Algorithms dictate so much of what we see and do when we use any technological system, and Instagram is no different. Instagram’s algorithm guides so much of what we do on Instagram and we don’t even realize it.
The algorithm especially affects brands because it can completely change the way that users see and engage with their content. If you’re curious and want to stay on top of Instagram algorithm changes, you’re in the right place.
It’s not uncommon for big names and huge publishers, tech journalists, and celeb social media teams to get wind of an algorithmic change far before anyone else knows about it.
Not only that, the algorithm changes are probably less likely to affect them than it would any other normal IG user.
If you don’t have a direct connection to help you understand any recent Instagram algorithm changes, we’ll help you understand them here, and we’ll also break down some commonly-spread myths that hold no real weight in terms of Instagram reach and success (no, the “save” is not the new “like,” thank you very much).
We will explain in this article what elements drive the Instagram algorithm to make content delivery decisions, how it works, and what you can do to work with the Instagram algorithm and maximize it for your success.
Let’s get started.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works
The reason why people are always talking about the Instagram algorithm is because it determines what content gets seen, when, and by who. As soon as a user opens the Instagram app, the algorithm is already at work, deciding the following:
- Which posts get sent to the top of the newsfeed and in what order
- Which posts are featured on this user’s explore tab (yes, they’re all different)
- In which order Live videos, Reels, IG stories, and IGTVs show up in the feed and their tabs
The Instagram algorithm controls what you get exposed to on Instagram and this set of rules will impact your brand or business by controlling its organic reach accordingly. Some people hate this and are still living in the past, longing for the days of chronological order.
Instagram stands firm, though, in their decision to evolve the Instagram algorithm, claiming that before these changes were made in 2016, people missed 70% of overall posts and up to 50% of their friends’ posts. That’s a pretty substantial amount.
People think the Instagram algorithm is bad because their content isn’t performing well, but the new algorithm actually gives content much more potential to reach an audience when it’s valuable and desirable by them.
The algorithm decides how to show content by looking at the user’s past behavior and what they engage with; it then goes through all available posts and content, evaluating them to decide which will be more interesting or relevant to the user.
The content that is selected will be presented at the top of the news feed. It’s quite impressive, in fact, since the Instagram algorithm must consider thousands of data points and ranking signals in order to display this content. It does this for over 1 billion monthly active users!
Instagram explained how the algorithm works and what those ranking signals are a few years ago so that people could understand the algorithm a bit more in detail. The next section will explore those ranking signals.
How the Instagram Algorithm Decides What Content to Show People: Ranking Signals
There are three major categories that help determine what the Instagram algorithm shows users; there are also three minor categories that contribute, creating a total of 6 ranking signals that the algorithm identifies to show users content.
Here, we will discuss the major three in detail and then review the 3 others as well.
The relationship of the accounts is one of the biggest factors in determining whether or not Instagram will show your content to a follower or Instagram user. The algorithm asserts that people who interact with your account are ones that will be interested in new content you post.
The Instagram algorithm will decide whether or not to show your content to a user based on evaluation of the relationship:
- Do you follow each other?
- Did they search for your account by name?
- Do you tag each other in posts?
- Does the user comment or like your posts?
- Do they save your posts?
- Are there any DMs on record?
This makes a lot of sense for personal accounts, but if you are a brand, business, creator, etc., you likely don’t have a lot of reciprocal engagement going on. Even still, if your followers or account viewers are loyal to your content and consistently seek out your profile or engage with your content, the Instagram algorithm can recognize that relationship.
Therefore, engagement is widely known as the biggest factor for driving success in terms of the Instagram algorithm. It helps you gain more organic reach and get your content in front of your followers on a regular basis.
Instagram wants to provide a high-quality user experience by getting the content people want to see at the top of their newsfeed. They also understand that brands and businesses want exposure, so the ideal mix is content that they want as well as diverse, preference-based content exposure.
The Instagram algorithm is very adept at tracking and understanding what users are interested in based on photos and videos. For that reason, they can get cute puppy videos to pet lovers, sports highlights to sports fans, and all other types of content to those who want to see it.
What’s more, Instagram is very effective at getting targeted ads out to users and brands are able to take advantage of not only sponsored posts and Instagram ads but also natural reach based on the content of your posts.
For this reason, it’s imperative that your content is a strong reflection of what your target audience is interested in so that the Instagram algorithm will be likely to show it to them. You need to define your niche, develop a strong voice, and tell meaningful and relevant stories through your content.
The third major ranking signal for Instagram algorithm is timeliness; Instagram still knows that posts that are more recent will likely be more relevant to users. That’s why you rarely see posts that are older than 3 days being shown to Instagram users in the newsfeed.
Instagram will, in fact, ensure that all posts get into the newsfeed, but it’s not surprising that newer posts are going to be ranked higher in the newsfeed over older ones, especially if the algorithm has determined a strong relationship and/or interest from the user.
Brands need to know that one of the best ways to boost your Instagram performance against the algorithm is to post when your audience is online; Instagram insights helps you to understand that information, and we’ll expand on this in a later section.
Other Ranking Signals
The other three ranking signals that the Instagram algorithm uses affect your organic reach, but are based more on the behavior of your audience rather than things you yourself can control:
- Frequency of use: a user will be more likely to see your content the more that they use Instagram in general. It’s no surprise that someone who checks Instagram 20 times a day will have a higher chance of seeing your post than someone who opens it only once or twice. If a user opens the Instagram app less frequently, there is often content already built up that they need to catch up on, and the algorithm will do extra work to ensure they see only the most relevant content, hoping to reach them and get them to spend more time on the platform.
- Following: If a user only follows a small number of accounts, it’s more likely that they’ll come across your post because there are less options for the algorithm to go through and choose from. If one of your followers is following 1,000, 2,000, or more, it’ll be more difficult for you to get to the top of their newsfeed.
- Session time: The longer that a user spends on the platform, the more posts they’ll see. This makes it more likely that they see every post available or relevant to them. If they only browse for 5 minutes and are off for good, they won’t be exposed to a great deal of content.
The good news is that the typical Instagram user doesn’t follow the max number of accounts and is likely to open the app a few times a day and spend at least 20 minutes+ on the platform.
Brands would ideally find followers that don’t follow many other accounts and always spend hours browsing through Instagram, but this isn’t a realistic expectation.
You, then, need to focus on the first 3 ranking signals so that you can maximize the exposure you get from the Instagram algorithm, and the tips we have for you below will help to do just that.
Top Tips for Beating the Instagram Algorithm
In this section, we’ve got 8 Instagram Pro tips to help you optimize your performance against the Instagram algorithm and ensure that your content is being seen by a good amount of your followers with priority.
These 8 tips can also help you to get more Instagram followers and tailor your content strategy, helping you to stand out from other prominent accounts in your niche. Let’s check them out.
Create Carousel Posts
Instagram doesn’t necessarily give more reach to carousel posts over others, carousel posts are more likely to draw in more engagement and will then get more reach as a result.
Carousel posts are known to get three times more engagement over other in-feed posts, and perhaps more when they include a video, as videos also get higher engagement from users.
Because of the higher engagement, they’re likely to get almost 1.5x the reach that other posts will get. Carousels compose roughly 17% of all in-feed posts, making them an attractive option for getting more engagement and reach on Instagram.
You can use carousel posts to tell a story, go into more detail of a product, show different variants or multiple angles, and more. REI uses carousel posts in combination with other media types for an effective strategy. They use mainly IGTV, in-feed posts, and shoppable posts alongside carousels; carousels typically feature their user-generated content, which is also known to get more engagement, so they’re killing it.
Work with a Reputable Instagram Growth Company
If you really want to get more Instagram followers and boost your engagement through a higher follower count, you may want to consider using an instant Instagram growth company like Thunderclap. Thunderclap has made waves in the Instagram growth service market and is the top source of real followers and engagement.
It can be really tough to get the necessary engagement for more reach if you only have 100 followers; that’s where Thunderclap comes in. They will help you get more real, targeted Instagram followers quickly so that you can start to generate the type of results you need to perform well against the Instagram algorithm.
With quick delivery, real followers, and likes from real people, as well as a safe service with no password required, Thunderclap can be a great supplement to your other efforts to work with the Instagram algorithm.
Use Various Content Types
Since Instagram’s creation in 2010, the content offerings available have greatly increased. You now have Instagram Live, Instagram stories, Instagram reels, IGTV, shoppable posts, and more.
You should use a variety of content types to establish a solid presence on the platform and capture all the different preferences of your target audience. Notably, Reels and Stories have become some of the most popular and well-received formats on Instagram.
Reels was created to combat the widely popular social media platform TikTok, and some experts say that the Instagram algorithm is boosting Reels in the feed in order to get attention for the new feature. It hasn’t been officially confirmed, but it does make good sense.
Regardless, it’s a good way to get your content out to new target audience members or better engage your current followers who prefer a specific type of content. It’s not uncommon, even for big brands, to see better engagement and reach for their Reels content.
The best way to take advantage of the Reels feature is to:
- Create original content for Instagram and don’t simply recycle TikTok content that has the TikTok watermark
- Shoot your content in vertical
- Use filters, music, effects, and more to make your content stand out and get more views and engagement
Reels is a relatively new feature, but implementing it into your Instagram strategy could help you to increase your overall reach and engagement; Instagram stories are popular, and you should always have an active story, but this content doesn’t show up in the news feed.
Reels do, and that’s a big advantage of this content type.
Develop a Hashtag Strategy
Hashtags first emerged on Twitter in 2007 with the hopes of better organizing content and making it easier for users to find the content they were interested in seeing. This bled to all of the social media networks, and they’re still an important component in terms of discoverability.
On Instagram, when you use a hashtag, your content will be placed into a hashtag feed that allows others to search for and see content according to their interests. You should consider hashtags an important part of gaining reach outside of your normal follower base.
You can get more Instagram followers through hashtags as well as get featured on the Top section of the feed and even the Explore page of different users who don’t even follow you if your posts do well in the feed.
It’s important to avoid overly generic hashtags so that you can get people from within your target audience; what’s more, you should use specific niche hashtags that your target audience is likely to follow or search for.
If you need guidance in terms of your hashtag strategy, you can use a tool like Task Ant to help you search for the best performing hashtags for your content, organize them into easy-to-use sets, and even see performance metrics and search according to particular filters and needs.
You can use up to 30 hashtags per Instagram post; it’s widely confirmed that between 4-11 is the best number, and you can post them in your caption, after your caption, or in the first comment after your post goes live.
Interact with Your Audience
If you can build a bond with your followers through consistent interaction, there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to beat the Instagram algorithm and see a lot of growth in your Instagram content’s reach and performance. Any goal can be achieved with a loyal and dedicated Instagram following that cares about you.
In order to build this bond, you have to have an active and impactful presence on Instagram. A high quality Instagram engagement rate is between 1-5%, but it’s been noted that businesses haven’t been meeting this 1% benchmark at the bare minimum.
Some things you can do to improve this is:
- Define your audience and research your target market (more on that in a minute)
- Respond to comments and DMs
- Create ongoing stories and share user-generated content that you’re tagged
You can use Instagram stories to gain valuable insight about your followers and what they prefer; use interactive question tags like ratings, questions, quiz, polls, and others to find out more about your followers, what they like, and what they want to see more of.
If you’re responsive, active, and available on Instagram, users will be likely to build a bond with you. Instagram is about community, and people want to be a part of one.
Follow Your Analytics
You should also be taking advantage of your Instagram analytics, known as Instagram insights, to understand more about your target audience and what their habits and demographics are. You can gain access to locations, ages, and active times so you know when to post your content and who your biggest fans are.
The typical amount of time people spend on Instagram is 30 minutes per day, and the algorithm works to send them the most relevant content. If you know when your target audience is online, the content is likely to reach them.
You can view this on Instagram insights as well as other analytics software like Iconosquare and Sprout Social, among others.
You can view everything directly from within Instagram, but if you want a more detailed breakdown of your Instagram data and reports, you can use one of those analytics software solutions to provide you with reports and actionable items based on what is discovered.
Ignore Common Instagram Myths
There are plenty of people that try to decide why they’re not getting the Instagram results they desire, and this is what leads to the birth of different Instagram conclusions that ultimately pan out to be myths.
There are a few that are commonly floating around out there, so we’re going to take the type to debunk them:
- Reach cap— because people weren’t satisfied with the reach their content was getting, they said that Instagram doesn’t allow you to get seen after a certain amount of reach. Instagram was proactive about debunking this via Twitter.
- Creator profiles, business accounts and verified accounts have more reach— this isn’t true; they don’t get a particular boost from the Instagram algorithm, but they do have additional features that regular personal accounts don’t have, such as Instagram insights and additional call to action profile buttons.
Create a Schedule and Post Consistently
As with many other things in life, consistency is key, and Instagram content strategy is no different. No matter your goal— Instagram follower growth, reach, or engagement, consistency will help get you there. All of these things are related.
Businesses should aim to post to their feed at least 1 time daily; while it may seem overwhelming or that you are “blowing up” your followers’ feed, it will help you in terms of having a consistent Instagram presence that can reach your followers.
If you still feel that daily posting is too much for your brand currently, you should be able to swing at least 4 out of 7 days a week, or even every weekday. Just make sure you create a content schedule and stick to it, and that it’s based on the activity of your Instagram followers.
When you show up on a regular basis, your followers get used to seeing you and will engage more, especially when your content is geared towards their interests and what they find valuable. It won’t be too much for them if you do it right.
You can also create a cohesive and on-brand Instagram feed with regular posts; using an Instagram scheduler like Later can help you to visualize your Instagram feed’s look with their visual schedule planner and in-platform editing tools.
Any type of consistency requires planning, and you shouldn’t post random content just for the sake of posting. Using a scheduling tool for Instagram can help you stay on point and get the right content out at the right moment.
Final Thoughts: The Instagram Algorithm
When you understand how the algorithm works and how your Instagram followers behave, you can tailor your Instagram strategy and get optimal results out of your content efforts.
While many people fear the Instagram algorithm, if you embrace it and work with it, the results can be incredibly rewarding.