A hot topic of conversation in the creator world at the moment is the Instagram algorithm.
You may have read comments about the latest changes or heard people talking about how their reach and engagement are dropping. Either way, “algorithm” is a word that you should prepare to hear regularly if you want to create Instagram content for a living.
After all, it affects how many people see, engage with and follow your content. Therefore, it also affects how much you can charge brands for sponsored posts (higher metrics mean that you can command a higher fee).
Need to brush up on your algorithm knowledge? We’ve got you covered with these 7 things all creators need to know about Instagram’s algorithm, with special insights from Content and Course Strategist Vix Meldrew.
Let's dive in.
When it comes to Instagram, a common misconception is that there is just one algorithm. This is not actually true.
According to Instagram themselves, “Instagram doesn’t have one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app.” Instead, they use a “variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes” to personalize the experience for every user.
Each section has its own algorithm tailored to how people use it.
Even though Feed, Stories and Reels have their own algorithms, they all have something in common. Their algorithms prioritize the recent posts shared by the people a user follows.
To ensure your followers never miss one of your posts, use Instagram Insights to find your optimal posting times.
Head to your profile, tap “Instagram Insights” and then “Total followers” in the “Insights overview.” Scroll down until you can see the hours and days that your followers are the most active, and stick to those times as much as possible when you’re publishing future Feed posts for maximum visibility.
Instagram’s technology uses the information about what was posted and who posted it to deliver similar content across the app. They call these “signals”—and there are thousands of them, including:
It used to be the case that Instagram showed posts in a user’s Feed from people they follow in chronological order according to publishing times. But supposedly by 2016, “people were missing 70% of all their posts in Feed.” As a result, the technology adapted to also prioritize post relevancy in line with user activity on the app.
To make a particular post more relevant for your target audience and gain more popularity, it needs to rank highly on the Explore pages for your niche. The higher a post ranks on Explore, the more visibility it will have and the more likely your target audience will take action (whether it’s liking the post or following your profile).
To get your Feed posts to rank highly on the Explore page, use descriptive words and hashtags in your captions that tell Instagram what your post is about. This will ensure that Instagram puts your post in front of the right people, resulting in more traction in terms of engagement and followers.
For instance, say you’re a fashion blogger specializing in capsule wardrobes, instead of using #fashion in your caption about your summer capsule wardrobe, you can use #fashionblogger, #capsulewardrobes and #summercapsulewardrobe to be more specific and aid the algorithm in ranking your post.
You can also use geotagging to tell Instagram where you’re based so that when users search for the same geotag (or tap on it from another user’s post), your post will come up. This can also result in increased engagement.
Further down the ranking order for Feed is how likely a user is “to interact with a post in different ways.” It all comes down to how probable it is that a user will “spend a few seconds on a post, comment on it, like it, save it, and tap on the profile photo.”
This “set of predictions” is based on the posts that a user has liked in the past, giving Instagram an indication of their interests. They also take into account the interaction history between a user and the person posting.
Essentially, the more likely a user is to take a specific action, the more important Instagram sees that action, and the higher up that post will rank in Feed. That’s why it’s important to encourage your followers to engage with your content as much as possible.
Use different features to get your followers to interact in various ways, whether it’s through a poll or question box on Stories, a save or double-tap in Feed or a DM via Live stream.
In theory, the more you show up and ask your followers to engage, the more likely that Instagram will bump your posts up to the top of Feed.
That said, be warned that Instagram has communicated that the Feed algorithm tries to “avoid showing too many posts from the same person in a row.” Therefore, contrary to popular belief, posting as many times as possible in a short timeframe to “beat the algorithm” is only going to have a negative effect on your rankings.
Posting 2-3 times a week on the Feed is a good amount—and no more than once per day.
In March 2022, Instagram’s algorithm changed so that each user has the option of viewing three different types of Feed:
The Suggested Feed is the standard one that pops up every time a user opens the app. If a user adds you as a Favorite, your Feed posts will be bumped up to the top of their suggested Feed, as well as appear in their Favorites Feed.
In this case, your post has double the chances to be seen and interacted with. To get your followers to add you as a Favorite, simply ask! You can do a step-by-step tutorial in your Story or Live stream.
All you need them to do is select one of your Feed posts from your profile, tap the little dots in the top right corner and then select “Add to Favorites.” Then to find their Favorites Feed, they need to select the “Instagram” logo in Feed and tap the relevant option.
Content and Course Strategist Vix Meldrew @vixmeldrew says she’s definitely noticed an effect on her account’s reach and engagement after recent algorithm changes—and not in a good way.
“What I put this down to is users coming away from the app — either not spending as much time as they usually would on the app or just leaving it for TikTok in general”, she tells Notch.
“And that is because of the user experience on the app at the moment. Users don’t know whether to go to Stories, how to find the people they’re following, and the Reels that they’re being served with are just not of their interest.”
If you’re experiencing low numbers when it comes to views, likes, comments and shares compared to the last couple of years, know that you’re not alone. Vix claims it’s not unusual for creators who were used to getting 10, 100 or 1,000 likes per photo to now get 1, 10 or 100, for example—and she doesn’t expect this to change anytime soon.
“I think that generally our organic reach on IG is going to be a lot lower than it was in 2020 when everybody was on the app, everybody was creating new accounts, everybody was creating really consistent and super valuable content because we were all stuck at home and we were all in it together.
Now what has changed in terms of content is that it’s not as interesting for people, people’s tastes have changed, and what they want to see has changed. So I think we need to readjust our baseline expectations for reach and engagement until Instagram figure out what they are as an app and then gain some consistency back…and they improve the user experience so that more people will spend more time on the app.”
"We need to readjust our baseline expectations for reach and engagement until Instagram figure out what they are as an app and then gain some consistency back" - Vix Meldrew, Online Business Mentor, 53,000 followers
The team behind Instagram, led by Adam Mosseri, are always switching things up to remain competitive in the crowded social media space. They have to keep pace with the likes of TikTok, which is exploding in popularity.
(The platform had over 1.2 billion monthly active users in 2021, compared with 700 million in 2020 and 381 million in 2019.)
In line with Instagram’s vision to be a video-first app, they will soon be rolling out a “full-screen Feed” in a 9:16 ratio, which is already accessible to some US creators. (Did someone say TikTok?)
This new Feed aesthetic improves the quality of videos at the expense of the quality of photos and carousels, emphasizing the superiority of Reels.
“If you are going to be creating any content, prioritize creating Reels", says Vix.
But if everybody suddenly starts making Reels, how do you make yours stand out?
Vix adds: “The temptation is to use trending sounds and follow what everyone else is doing because that proves popular. But I do think that eventually original content will get more prioritization so I would say just try to create original content.”
Vix is right - the algorithm will soon be adapted with “originality” being one of the key ranking factors.
Adam Mosseri announced in April 2022 that “if you create something from scratch, you should get more credit than if you are resharing something that you found from someone else. We’re going to do more to try and value original content more, particularly compared to reposted content.”
In other words, the more original your content is, the more visibility it will have in the Instagram app—and the more traction it will get. That means it's time to get creative with your content: try be a creative sponge, constantly absorbing content and ideas from other creators on all platforms.
Instagram's algorithm is frequently changing and it’s important to keep up to give yourself a competitive edge over other creators - we all know how saturated the market is.
Sure, the inconsistency can be frustrating, especially if you’re relying on Instagram as your sole income stream. But just know that you’re not alone in feeling this way and Instagram is always working hard behind the scenes to improve both user and creator experience.