Understanding the Instagram Algorithm

The Instagram algorithm has people feeling all types of ways.

Since dumping the reverse-chronological feed in 2016, Instagram has been using software algorithms to show users what they think they want to see.

Some Instagrammers enjoy the opportunity to explore new content related to their interests. 

Others are nostalgic for the old days when you scrolled through chronologically correct content. They fear their posts are being missed or, even worse, hidden from their followers. This is particularly concerning for businesses that use social media as a marketing tool.

Whether we like it or not, Instagram’s algorithm is constantly evolving. It can be tricky (and time-consuming) trying to keep up.

So how does Instagram decide what you want to see?

According to Instagram’s official Twitter account, the algorithm takes three main factors into account,

1. what accounts you’re engaging (liking/commenting) with most

2. likelihood you will enjoy content based on your previous engagements

3. how recent the content was posted

This transition has brought a new set of challenges for businesses trying to grow their audience through social media marketing.

It’s no longer enough for businesses to make Instagram accounts, post occasionally, throw in a couple of hashtags, and call it a day. They must be actively posting and engaging with others if they want to be seen.

All this engagement and posting can become quite the time sucker for social media account managers.

So here it is, your crash course on how to get the Instagram algorithm working for you and not against you. 

Common algorithm myths debunked

#1: Instagram favors videos over photos

Although Instagram cleared up this rumor already, it’s easy to see why many people still think it might be true. The main goal of the algorithm is to keep people interested and on the app for longer. Since Instagram videos autoplay while scrolling through your feed, a person is more likely to look at a video post longer than a picture.

Instagram denies that the algorithm favors video content, but it’s still a good idea to incorporate videos into your content to increase engagement time.

#2: You’re downranked for posting too much

Instagram does not penalize users for posting as much as their hearts desire. The algorithm actually makes it less annoying when people post multiple times because it’ll automatically break it up.

In prehistoric chronological times, users scrolling their feed would see all these posts at once and were likely to click the unfollow button due to excessive posting.

#3: Instagram will “shadowban” users randomly

The dreaded shadowban is a hot topic for anyone using Instagram as a social media tool. It basically means Instagram is blocking other users from seeing your content without you realizing it. The social media platform has fervently denied the existence of the shadowban despite users who claim to have experienced it.

The truth is, users only run the risk of their content being blocked when they do not adhere to the Instagram rules and guidelines. Businesses run the risk of getting their content blocked when Instagram suspects they’re using bots and other inauthentic tools to grow their following.

Instagram is also cracking down on explicit and provocative content. A post will likely not show up on hashtags if there is nudity involved.

So keep it real, keep it clean, and you have nothing to worry about.

#4: Instagram prioritizes users who post stories

Users who regularly post stories are not favored by the Instagram algorithm gods. Stories don’t affect where your content shows up on someone’s feed.

However, it can still boost engagement because people are more likely to see stories than posts. If they like what they see in the story, they can click on your profile to view your posts.

More engagement leads to a happier algorithm. So in a round-a-bout, indirect way, I suppose Instagram does prioritize users who post stories. Just not in the way many might think.

Ways to make the algorithm happy

Step up your photo game

This platform values creativity. Good photo quality has become the standard on Instagram, not the exception.

Have a clear brand

When you have a clear theme or niche on your page, it makes it easier for the Instagram algorithm to match you up with users who have similar interests.

If you’re all over the place with the style of content you post, you’ll leave the algorithm confused and less inclined to share your page with others.

Use stories and live video features

Many users will look at Instagram stories before even scrolling through their feed. While not using stories does NOT directly affect your ranking through the algorithm, it increases your chances of being seen and should be used accordingly. Share a recent post on your story or ask a question to increase engagement.

Live videos will send your followers a notification whenever you go live. This is a great way to set you apart from other business profiles and get your name out there.

Find out when your followers are most active

Posting when your followers are most active is always an effective strategy, algorithm or not. Find out when the best time to post is here.

Run contests and giveaways

Forget about likes, getting people talking and staying on your posts is the best way to make the Instagram algorithm your best friend.

Ask your followers for feedback. Post a picture and tell them the best caption wins a prize. Give them multiple-choice options. Get creative with it.

Post frequently

Contrary to the myth that posting frequently may downrank you, consistently posting high-quality content as often as possible can actually help. The algorithm breaks these posts apart on feeds so it doesn’t overwhelm users scrolling through their feed but as they like your content, more and more of it will pop up for them.

Encourage people to turn on notifications

Turning on notifications for a profile is as simple as clicking the ellipses next to their username and choosing “turn on post notifications“. A simple post to your story walking people through this process can definitely score you algorithm brownie points.

The Instagram algorithm can see how many people have notifications turned on for your account and will rank you accordingly.

Will the algorithm be changing in the future?

Although we can’t predict the future, chances seem slim that Instagram will be adding the option to make your feed chronological again.

The algorithm now takes into account the time something was posted more than it did when it was first introduced in 2016.

So never say never.

The truth is, the Instagram algorithm evolves with each new update and will continue to do so, along with the rest of social media. The second you think you have it figured out, something new comes along and rocks your world.

It’s up to you whether you want to level up with it or get left behind.