As part of its Creator Week event, Instagram provided insight into how its algorithms working, noting “they want to do a better job of explaining how Instagram works” so marketers can better engage with the right audiences online. The most significant takeaway shared is that there isn’t one universal algorithm, but, rather, separate algorithms for Feed & Stories, Explore and Reels.

Why is this important? 

Many people refer to “the Instagram algorithm” as one omniscient system. Insights like these help us understand how different parts of the platform work and how we can optimize to them: while the Feed/Story algorithm centers around contextual topic and interpersonal signals, the Explore algorithm centers more around topic clusters (they will show posts about a certain topic “without necessarily understanding what each post is about”); and the evolving Reels algorithm centers around content and creator popularity and heavily leverages surveys.

While leaning into key topics your brand may center around, (e.g. travel), will help you appear on the Explore feed of topic enthusiasts, this shows that brands need to think about their individual relationships with consumers to get on the coveted Feed and Stories placements.

It’s not enough for someone to follow you: they have to have a history of engagement with you. In fact, there are several key factors that drive the content visibility within Instagram.

#1: Interest

A customers’ Instagram feed isn’t only based on that customer follows, it’s also based on the accounts and types of posts that are of interest to that customer. When the Instagram algorithm thinks a person will “like” a certain type of post, that type of content will appear more often in that feed.

Basically, what your target audience sees in their Instagram feed is a combination of all of their Instagram behaviors, including their likes, tags, and – especially comments. This is why it is so important for brands to post consistently on Instagram.

#2: Relationship 

The Instagram algorithm prioritizes posts from the accounts your audience cares about. Thomas Dimson, a software engineer at Instagram, explains it this way, Instagram places a higher relevance on content from:

  • People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos)
  • People you direct message
  • People you search for
  • People you know in real life

#3: Timeliness

Not only does the algorithm pay attention to how much engagement your Instagram post gets, but it also looks at how long ago the photo was posted. Instagram’s algorithm cares about when you posted, because it always wants to serve you the latest, most interesting posts. This is a departure from the Facebook’s approach to timeliness in those feeds. You can find the best times to post on Instagram on another Acronym blog post here.

#4: Frequency 

This goes back to what we said about consistently posting on Instagram. Users who open the app more often will see a more chronological feed. Users who check the app less frequently will be served up content based on topic versus in chronological order. So, if you want to tell a specific brand story or connect with your customers around timely content, you should make sure you are posting often.

#5: Following

Instagram factors in each users’ following on the app. The more active your followers are, the more you will see their content and the more often your content will appear in their feeds. However, if you have inactive followers, Instagram will not rank your feed as high as brands with followers who regularly  engage with the app. So, you may want to conduct regular purges of your following to eliminate inactive accounts.

#6: Usage

If you spend a lot of time on Instagram, you’re going to see more posts as Instagram digs deeper into its analytics. If you spend enough time on Instagram, you can even run out of new content to see. Once this happens, the algorithm will serve you suggested content from new accounts — based on your previous usage.

What actions should brands take? 

Remember that engagement is king on the Feed, and think about how you can get someone to interact with your post, not just view it. So, post consistently with content that is of interest to your following and engage with your following through likes and comments. With social media, like everything else in life, you get out of it what you put into it.

If you’d like assistance in better leveraging Instagram or any social platform with paid and organic content, please contact us. We’re here to help.

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