To give users the best experience and optimise advertising, Instagram developed a complex and dynamic algorithm that decides what users should see on their Instagram feed by organising posts according to user activity and behaviour. Your entire Instagram feed and, importantly, your customers’ Instagram feeds are arranged according to this mysterious algorithm. So how does this algorithm work and how can you use it to your advantage to get the best results? Let’s take a look.
What is the Instagram algorithm?
The Instagram algorithm is a set of rules that determine which content gets seen on Instagram — though as Instagram points out, although it is referred to in the singular form, it is really a set of multiple algorithms that all work together.
What does that mean for the feed?
“We use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose,” wrote Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri in 2021 in a blog post entitled (Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works.) “We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that.”
The way they are able to personalise your experience in this way is through the algorithms. It takes into account specific factors that tailor your Feed and Stories, the Explore tab and Reels, all in different ways.
How does the Instagram algorithm work?
Every time a user opens the app, the Instagram algorithm instantly combs through all the available content to decide, which posts go to the top of the newsfeed, and in what order, which posts are featured on the Explore tab and in which order Stories, Live videos, and Reels show up, in the feed, and their respective tabs, etc.
The algorithm will take into account details about your relationship with your followers, the relevance of the content and the timeliness of posts. The specific factors that tailor your Feed and Stories, the Explore tab and Reels are all slightly different.
How Instagram displays content
Instagram used to display posts chronologically, i.e. in order of most recent posts to oldest posts, but not anymore (although it might be making a comeback. Read our 2022 Instagram Trends Blog here). Since 2016, Instagram has been optimising your feed to show you content it thinks you want to see (are most likely to engage with) based on your previous likes, which accounts you comment on and follow and the stories you typically watch without simply scrolling past.
The first step to cracking Instagram’s algorithm is understanding the factors that it considers.
Factors that influence the Instagram feed and allow you to be seen on Instagram:
1. User’s interest and engagemen
What you see on Instagram’s feed, is primarily based on your own activity. This includes the posts you like, the content you comment on and how long you watch certain videos for. When it comes to your business profile, the frequency of likes, comments, profile views, direct messages etc, tells Instagram that users enjoy your content and will be shown it more often to users with similar activity history.
2. Posting frequency
Instagram posts are not just shown chronologically anymore; newer posts do not automatically take priority over older ones. However, the amount you post does play a role. During Instagram’s Creator Week in June 2021, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri revealed that a posting cadence of 2 feed posts per week and 2 Stories per day is ideal to start and for building a following on the app.
3. App usage and activity
Usage matters. Users who check their account several times a day see the most recent posts and users who don’t check their account often, see just the top posts. Users who spend a large amount of time on Instagram will also see more in their Instagram feed; Instagram takes a deep dive into these users’ behaviour and shows them more and more posts and videos. Users who spend just a few minutes on Instagram will only see the day’s top posts based on Instagram’s algorithm.
4. How many accounts a user follows
The number of accounts that a user follows on Instagram plays an important role in your posts appearing in their feed. The more accounts a user follows, the more competition to be on the top of their feed. Understanding what competitors are doing on the platform provides insight into areas where you can stand out above the rest.
5. Your relationship with your followers
Do you follow each other? Did they search for you by name? Do you message each other, or leave comments? Do you tag each other in your posts? Instagram tracks how many times you’ve interacted with any given person (with comments, likes, profile views, and so on) to try to get a sense of how interested a person might be to you.
6. The relevance of the content
Instagram tracks user affinity and deduces what is in a given photo or video to serve up the content people want (cute cat pics, obviously). How many likes did a post get? When was it posted? Has it been tagged with a location? If it’s a video, how long is it? These signals help the Instagram algorithm determine the relevance and popularity of a post.
7. The timeliness of your post.
Although newer posts do take priority over older ones, it’s important to get engagement within the first few hours of posting so that the algorithm will show your posts to more of your audience and finding the right times to post for your brand can help with that.
How to stay on top of the algorithm so that you are seen on Instagram
1. Know your audience
It’s all about the user so make sure you understand their behaviour. While it’s difficult to evaluate exactly what your star customers are loving on Instagram, one way you can get a relatively good idea is by looking at competitors who are successfully utilising the platform. Take some time to study what they post, the hashtags they use and the time of day they are posting. The more you know the better informed your strategy will be.
2. A story is worth 1000 words
They may seem frivolous but stories can play a big part in growing your Instagram profile. Instagram stories are an easy way to be seen by many Instagram users, pique their interest and then gradually get your posts to the top of buyers’ feeds.
Instagram stories are not only more easily seen but are also easy to engage with and allow you to create a rapport and relationship with your clients while posting real-time, authentic content that doesn’t disrupt the flow of your grid. As an added bonus, reactions to stories go straight to your DMs, allowing you to organically start a conversation.
How do your stories help you to be seen on Instagram?
Basically, the more engagement and views you get on your stories, the higher up you move on the feed.
3. What a time to be live
Although posting stories and live videos won’t affect how your content appears in the feed, users get notifications whenever the profiles they follow go live. Who doesn’t want their followers to get notified about their brand? The live content can also ignite a bit of curiosity and encourage your followers to check out the video and see what you’re up to, head to your page and engage.
With the ability to get user reactions and comments in real-time, the live video is a fantastic tactic to increase your engagement rate and improve your place in the users’ feed.
4. The age-old hashtag
Using relevant hashtags is one of the most effective strategies for getting your Instagram post on top of the feed or seen in searches. According to the research, nine hashtags per post is optimal and yields a high engagement rate. Using too many hashtags can not only come off as ignorant and desperate but can also hinder your results by flagging you as spam.
Not sure which hashtags to use? Take a look at competitors to account for some inspiration or use an online hashtag generator such as tagsfinder.com.
5. Post at suggested times
By posting at peak times, there is a higher chance of your posts being seen, engaged with and then being pushed higher in the followers’ feed going forward.
Make sure you have set up your account as either a creator or business so that you can make full use of your insights. You can easily check insights that give the time when most of your followers are active.
Scheduling for success
We suggest scheduling your posts ahead of time, as it is not only more time-efficient but also ensures that your posts go out at optimal times, every time. To schedule your posts in advance, use the Meta Business Suite.
6. Post videos
According to social media studies, posting photos and videos on Instagram may seem to have the same result at first glance, but they don’t; both get likes and comments, however, photos get more likes and videos get more comments. In the engagement rankings (a critical element of the algorithm), comments score higher than likes. So, give videos a try and watch your comments climb.
Never uploaded a video? Why not start with a Time-lapse. You can show your followers your creation process without having to look directly into the camera, narrate the video or do some new Tiktok dance with your two left feet. Start small but get started, video is where it’s at.
7 . A little healthy competition
Running a competition is the smart and easy way to be seen on Instagram. Competitions accumulate many shares, likes, comments and followers, which directly affects your posts’ position on a user’s feed. Remember that Instagram promotes popular content; content that gets a high engagement rate in a short time. Competitions receive a lot of engagement, quickly and consistently throughout their running period. Try giving away a product, your time or a voucher. For added reach, team up with another brand for a combined giveaway.
7. Consistency is key
Posting frequently may not get the posts a high engagement rate but it is effective!
Posting consistently on Instagram sends Instagram the message that you are an active user. Active users are favoured on the feed.
What is the optimal posting frequency to be seen on Instagram?
As with all marketing, it is a balance between your goals and your available time. To begin with, it is important to consider a schedule for posting on Instagram by knowing the best time of day and day of the week to post on Instagram. If you do not yet have access to your specific optimal posting times, use the general ones found here. These insights will become available once you reach 100 followers. Did you know that according to research most Instagram users are active on Wednesdays?
Now that you know when to post, decide what to post
Once you know what the best times and days are to post, consider how many posts you are able to create per month and create your content calendar accordingly. There is no set right or wrong frequency but you should aim for a minimum of eight posts a month and a maximum of one post per day to avoid over-posting. Note: we are talking about posts. When it comes to stories and reels, these are encouraged over and above your posting schedule for maximum reach and engagement.
9. Create interesting, engaging captions
After grabbing your followers’ attention, it is time to reel them in and keep them in your feed; giving them a chance to look around or more optimistically, engage and check out your shop. To make sure you are sparking their interest in the first place, you need to write engaging captions, something related, attention-grabbing and informative or why not try asking a question that gives you the opportunity to get a high engagement rate by having a lot of comments on the post. To find out how to write more powerful, engaging headlines check out Neil Patel’s Blog.
10. Post content that your audience wants to see
If you take a short look at some of the top posts on your feed, you’ll see that most of them are visually perfect and interesting. Posts that perform well may do so because they contain bold colours, extra features, specific filters, or anything that makes the post glow among all other posts. However, interesting content is a lot more than an attractive image. To post effective and engaging content you need to know your audience. Identify your audience personas and find out more about what your audience is interested in. Once you know your audience, tailor content to fit their needs. What do they want to know and see more of?
Tips for creating content your audience wants to see
Try looking at your competitors, note which of their posts are doing well and see what sets those posts apart from the rest. On your own profile, take a look at the insights and note which of your posts are doing well, those posts that have allowed you to be seen on Instagram in the past. Armed with this knowledge try to do more of what has worked before and less of what hasn’t, remembering to check your latest insights each month.
If you can follow these 10 simple steps you are sure to conquer the algorithm and boost your engagement. Remember, Instagram is a dynamic platform so check your insights regularly to see which pieces of content are your most successful and which ones just didn’t cut it. Keep an eye on your competitors so you can learn from them too!
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