more beautiful photos and receive comments. Then comes the third phase, when there are already millions of users and even celebrities enter … Then you ask yourself: "hey, can this help me to promote myself?"

And if we want to use it in that sense, what would be the tricks to get more out of it?

I always summarize it the same way: on Instagram you have to be yourself. We are currently at a time when everything is filtered, everything is edited … and there is a cult of personality energized by the image. Instagram, in this context, is your business card, your CV … provides all kinds of information about you: what is your car, your house, your pet …

For companies, it provides a great opportunity to show on Instagram what they really are: teaching backstage, sharing the product manufacturing process, counting from day to day or showing when the accountant's birthday is …

What everyone wants: How can we get more "likes"?

There is no specific formula. There are so many factors that can make you a famous person in Instragram… you can even do it if you are someone that nobody knows and you get involved with a famous person, surely you easily achieve a million followers!

Beyond those types of situations, the coherence of your account is essential: that it follow a thematic and style line. It would be advisable not to publish a photo of a dog one day, another a pizza, do it first in color, then in black and white.

I would talk about the 4 HU of Instagram: Human, Humor, Humanitarian and Humble. Having humanity, being close, is essential. Comment on what others publish, give them "likes", have a sense of humor … and, above all, be humble. It is the great value in social networks.

But there is less and less, right? Profiles that are only a collection of selfies proliferate …

The selfie hashtag was a great excuse to teach yourself. At first people did not dare to portray themselves. The first Instagram users were over 30 years old, iPhone owners, with a certain purchasing level … We used to challenge each other to take photos, but it was not common. When the wave of Android users and also younger ones arrived, who did not mind teaching who they are, the selfie hashtag became popular, which is nothing more than an excuse to teach yourself massively.

According to a study, Instagram is the worst social network for the mental stability of young people …

What happens is that studies are made about what is fashionable and has pull. There are no reports on MySpace or Tuenti, but on Instagram because it will give headlines. The conclusions are sometimes vain. If they had done the same study on television, they could have given them.

Is Instagram harmful? It is possible that yes, what it is is very addictive, I always say: "try to remember that it is not real life, that real life is your families, your friends …". You can spend some time but there are people who spend 8 and 10 hours a day on Instagram. Even the young people of Generation Z are using Instagram as if it were an instant messaging program, as if it were a super WhatsApp connected 24 hours a day …

Are we permanently exposed?

There are people very obsessed with controlling what their partners do on Instagram, trying to understand if their girl has given several “likes” in a row to another boy is that he is cheating on her…

Facebook has made trouble for us again by implementing the algorithm on Instagram and reducing visibility to users

This is not new. Facebook had to reduce the visibility of interactions at a given moment (we are no longer shown who has become friends with whom, etc …) and on Instagram we tend to that because in the end the situation is generating many problems for users.

Is Instagram the great “copier” of recent times in social networks?

It can, but that's something that people don't know. Users are adopting trends, consumer fashions … and what Instagram has done phenomenally is to bring them all together. Others have tried to copy something and they have done it wrong, like Flickr, who was the owner of the photo in his day and did not know how to take the step towards the apps.

Where is Instagram going, towards integration with Facebook and WhatsApp?

The future of all three will depend on the art of Mark Zuckerberg and Kevin Systrom to keep them somewhat entertaining. When you see how the youngest use WhatsApp or Instagram, you wonder if for them it will not be all the same in the future, what you do not know is if the balance will tip to one side or the other. Will we end up using Instagram? Will it be WhatsApp? We do not know. If Instagram offers me voice memos, the same I stop using WhatsApp … no one knows. The truth is that those of Zuckerberg are very well located to offer the communication system in which people feel most comfortable.

This integration of functionalities is what WhatsApp has tried to do with the new states …

Yes, but people did not want it there. Which they did a little absurd, because people use WhatsApp for other things. However, they have left the stories on Facebook, and that indicates that at one point it could all be the same brand. Anyway, I think it would be a failure since they are different experiences with different users. People don't want that.

Why have the Stories worked on Instagram and not on other platforms?

Because I think that on Instagram you enter to enjoy what others say, people you still do not know, and that is why interactions arise … it has a morbid touch. However, on Facebook you see what your friends do, you already know them … that's why it is easier than on Instagram if this new type of ephemeral entertainment succeeds.

Zuckerberg copies because he could not buy Snapchat in his day …

It can, but Zuckerberg made a master purchase, MSKRD, which were the best when it came to creating interactive skins … By making that acquisition, he has managed to put Instagram on the same level as Snapchat in record time. Strategically it has been something brutal.

However, the live video does not finish taking off on Instagram …

For Live to succeed you have to have something interesting to tell in time and for that you are looking for other platforms where to develop an online newsletter, a masterclass or a cooking workshop. On Instagram, Live is somewhat less busy, almost spontaneous. Sometimes it is used for nothing.

What do you think that the timeline on Instagram is not chronological now?

Heavy users and early adopters are very angry. Facebook has made a mess of us again. 6 or 7 years ago, he told users that he was going to start teaching them only what they like, and he convinced companies to open corporate pages … So everyone signed up and could start doing business with them: if you want to appear, you must pay. On Instagram they are making the same mistake, because on Facebook you may not want to get X "I like you" but on Instagram yes. They have wanted to replicate the same system and many people are disappointed.

Also, how it works is not well understood. I know you have 50% reach on your posts (that is, they show half of your contacts), but other people are 20% or even 5%. We do not know why some have so much reach and others do not. It is very frustrating for people who have worked for years on their Instagram that their visibility is now lowered because of the algorithm.

Actually, they are not showing you the content that is most interesting to you, but the one that interests them. But people do not know, they only see that their photos receive less "likes". It's frustrating.

Is it the biggest mistake Instagram has made?

I cannot criticize them too much because they have managed to reach 700 million users, but they were already wrong the day they allowed more than 5 hashtags to be used, because that was an open door for bots. Another mistake was leaving the API open, which allowed creating bots with fake users who put fake “likes” and made you an Instagram megastar with no interesting content.

The third big mistake is this, the loss of visibility and the algorithm change arbitrarily. There are so many people pissed off at the algorithm right now that if an alternative came along, there could be a rebellion. I doubt it will happen, because in the end people are very lazy: I already have my community set up and even if another alternative comes it would have to be something much more fun for me to go to it. But watch out, but it can happen …

Tom Walsh

Tom Walsh is a social media marketing professional with 30+ years of experience. Previously, Tom worked as a Facebook marketing manager for a giant tech startup. He graduated with honors from Columbia University with a dual degree in Business Administration and Creative Writing."