Everything You Need to Know About the Instagram Algorithm

It’s no secret that Instagram has taken over the social media sphere with over 700 million active monthly users. We are visual beings and Instagram provides a platform to tap into that while allowing us to interact with one another like never before.

However, when the new algorithm was launched in May of 2016, engagement plummeted for many bloggers, influencers, and Instagrammers because followers were no longer seeing posts in chronological order. They were getting less comments, less likes, and ultimately less views. According to Hootsuite, “users miss on average 70% of the content on their feeds.”

It’s no surprise people started freaking out about the new algorithm- 70% is a significant number! But what you may not know is that the algorithm can actually work in your favor.

How does the new Instagram algorithm work?

Basically, the algorithm was created to allow people to see more of the stuff they care about. Instead of everything appearing in order of when it was posted, now photos appear in order of importance to each user. This means that instead of seeing a photo posted two minutes ago by an old acquaintance from high school you probably won’t comment on, the first thing that appears on your feed is a photo of your best friend at last nights concert.

So how does Instagram figure out which posts are most important to you? There are actually several factors:

 

Engagement

If you’re a blogger, influencer, or brand, you’ve heard the word engagement before and know how important it is for marketing. Having an engaged audience that interacts with you by liking photos and leaving comments is a game changer, especially when it comes to the new Instagram algorithm.

In an interview with the CEO and Founder of Social Media Examiner, Michael Stelzner, Buffer Social explains that “social media algorithms would typically show a post to a sample audience and see how the audience reacts to it. If the audience reacts positively to the post right away, the algorithm would show the post to more people.”

This means that photos with high engagement are boosted to the top of feeds, which leads to even more engagement. Sounds great, right? It certainly can be, but it also makes it extremely hard for new bloggers and regular Instagrammers to connect with their audience if they don’t have a large one to begin with and their photos aren’t being seen.

How to make the most of it:

A few ways to boost Instagram engagement are by creating relevant hashtags and interesting captions with a call to action. Don’t be afraid to ask people to comment and share their opinions and experiences! Other useful tips include avoiding third-party websites (Instagram bots, follower apps, etc.), posting at peak times, joining Instagram pods, and being more active on Instagram stories.

I go through these ways to boost engagement on Instagram in more detail in a separate post, so be sure to check it out!

 

Relationships

Another factor that plays into the order of posts on your feed is which users you engage with most often. This feature is intended to make sure you see pictures of people you are close with, even if they don’t have high followers or engagement. Obviously Taylor Swift  gets more likes and comments on her photos than your twelve year old cousin, but because you like your cousin’s posts often, they will still appear on your feed even if her photo engagement is otherwise low.

Other ways Instagram determines your relationships with people come from who you direct message, which stories you view, people you search for, and quite possibly who you Interact with on Facebook, since Instagram is owned by Facebook.

How to make the most of it:

Building relationships with people is one of the most powerful marketing tools, so if you want people to like and comment on your photos you must do the same for them. High engagement drives high engagement, so get to double tapping and typing!

 

Relevancy

The Instagram algorithm not only tracks which posts you like, but the types of posts they are. Being able to categorize posts into topics such as food, travel, beauty, fitness, and fashion and measure your interest in each topic based on likes and comments means they can organize posts based on relevancy on your feed. If you are a fitness guru and like every post by Kayla Itsiness, her posts, as well as other fitness posts, will appear first on your Instagram feed.

How to make the most of it:

It is important to follow accounts you are interested in that fit your niche if you are a brand or blogger. Not only will this make the photos on your feed more relevant, but it will peak your followers’ interest in your account. Following people who might be interested in the content you post generates new followers with the potential for engagement. If you’re a fashion blogger follow other fashion bloggers. Take it a step further by following their followers. Chances are if they’re interested in a similar account falling under the same category (fashion), they will be interested in you too!

 

Timeliness

Obviously, when we open Instagram we don’t want to see posts from a week ago. Instagram knows this and has tailored their algorithm to show the most recent, most relevant posts. While photos on your home page will never again be in the order they were posted, the algorithm chooses photos in a chronological order depending on relevance first, then timeliness.

How to make the most of it:

Posting at peak times is a great way to ensure more people are viewing your photos. Typically, these times are around 9am and 5pm, but depending on your audience and your reach these times can vary. Instagram for Business is a great tool to gain insight into this data. It allows you to see demographics, audience locations, and average likes for which times you posted, this way you can get the most out of the algorithm.

 

Other factors that contribute to Instagram’s algorithm

One thing that’s for sure is no one really knows exactly how the algorithm works. It’s tailored to change consistently to provide each user with the best experience possible, so if you’re serious about growing your Instagram and its engagement you need to take it seriously. Who you follow matters, how often you like and comment matters, and when you post matters.

Here is a list made by Stef Lewandowski of other factors the algorithm might consider:

  • How often you open the app
  • How often you post
  • How many likes an image has
  • What an image’s recent like-rate is
  • How old the image is
  • Whether the post is a video
  • Whether the image is from a business account or a personal one
  • How active an image poster has been today- how many likes and comments have they made?
  • How many of an image poster’s images you’ve commented on or liked recently
  • How many hashtags an image has

What have you learned about the algorithm in your own experiences? Leave a comment below to share!

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