The latest social network to announce a move away from a reverse chronological timeline is Instagram, impacting its 14m UK users.

Many of these snap happy bloggers are in uproar – one petition has already attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters. But what about advertisers?

Is this a further nail in the sequential social storytelling coffin? Is this bad news for all but brands with the largest followings?

How can the impact of future changes on mainstream social networks be minimised for customer engagement programmes?

Instagram is not the first social platform to introduce an opaque algorithm for ordering posts.

Facebook (estimated UK monthly active base of 30m users) introduced the controversial and now-defunct ‘Edgerank’ newsfeed algorithm back in 2009, long before it acquired Instagram.

An explainer video for Facebook's defunct Edgerank algorithm

Advertisers saw a significant drop in the viewability of organic posts. The percentage of fans reached plummeted to single figures in many cases.

A ‘pay to reach’ model quickly became the only reliable way to get brand content to long nurtured bases of followers.

This was the thin end of the throttling wedge, forcing brands to pay for visibility, but ultimately monetising the user base to boost investor returns. One commentator has recently dubbed Instagram’s announcement ‘reachpocalypse’.

What's the answer?

Social engagement is a long established tactic, used by marketers to boost overall consumer awareness as part of the marketing mix.

However, the performance of these approaches can change overnight and brands are at the mercy of the social networks. You could end up paying more than you had bargained for.

Of course social networks will continue to play a role in CRM programmes, but the overarching strategy should be to direct customers to owned domains such as websites and landing pages.

Interestingly, it’s not possible to put a clickable URL within an Instagram post – only in the profile or in a paid advert.

So what tactics should be (re)considered?

In my opinion brands should plan customer engagement comms with owned media at the heart – e.g. email – and use paid or organic social media to supplement.

Email (or even direct mail) contactability should be at the top of the list.

What proportion of your customers are opted in for communications such as a regular newsletter? How does this vary by value segment, by lifetime value, by product holding?

What headroom is there for getting additional signups? What value exchange are you offering in return for the customer giving permission for you to contact them by email?

This exchange could be promoted in Instagram or on other social networks to drive more signups from followers.

Another option would be to get a data provider to append an email address where third-party permission is available and then seek to opt each person into your newsletter.

However, in view of the upcoming changes to EU Data Protection Laws, this route will not get easier.

Every successful CRM programme needs a dependable way of communicating with customers, whether they be current or lapsed.

Is it time to look again at your coverage?

Maddie Timms

Published 4 May, 2016 by Maddie Timms

Maddie Timms is the business development manager at Amaze One and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Maddie on LinkedIn.

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