Our Stupid Simple Guide to the Instagram Algorithm


The IG Algorithm is a paradox:

  1. Understanding the Instagram algorithm is crucial for marketers.
  2. Nobody understands the algorithm.

Let me explain…

  1. Duh. If you want to succeed at IG marketing, you’re gonna need people to see your posts. In order to do that, you need to know which posts get preferential treatment in IG’s feed.
  2. This one’s tricky… Facebook (IG’s parent company) is drowning in data overload – even with a congressional hearing and growing public distrusts hanging over their heads, they can’t even fully stamp out what went down with Russian ads. Updates to their codebase ship continuously from offices around the globe. All this code is tested, optimized, and refined with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence – in other words, automatically.  There is no man behind the curtain; it’s a machine.

Every other article on the subject tells you all the same, generic, worthless advice you’ve heard before, like “focus on quality content,” and “post at the right time.”  

Yeah…we’re not gonna do that.

Instead will give you the real scoop. And we’ll focus on the why – the underlying operations of the Instagram machine (and how it’s changed over the years). 

What’s more important than understanding the algorithm, is understanding IGs goals and how the order of posts you see fit into those is the best IG “hack.”  When you can do that, you can see the matrix.

 

 

Bookmark this article, save it to Pocket  – do whatever you have to do – just return to it often. It’s loaded with secret info, hidden tricks, all the latest algorithm changes, and a hundred different little things you probably should be trying as an Instapreneur.

 

This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. – Morpheus

 

The IG Algorithm, a History of Changes

With 800 million active users and about 95 million photos posted per day, there is so much content on Instagram that it can be difficult to reach your target market.

In fact, according to Instagram, people miss 70% of the content available on their feed. This was part of the reason that Instagram changed their algorithm in March 2016. The change went from presenting photos in the feed chronologically, to presenting them based on what the company deemed most relevant to each individual user.

Though there was a great deal of resistance to the “new” algorithm, Instagram implemented it in an attempt to match users with the content they care most about—pushing down content from users they’re following but don’t interact with.

Instagram’s user base increased by 50% within the first 10 months of implementing the new algorithm. It’s not going to revert back to the way it was, so marketers must adjust their tactics with the new Instagram algorithm in mind. If you take the time to understand how it works, you can game it to get more engagement for your company.

 

How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work? [4 Main Factors + How to Hack It]

The Instagram algorithm uses a variety of signals to determine which posts will appear on top of a user’s feed.

In order to help you understand the algorithm better, Instagram explained a few of these factors to Business Insider: direct shares, timeliness, engagement, relationships, and profile searches—but it’s WAY more complicated than that. 😉

At a high-level, the algorithm attempts to serve up content that users will be most interested in, which is why it takes into account the user’s relationship with the person posting, as well as the timeliness of the post.

The new algorithm also serves to advance Instagram’s company goals as a top social platform. Instagram wants people to spend more time on their app. They changed the algorithm after finding that people use the app more and spend more time on it when they see things that they like on their feed. With this in mind, the more time people spend in the app, the more ads they can sell.

 

Engagement

The new Instagram algorithm was created to boost engagement, so it’s no surprise that Instagram gives weight to posts that have more:

  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Likes on comments
  • Post Saves
  • Direct message replies
  • Sending the post to someone via direct message

The post type can also influence available actions (and resulting engagement). For example, videos can also be measured in terms of engagement using metrics like total plays and total time spent viewing.

As with most social media sites, certain engagement types have greater weight than others. For example, comments add more value to the post than likes, as they represent more active engagement. Though this isn’t strictly a popularity test, an early flurry of engagement is important. Enough action combined with timeliness can send your content to the top of your target market users’ feeds—or even the Explore Page.

 

 

Relationships

This signal in the Instagram algorithm examines how often you interact and engage with a person’s posts—going beyond the fact that you are following them. This ensures that users see posts from people and companies that they are most interested in, even if they don’t have a large following and their posts don’t have a lot of comments. This is how a user’s friends’ posts with twelve likes and no comments still show up in their feeds despite competing content from the Instagram stars and celebrities they are also following.

 

Timeliness

Instagram saw no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, they implemented a new algorithm to boost user engagement. No, they did not forget that users care about the “now”. With this in mind, new and timely posts still get their chance to make impressions on users.

Furthermore, Instagram is still experimenting with “how recent” posts in your feed should be. A recent algorithm update that happened around October 2017 led to posts over 2 days old showing up in people’s feeds.

 

Profile Searches and Direct Shares

Searching for a business or personal account on Instagram shows a high-level of interest, to which the new algorithm gives weight. In fact, if you’ve shown interest in a certain profile via search, Instagram starts showing these profiles higher up in your feed. Interestingly, as the result of the new algorithm update, searches as a whole have gone down. It would seem that more people are seeing the content they want without having to seek it out.

In the same way, sharing content via direct message also shows a great deal of engagement with the content. So, even if you didn’t like or comment on a post, Instagram takes note and makes adjustments to better understand the user’s interests. The act of sharing also helps Instagram to understand your relationship with the recipient, pushing their posts higher in your feed.

 

 

 

Bonus! Download this free guide on increasing your Instagram engagement.

 

 

 

Benefits of the New Instagram Algorithm: Change is Good?

There are two major benefits to the Instagram algorithm beyond increased engagement: longer lifespans for posts and quality posts rising to the top.

Before the new Instagram algorithm was put in place, posts had an average half-life of 72 minutes.

Now, posts continue to garner comments and likes hours and days after posting. This longer half-life is derived from the fact that users who irregularly check their feeds are now being served up posts that are considered most relevant and interesting to them based on the various signals. In this way, the quality of a post can increase the amount of time it stays relevant to your target market.

 

 

How to Get More Engagement on Instagram [Our 11 Favorite Hacks for 2018]

The Instagram algorithm now puts more pressure on you and your marketing team to drive engagement with your posts in order to put it in front of more users in your target market. By following a few basic principles, it’s easy to take full advantage of the newest version of the algorithm.

 

Focus on Quality

Of course, you already try to create quality posts to engage your followers and reach a greater audience. However, as a business or influencer, you need to ensure your posts are doing well, which you can do by switching over to an Instagram Business account.

Cleaning up the city, one car at a time with @island_prime_detailing @jumper_media 💦💦💦#content #carwash

A post shared by Colton Bollinger (@coltboll) on

Even if you don’t use the account to promote posts or create ads, it’s will provide you with insights on post reach, engagement, and impressions, as well as information about your followers. With this data, you can see what content resonates the most with your audience and focus on creating content that will continue to do so.

 

Engage with Your Followers

Instagram commenting and liking should not be a one-way street. By engaging with your audience, you build stronger relationships with them and encourage them to interact with your posts. Again, when it comes to organic engagement, comments carry more weight than likes.

You might also consider becoming part of an Instagram pod. People and brands who want to consistently have popular posts (whether for business reasons or personal satisfaction) have put together exclusive groups, also known as “comment pods”.

Members update the group when they have a new post so that everyone can immediately interact with it, giving the illusion that the post is popular. By doing this, you increase the likelihood that it ends up in other user’s feeds and possibly even the Explore Page.

However, Instagram pods are not for everyone—they do have their downfalls—so educate yourself before joining one.

If Instagram pods are not a good fit for you, do your best to at least reciprocate other people’s efforts to connect on Instagram. When your followers leave you a comment, take the time to reply. Better yet, be the first one to reach out.

 

 

 

The Best Time to Post on Instagram

Studies show that the time you post contributes to how well your post performs. There is no one-size-fits-all for the best time to post, as it varies based on industry and target market. However, there is, inevitably, a pattern. If you have a large enough dataset, you can recognize the pattern through Instagram Insights. If you don’t, check out what these 20 studies had to say about the best times to post on Instagram.

 

 

Sandwiching: An actual Pro-Tip to Beat the Algorithm

Some marketers believe that Instagram ranks promoted content lower than organic content, making it hard for such content to perform well on the social media platform. To overcome this hurdle, some brands use a tactic called “sandwiching”, which refers to placing promoted content between organic posts that are forecasted to have high engagement rates, based on existing data.

ABG (Authentic Brands Group), which owns 29 fashion groups (including Juicy Couture and Aeropostale) uses this tactic. Adam Kronengold, ABG’s VP for Digital Innovation, says that his team has found that posting a promotional post between a well-performing one and another engaging one the day after yields the best result for the promoted content.

In fact, they found that the sandwiching tactic created twice as much reach for the promoted content on the Elvis Presley Instagram page, which they operate as part of their licensing rights to The King.

 

 

Use Hashtags and Location Tags to Beat the Algorithm

Hashtags are still the easiest way to make posts more discoverable. Posts that have at least one hashtag are 12.6% more discoverable than those without. Of course, if you manage to get a post in the Top Posts for a popular hashtag, then that number goes up significantly.

There are many best practices for using hashtags, such as using branded and unbranded hashtags, knowing which hashtags are best to use for a post, and understanding the optimum number of hashtags for a post.

Be wary of using too many hashtags because Instagram could “shadowban” you. Instagram hasn’t publicly acknowledged that this happens, but a shadowban is when your account is partially blocked: you don’t get any notifications and your posts stop appearing in hashtag searches or on the Instagram Explore Page. To avoid a shadowban, aim to be authentic. Only use hashtags that are relevant to your content.

Before heading to a destination, people often check out the location on Instagram. Because of this, location tags are also a great way for you to reach your target market.

 

 

Tag Brands

Another way to engage a wider audience and connect with other companies is to tag their brand when you feature their product. Though many top brands have “tag approval” settings, there are plenty that do not, which opens the door for them discovering your content and product or service in turn.

 

 

When these brands engage with your post, it becomes discoverable to their audience. Additionally, more adept brands will even repost content on their Instagram pages, which can have a significant, positive impact on your Instagram following.

 

Videos, Videos, Videos: Beat the Algorithm, Get More Engagment

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who also owns Instagram, says that video is the “next megatrend”. With 80% more people watching videos on Instagram in June 2017 than in June 2016, it appears Zuckerberg was on the mark.

Part of this increase in video viewing comes from Instagram’s investment in features such as Stories and Live. A number of individuals and companies find that they get better engagement on their posts when they post them to Instagram Stories. These Stories are another way to work your way onto the Instagram Explore Page. At the top of the page, there are several stories selected by Instagram based on their algorithm.

The following publishers are embracing video on Instagram and the results speak for themselves:

 

 

Live video is also a great way to engage your audience, especially for events. Your followers will be notified that you are going live, allowing them to chime in and comment as you do so. Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner, found that the more they did Live video, the more exposure their page content received.

 

Contests and Giveaways: Another Major Key to Beating the Algorithm

Hosting an Instagram contest or giveaway is a great way to get followers, comments, and likes in a short amount of time.

If you’re a brand, you can partner with popular influencers in your niche to get access to their audience. There’s also the possibility of teaming up with a number of companies and influencers to do a Loop giveaway.

 

 

In these situations, everyone pools money for a mega prize. However, to be entered into the giveaway, people have to follow all accounts in the loop. In general, smaller loops are better as they ask less from users, who will, at some point, decided that the prize simply isn’t worth the effort.

As part of registration for the giveaway, you can ask Instagram users to tag a certain number of friends, comment, or like your posts and page.

Most giveaways that ask folks to “tag a friend” (including Loop Giveaways) are really great for getting followers, but less so for increasing engagement.  But what if you just want more engagement?

Can you run a giveaway to specifically improve your overall engagement rate?

We’ve got an idea for you. We call it:

 

The Charity Giveaway Hack to Get More Likes and Feel Good Doing It

Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose a charity that aligns with your brand and your followers interests.
  2. Create an image that is relevant to both your brand/Instagram page, and the charity. For best results, make a short video—you can use one of these easy video creation tools.
  3. Post the image, with a caption saying: “For every comment this post gets, we’ll donate $1” to x charity.
  4. Voila!

I guarantee you this post will get more comments than anything else you’ve posted recently. And when people comment, usually they like the picture too.

After you’ve ran the giveaway, you will have re-engaged a large percentage of your followers.  So the next time you post, your picture/video is going to be much more likely to show up in their feed.  You will need to keep posting consistently high quality content so that they stay engaged, but if you’re looking for an engagement “kick-in-the-butt” this is by far the simplest, easiest way to do it.

If we did this with our @Jumper_Media Instagram, here is what our contest would look like.

  1. From Facebook Business Insights, we know that our followers love puppies, so we would choose the San Diego Humane Society for our charity.
  2. We’d start looking for a viral puppy video. Our VP of Sales @psercia just posted one actually, and it got over 3,000 views.
  3. We’d post the video with the caption: “Not every dog spends their days at the country club. Even here in sunny San Diego, there are hundreds of dogs who need your help.  Comment “🐶 ” and for every comment this post receives we’ll donate $1 to the San Diego Humane Society.

 

when your girl is a natural athlete 🐶⛳️😂 follow (me) @psercia for more

A post shared by Peter Sercia (@psercia) on

 

Should we actually do this?  Let us know in the comments!

 

Use a Call-to-Action to Beat the Algorithm

A Call-to-Action (CTA) is an effective way to encourage your audience to engage with your post, which is even more important now, given how signals are weighted by the latest Instagram algorithm.

A CTA can be as simple as asking your audience to comment, “double tap”, or tag a friend. It can also be asking them a question and having them comment with an answer below the post. In general, questions are a good way to both gather the thoughts of your target audience and get them to engage with your posts.

 

I’m amazed by you. Tag someone who inspires you. #windycitycosmo

A post shared by Windy City Cosmo | Blogger (@windycitycosmo) on

 

You can also make use of the CTA concept to encourage followers to uses a branded hashtag, or you can encourage them to engage in your posts in atypical ways, such as sharing or saving them, which Instagram still counts as a positive signal for the post.

 

Ask your Biggest Fans to Turn on Post Notifications

A foolproof way for increasing Instagram engagement involves asking followers to subscribe to your updates. By encouraging people to turn on post notifications, they’ll get a timely update regarding your latest posts, helping you to inspire a lot of early engagement.

Not sure how to go about it? Gary Vaynerchuk offers a great strategy to adapt as your own.

 

 

The Instagram Algorithm in 2018: Accept the Changes, and Move On.

With these strategies, you can take full advantage of the Instagram algorithm update. The more you think about it, the more you can understand that, fundamentally, the changes are very good for marketers and businesses.

 

How do you make use of the Instagram algorithm to reach your target audience?
Let us know in the comments below!