How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work?

July 8, 2019 · 8 min read

We all know that search algorithms hold the coveted key to online success but, sadly, search engines such as Google are notoriously tight-lipped about their ranking factors. But we write this article to bring you some good news –  They are not the ones who guard the treasure of online visibility.

A similar type of algorithms is also used by social media sites in order to manage your newsfeed and, unlike search engines, we know a little bit about how these algorithms work. Especially when it comes to Instagram.

The result? This article covers everything you need to know to take your Instagram video advertising to the next level.

Instagram algorithm’s three defining factors

In a somewhat surprising move of transparency, Instagram invited a group of journalists to their offices in order to shed some light on just how the algorithm works. What was discovered can absolutely help your business take its Instagram advertising to the next level.

Not surprisingly, Instagram relies on machine learning principles to organize your Instagram feed. In a sense, Instagram learns your interests and tendencies over time. As more information becomes available (the more you use Instagram), the algorithm learns to make better decisions. 

As a result, the more you scroll and click, the more your newsfeed is tailored to your specific activity and preferences. The algorithm takes three main factors into account. Interest, recency, and relationship. Basically, the same factors as your Tinder date. 

1. Interest

If you engage with certain types of content, or in certain genres, that content will inform your newsfeed priority. Which is why you aren’t bombarded with the same Lords of the Rings content as your nephew. Instagram knows that you just don’t care about hobbits. 

For instance, say you’re a major coffee drinker and you follow Starbucks on Instagram and engage with their content on a regular basis, you’re more likely to have Starbucks’ content ranked prominently in your newsfeed so you don’t miss it. So, that’s how you end up knowing about the new Pumpkin Spice release date before anyone else. 

At the same time, you’re more likely to be shown content that broadly relates to this content. So, if you’re a coffee junkie, the algorithm will learn this and show you more coffee and coffee-related content going forward, so chances are you’ll have a bit of Dunkin Donuts in there too. 

2. Recency

Time also has an impact on your Instagram feed. Posts are ranked according to recency. You’re more likely to see a piece of content that was posted two hours ago as opposed to one that was posted two weeks ago. 

Which isn’t to say that older content from an account you consistently interact with will be lost. In fact, content from an account you engage with is actually more likely to wind up in your Instagram feed even if it’s a little older. Just ensure you last content isn’t ancient, or else it really is old news. 

8. Relationship

Instagram also weighs the connection between you and the account which posted the content. Simply put, if you interact with this account a lot, you’re more likely to see their content. This demonstrates the need for brands to focus on Instagram engagement. The more your followers engage with you, the more your content will appear in their feed.

Did you think that business accounts that ask a question or invite their customers to tag their friends are just curious? Well maybe slightly, but they are also looking for that prime engagement to influence ranking factors.

So, how does Instagram rank top posts?

According to Instagram, the three factors above are the main driving force behind the algorithm. However, they noted that these are not the only factors and that there are also three major considerations that depend more on the user’s behavior: frequency, usage, and follower count.

1. Frequency

Whether you’re an active user who checks in multiple times a day; or a more casual visitor; Instagram will work to use the info that you provide in order show you the best posts since your last visit.  

2. Followers

Another component is the number of accounts that an individual is following. If you are following a lot of accounts, Instagram will select content from a larger pool. As a result, a single user may see less content from specific business accounts even if they engage with them regularly. 

This also stresses the importance of focusing your Instagram marketing strategy on engagement rather than reach. If your followers have a lot of accounts that they’re following, you want to increase your engagement rates so that your content stands out and winds up in their Instagram feed.

3. Usage

  1. Similar to frequency, your overall usage comes into play. If you’re an active user who logs hours each week, there will be two effects:
  2. Instagram’s algorithm will have more information to work with when organizing your Instagram feed. 
  3. If you’re a less active user with shorter sessions, Instagram will only show you the “best” or most recent content. 

How do I use the Instagram algorithm to my advantage?

Instagram noted that the same rules apply to both personal and business accounts. Similar to other social media platforms, engagement is the key to success. As your engagement rates improve, your content will be shown to your followers more frequently. 

By creating content which prompts engagement, businesses can help position their Instagram accounts towards the top of this list. The algorithm, in that regard, works towards the advantage of brands.

Analyze Your Content

What type of content is working best for you? Do a full assessment of the content you’re posting to Instagram and make a plan to continue this evaluation moving forward

In order to make Instagram’s algorithm work for you, find out which type of content is being engaged with the most and then, create more of it.

Don’t skimp on quality

Instagram is a busy place and by its nature, Instagram is a visual medium. It’s the home of perfect pictures of cappuccinos and royalty-worthy brunches. Its users are obsessed with images and video on every visit so you’ll want your content to represent professionalism and high-quality. 

That may mean hiring a photographer to take professional shots of your business, products, or services in action. 

When it comes to video, you can make high-quality videos with Promo that won’t cost nearly as much as you’ll pay for a professional photographer. Bank on quality not price. 

How to use Instagram video

Instagram notes that the type of content does not matter specifically with regard to the algorithm. However, what we do know is that video content performs exceptionally well on Instagram and is indeed on the rise. By posting video content and live video, you can increase your engagement metrics, which in turn, tilts the algorithm in your favor. 

Instagram Video Ads

Instagram ads are not governed by quite the same algorithm. By producing high-quality video ads on Instagram, brands can draw more attention to their page. This can lead to more followers and, in turn, more organic engagement. 

Think of it like any other business:

  1. You run the ad to get them in the door. 
  2. Once there, they become frequent customers. 
  3. In the end, isn’t that really the end-goal of every advertising campaign?

Here’s a good example of Instagram’s square video ad format:

Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are a great way to create awesome content collections that can drive higher engagement rates. Instagram Stories are brief collections of video and pictures which help create a story for your brand and boost your Instagram advertising efforts. Business accounts that are on Instagram receive up to 37% of their total views from Instagram Stories.

Combine pictures of your business and products with video marketing content to create short, engaging stories content for your viewers. Instagram noted that the algorithm does not favor Instagram Stories over other forms of content. However, you can still make stories work for you. 

In general, a smaller percentage of accounts will post Instagram Stories rather than normal Instagram content. As a result, when a user engages with these Stories, it will increase the likelihood of seeing more content from that account and benefit your ranking factor.

Here’s an example:

What is the best time to post on Instagram?

There’s been a lot written on when the best times to post on Instagram are. Truthfully, this one may be a little trial and error on your part. Your business, audience, and the type of content you are creating may have an impact on how well your message is received and engaged with. 

Take note not only of the type of content but also of when you are posting that content. If you’re seeing a consistent pattern, stick with it. Use this to your advantage and drive engagement of your Instagram marketing efforts.

According to Hubspot, the very best time to post on Instagram is Thursday between 5 am – 11 am (in your time zone).

How often should you post?

Unfortunately, posting once a month, while timesaving for you, may not be the best strategy. In fact, it may cause your customers to show some love to another brand. But, we hear you, you don’t want to be ‘that account’ that never stops posting, the dreaded ‘oversharer.’ 

So, how much should you post? 

Actually, there’s no “correct” answer, but consider this: Instagram is a fast-moving, visually-oriented channel. As a result, you’re posting a lot of videos and pictures. Post as often as you like, and at least once per day is ideal

The more content you post, the more likely it is to be seen. The more likely it is to be seen, the better your engagement rates will be. Instagram actually doesn’t penalize accounts which post too often, though you don’t want to go nuts. Your followers may not be as kind. 

For the most efficient posting schedule, follow these guidelines:

  1. Create a backlog of photo and video content
  2. Plan your strategy
  3. Post accordingly. Stick with once per day for now and see how well you can sustain it. If you can, increase your posting schedule. If the opposite is true, cut back a bit. 

Brands can be successful with great content even if they aren’t posting 10x a day so don’t feel pressured to do so.  When in doubt, go for quality over quantity every time

How to get more people to see your Instagram posts

As you may have experienced, you don’t see all new posts when you log onto Instagram.  According to a study conducted by Instagram, on average, users miss 70% of all posts on their Instagram feeds. 

To better your chances of being seen within the available 30%, you can follow the following strategies:

Respond to comments

If your followers are engaging with your content, appreciate their effort! They didn’t have to give you a call out, they do it because they love you so show them some love back. And fast! When a comment is posted, responding in a timely fashion is not only polite; it also lets people know that someone is paying attention. 

Your social media channels are a portal to your business and an extension of your brand. If someone took the time to engage with you and make a comment, a quick response can go a long way. Even if it’s just to say thank you.

When followers see a brand responding to engagement, they’re more likely to engage with you.  Talk about a win-win! 

Ride the trends

Hashtags. They’re not just for Twitter anymore. Instagram makes great use of hashtags and you can too! Whether it’s a current event, a holiday, or a hashtag of your own creation; hashtags help organize topics for easier searching by users. 

So if part of your Instagram marketing plan is to post an awesome video for a #flashsale; don’t forget to hashtag it. However, don’t overdo it. Hashtags work well, but you don’t want 90% of your post to be all hashtags. Keep it simple and stick to one or two relevant hashtags. #videomarketing101

Get ready to be Insta-famous

For a business to discover a way to be shown in more Instagram feeds is like a golden ticket. The more you interact with a certain type of content or subject; the more it will influence your ranking factor.

User the information above to create awesome and engaging content and Instagram advertising that your viewers can’t resist; including professional, high-grade video marketing pieces, and you’ll be on your insta-way to being insta-famous in no time. 

Create Instagram-perfect videos for your business today!

Author


Head of Content at Promo.com. * * * Storyteller by day. Content consumer by night. Habitually inspired.

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