by Kate Lindsay
People often joke that Instagram knows who their current crush is before they do. Suddenly that account appears everywhere on their feeds, is first in line in their Stories tabs, and is top of the list of people who have viewed theirs. Through clues like time spent interacting with posts, and maybe a bit of telepathy, Instagram can easily determine our favorite Instagram accounts. Soon, though, the app might be handing that power back over to users.
Mobile developer Alessandro Paluzzi posted screenshots on Twitter of what appears to be a new feature from Instagram called “Favorites,” which allows users to select their favorite accounts and, as a result, their posts will appear higher in their feeds. Instagram confirmed this is an “internal prototype” but that they’re not (yet, at least) testing externally.
A “favorites” feature is good news for regular users, who have lamented so much about the mysteries of Instagram’s algorithm depriving them of the content they really want to see. But the first thing I thought of upon reading this news was how this might change things for creators.
First off, Instagram creators get my eternal sympathy for the myriad conflicting ways they’ve had to, often without warning, adapt to the constantly changing algorithm over the years. But something about a potential “favorites” feature feels like a more significant shift. If you want to appear high on followers’ feeds, you can’t just catch their attention with an algorithm-pleasing photo, or try to keep them there as long as possible via a ten-slide Instagram dump anymore. Instead, you’ll just have to be their favorite—a basic human emotion that now feels weirdly unfamiliar.
Social media in general has been shifting towards a model that emphasizes a more personal relationship between creators and their followers. Cameo, OnlyFans, Patreon—these things all require a follower to pay a creator directly for their content. If someone’s handing money to a creator, rather than passively scrolling their content, then that creator is probably one of their favorites.
What could that look like on Instagram? Luckily, since a “favorite” feature would involve just pressing a button rather than shelling out cash, it will likely be a lot easier to convince someone to give you that honor. But does that mean your content should still have broad appeal to your entire audience, or would it behoove you to cater more specifically to the people who put you top of feed? Will brands want to know how many people consider you one of their favorite accounts? Will you know?
These questions won’t have answers until Instagram decides what to do with this potential feature. Until then, it wouldn’t hurt to start thinking about what you value most about your audience, and find ways to strengthen that relationship. It might just pay off in the future—until, of course, Instagram changes its algorithm again.