Marketers and everyday Instagram users alike have been skeptical about the algorithm-driven feed since its debut in 2016. Without a chronological feed to count on, concerns about dwindling engagement left many brands wondering just how the app would decide who sees their content.
Instagram has provided some clarity, but not enough to quell concerns. Here’s what we know about maximizing your Instagram engagement in the algorithm era.
How Does Instagram’s Algorithm Work?
The Instagram algorithm ranks, sorts, and displays content in users’ feeds. To do this, it considers a host of factors. Here are some of the most impactful elements:
- User Preferences and Interests – The algorithm makes an educated guess about what a user will find the most interesting based on previous interactions. Users who engage with music-related content, for instance, will see posts about music higher in their feeds than other posts.
- Timeliness of Posts – Instagram prioritizes fresh content. Recent posts generally rank higher than day-old posts – even when the older posts are popular.
- Relationships Between Accounts – A user’s interaction history with other accounts plays a major role in feed ranking. If a user likes, comments, tags, or direct messages an account regularly, they’ll see the that person’s posts higher up in their feed.
- Usage Patterns – The algorithm strives to surface the best content whenever a user revisits the app – whether that’s once a day or every few hours. For high-frequency users, this means prioritizing posts they haven’t seen before. For casual users, this could mean serving the most relevant posts first.
- How Many Accounts Users Follow – A user who follows hundreds or thousands of accounts forces the algorithm to weed through more content to decide what to display. As a result, a user who follows several hundred profiles will see less content from each profile, while a user who follows a smaller number is likely to see most – if not all – of what others share.
Common Myths About the Instagram Algorithm
Instagram Hides Your Posts from Followers – This myth gained traction when several influencers complained about their posts not showing up in followers’ feeds. The criticism ultimately earned a response from the company. Instagram doesn’t hide user posts, but users must “keep scrolling” to eventually see them all.
Switching to a Business Account Will Decrease Your Reach – Instagram’s algorithm may prioritize friends and family over brands, but there’s no way to prove that switching to a business account will destroy your reach. In fact, business accounts can help you improve your reach, as they allow access to native analytics features. These features – including audience demographics, impressions, and more – can help you better understand your followers and which posts are doing well.
Misusing Hashtags Can Get You Shadow-Banned – A shadow–ban prevents your posts from showing up on hashtag searches. While Instagram does utilize this type of ban, it doesn’t happen when you use the same hashtags repeatedly – or when you put them in the comments of your posts. Rather, it can happen if you use banned hashtags or break another rule. Shadow–bans are usually temporary but can hurt your engagement by minimizing your reach.
How to Beat the Instagram Algorithm
Algorithms are a lot like taxes. The only people who know exactly how they work are the ones writing the rules. The rest of us rely on Instagram best practices to maximize our returns. While there’s no surefire way to “hack” the algorithm, there are a few strategies you can use to improve your reach and performance:
- Know When to Post – Posting during peak periods is one of the most practical ways to play nice with Instagram’s algorithm. Your peak posting time will depend on your audience, so check your analytics to identify trends.
- Publish More Stories – Instagram stories are the most popular form of content on the platform, so you definitely shouldn’t ignore them. Story updates exist above the actual feed – prime real estate for ensuring your followers see your account.
- Go Live Once in a While – When you go live, your followers receive a notification directing them to your stream. And, similar to Instagram stories, your live video will appear above the feed – giving you the visibility you need.
- Create Video Content – Since videos autoplay in your followers’ feeds, they’re a great way to grab the attention of anyone scrolling.
Creating Harmony with Instagram
When you take the time to implement these steps into your Instagram strategy, you’ll begin to better understand how the platform works. Instead of focusing on beating the algorithm, create strategic content that works in harmony with it. This will lead to more followers and higher engagement.
While you can’t exactly “hack” the Instagram algorithm, you can enlist a team of social media experts to help you create a successful strategy. Contact Zero Gravity Marketing to get started.