How the Instagram Algorithm Works
When we’re following hundreds to thousands of accounts on Instagram, it’s not possible to see content from all of those accounts on any given day. That’s why Instagram’s algorithm uses a chronological system to sort through all the content and shows us only the most relevant and timely.
The relevance of the content pertains to your interests and your activity within the app. You may notice that the more you like the posts of a certain user, the more often you see posts by that user. Eventually, they’ll be a priority and show up first in your feed. The more that you engage with a profile’s stories, the more you will see those as well. These actions taken by you signal to Instagram that you like that user’s content. If you go into the Discover section of the app, you’ll see content that pertains to things you’ve liked or engaged with in the past, hashtags you follow, or similar accounts to ones you currently follow. Instagram’s algorithm is trying to deliver you the most relevant content that it thinks you’ll enjoy. Their ultimate goal? To keep you on the app longer.
Another way Instagram provides you with content is if it's viral. Even if it’s not relevant to you, they believe it’s relevant to the majority, due to its popularity.
It is pretty clear that if you want to be a priority in people’s feeds and stories, you need to encourage them to interact and engage with your content. It may seem easy, but becoming besties with Instagram’s algorithm can actually be frustrating.
How it Feels Like It’s Working Against You
Unfortunately, when a post performs poorly this signals to Instagram that people don’t like your content. It won’t be shown to as many people, making it even more difficult for you to gain that necessary engagement.
There is a theory that your content is only being shown to 10% of your followers, which means you need to convert that 10% into super loyal fans. If your post doesn’t perform as well, it is shown to a limited number of people. The better your post performs, the more people will see it.
One of the main goals of creators on Instagram is to gain a bigger audience, but accumulating followers isn’t always beneficial if your followers are not actively engaged. If you have 100,000 followers and only 9,000 of them like your posts, that’s the only 9% of your followers who are engaged. The fewer followers that are active with you, the fewer followers your posts will be shown to.
Instagram also isn’t very transparent about why content gets removed or taken down, even when it is not clear if the post or story has violated any community guidelines. Users are often left in the dark about what they did wrong and what they can do moving forward to get the most engagement and stay within the community guideline's good graces.
How to Work Around It
1. Post consistently: If you don’t post for a month at a time or only post once a week, your content won’t be shown to your followers frequently and Instagram tends to push you further down the feed. Instagram gives a higher ranking to those who post often. We suggest posting at least 2-3 times per week, with the ultimate goal of posting something every day. Be consistent!
2. Don’t just post on your feed: Post stories, Reels, and IGTV, too. Some people just watch stories instead of scrolling through their feed. You want to try and be seen by your followers wherever they are on the platform, so leverage all available content types. Stories and Reels don’t have to be overly produced or take a ton of time. Don't forget to leverage Instagram Story Highlights!
3. Post engaging content – videos & carousels: A static image can be interesting to the eye, but a typical user will spend just 1 second interacting with, liking it, and then continue scrolling. Consider posting videos or carousel images to stop them from scrolling. The longer someone spends watching your video, commenting on your posts, or watching your stories, the more the algorithm will show your content to that user in the future. When a user watches the full video you uploaded, it tells Instagram this user liked that video enough to watch the whole thing. Maybe they engaged with it by liking, commenting, sharing, and/or saving, and that tells the algorithm that users liked the video as well. If you post a carousel of photos and a user chose to swipe through all of those photos, that signals to the algorithm this user enjoyed seeing your content and wants to see more of it.
4. Respond to comments and DMs: Another way to get people to stay on the app and to engage with you more is by interacting with them. Responding to all of the comments on your posts shows Instagram that your post is gaining traction. It also gives your account more likeability and authenticity because it shows your followers that you care about them. The algorithm may not always notice this, but your followers do! They will be more inclined to interact with you in the future if you show your appreciation for them.
5. Participate in share for share groups: These are often set up by small businesses, brands, and shops looking to boost each other by liking, commenting, sharing, and saving each other’s posts. Share groups especially utilize stories by adding one user’s post a day and in return those users share them. This cyclical process gives everyone exposure to potential new followers and tells the algorithm that other users like this account’s content so much they want to post their stories. (Tip: When someone does share your post to their stories be sure to “add to your story” as well to show your followers that others are spreading awareness about your business!)
6. Aim For More Than Just Likes: The changes and lack of visibility in likes in the past year have left many accounts (especially influencers) feeling uncertain about their engagement. But, likes are not the only way to measure engagement on your post. You can also look at your analytics to see who has shared it to either their story or a DM, who has saved it, and who has commented.
By paying attention to these analytics you can learn how well your posts are performing and what gets your followers to interact with you. Rumor has it “saves” are the latest trend in engagement boost and the newest thing accounts are looking at in lieu of likes. It signals to Instagram’s algorithm that a user liked this content so much they wanted to save it for future use!
7. Hashtags: Leveraging these can be one of the best ways to reach an audience outside of your followers. When you use relevant hashtags, people who are following or engaging with content using that hashtag will be exposed to your content. Be sure to use relevant hashtags that make the most sense for your content, and avoid using those that are shadowbanned.
8. Getting Tagged: Another way to get boosted in the algorithm is getting tagged or mentioned in posts and stories. This will not only spread your content to a larger audience but will ultimately boost your favorability on Instagram and make your account a higher priority.
The Instagram algorithm is ever-changing. It’s different in 2021 than it was in 2020, and by the end of the year, we can only assume there will be more changes. Working with the algorithm is far more beneficial to you than working against it.
Need help developing an Instagram strategy that gets your content seen? Contact us to start the conversation on how we can help!