If you are interested in marketing, social media or have been looking for tips on ‘how to grow on Instagram’ you’ve probably come across many posts claiming to be god-knowing of the Instagram algorithm.
However, there is a lot of false claims out there about how it really works. Earlier this month Instagram has taken upon itself to bust some myths and dig into their algorithm priorities. As this comes from the platform, we must take it with a pinch of salt. After all, they are just like any other business and want to cash in profit at the end of the month.
Below I’ve delved into some of my research on algorithms and more specifically the Instagram algorithms as well as some tips on how to use this information to your advantage.
What is an algorithm?
An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Apps like Instagram don’t use an all-seeing algorithm that determines which posts you see and which you don’t. They have multiple algorithms running at once, answering to rules set by their developers that will provide you with an overall better experience.
What do we know about how it works?
The truth about algorithms is that no one truly knows how they work. They are constantly being changed and optimised automatically through machine learning. App developers from Facebook and Instagram set parameters on their code to help the machine prioritise its learnings in ways that best optimise the users time on the app.
For instance, we know Facebook needs to make money to continually develop its apps. We also know that their business module is to sell reach to advertisers and marketers. Therefore, we can assume their code is prioritising activity that allows ads to reach the largest number of people. This could be applied in many ways. But for argument sake, let’s say the app shows you more ads, instead of 1 every 5 photos you are now seeing 1 every 2 photos. As a user, if you notice this you might close the app. Their machine will learn from this and can reduce the number of ads or it could show you ads that are similar to the content you usually engage with so that you as a user have a better overall experience and don’t realise you are seeing ads.
The overall user experience is extremely valuable for any of the FACEBOOK apps, the longer you spend on one of their apps the more ads you’ll be served, the more money they make. Therefore, Instagram wants to improve users’ experience. This was also true in 2016 when Instagram first introduced an algorithm to their app. There was already too much content on the app and “people were missing 70% of all their posts in Feed, including almost half of posts from their close connections.” (Instagram said to SocialMedia Today).
Here are the key priorities in the Instagram algorithms:
- The key things Instagram looks for in a story or in-feed post when raking its priority to an end-user are:
- post info (date, time, location, type of post);
- who posted it (the interest and their relation to the end-user);
- your activity (and how it relates to said post).
- The key things Instagram looks for in an explore post when raking its priority to an end-user are:
- the content the end-user engages with (do they comment? like? share? this type of content);
- what other interests/content overlap with users engaging with the same content (e.g if you like a lot of shoe content you will be shown shoes by accounts you might not follow)
- The key things Instagram looks for in a reels post when raking its priority to an end-user are:
- content that will entertain the end-user + content popularity;
- content information (audio and video understanding based on pixels and whole frames);
- end-user engagement with similar content
Here are some additional algorithm truths we know about Instagram:
- On-feed you are more likely to see posts from friends (mutual connections or people added to your friends-only list)
- Explore and Reels look to show you content more relevant to topics based on trends, interests you engage with.
- Saves weight more in the algorithm in terms of engagement priorities.
- If you engage with a particular type of content you are more likely to see that type more often (e.g. videos)
There are many other rules like these that are embedded into the Instagram algorithms however, these seem to be the most important at the moment.
How to use this information to your advantage?
There are many things to consider through these notes.
- Create content using all tools and types available on Instagram. – If you only post statics, only people who engage with statics are likely to see it. This will massively limit the audience you can reach on Instagram.
- Encourage saves. – You can do this by creating content your audience will want to revisit. If you are a travel agent create content with tips for visiting your top destinations, if you are a beauty guru add all the product names and references to your post. Your audience will be more likely to save content they can use later on. (Note avoid asking for engagement on posts as Facebook and Instagram have both said many times in the past that these will get their reach capped)
- Get on the Explore page. – Create content that talks to your audience and topics they are interested in.
- Create reels. – Reels are clearly a priority for Instagram and the best way (at the moment) to reach new accounts. Share multiple reels per week on your page and capitalise on key topics your audience would be interested in.
- Engage with your audience. – You don’t have to follow back every single one of your followers. However, reply to all comments and DMs to ensure those users will continue to be served your content. And engage with your mutuals and friends, not only like their content but comment when appropriate.
- Be clear about your topic. – Similar to having a niche and only speaking to singular or closely related topics you want to ensure the algorithms can easily identify and categorise your account and content to be able to share it with the relevant audience.
- The time you post still matters. – Instagram is still looking at the time stamp of your post. To determine the best time for you to post don’t just look at what time your audience is online, because this could be a ghost audience that doesn’t engage with your content. Make a note of what time and the weekday you share each post and then compare the overall reach and total engagement.
There are a lot more tactics you could take on Instagram to test and improve your engagement based on what we know about its algorithms. If you are interested in a bespoke strategy for your business or service do drop me a message or check out my freelance page. I also post additional tips and other news on TikTok.