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How Well Do You Understand the Instagram Algorithm?

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Instagram is a massive visual content machine with a sophisticated algorithm doing most of the work behind the scenes. The way the Instagram algorithm works could answer a lot of questions you likely have had about Instagram. Why do Instagram posts show up in the order they do? Are Instagram posts chronological? Why do I see ads in my Instagram timeline feed? All of these factors are determined by the Instagram algorithm.

So what is an algorithm? To put it plainly:

An algorithm is a predetermined set of rules that describe how to perform a task.

how does the Instagram algorithm work

How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work?

How the Instagram algorithm works is a bit tricky to pin down because it’s not publicly available and doesn’t remain the same for long. Essentially, a team at Instagram has decided the rules for how the social media platform functions; which posts to prioritize in someone’s Instagram feed, how often ads show up, etc. These rules dictating how the Instagram algorithm works have evolved over time, just like other social media networks such as Facebook. Instagram usually shares a blog post each time there’s an update to the way the Instagram algorithm formats your Instagram feed.

Like this one from the 2016 Instagram algorithm update.

Or this one when the Instagram algorithm was updated in 2018.

Over the past few years, Instagram users have been a bit confused and frustrated with how the Instagram algorithm works. Users have exhaustively been trying to get some more specific information from Instagram on how the Instagram algorithm organizes the Instagram feed and the response from Instagram was that what shows up first in your feed is primarily based on your own activity.

Not particularly specific or helpful when there’s no explanation for the types of actions that fall under “your own activity” on Instagram. But what we did take away from this information is that the Instagram algorithm is a learning algorithm that is trying to better understand the user and offer content each Instagram user prefers.

For example: If you’re the kind of person that turns on the sound and usually watches Instagram videos to completion (possibly watch the video a few more times) then the Instagram algorithm will likely prioritize more videos for your Instagram feed.

If you’re wondering how Instagram stories, verified accounts, and posting frequency affect where your Instagram posts show up in someone else’s feed, they apparently don’t have any effect. According to an interview with Instagram executives, how often you post, how frequently you use Instagram stories, and whether you’re a verified user or not has no effect on where you show up in other Instagram feeds. “We treat everyone the same” said Christina d’Avignon, a product designer for the Instagram feed.

So how does this aspect of the Instagram algorithm change where your Instagram posts fall on another person’s Instagram feed? There are a few things that seem to have a constant effect on how well your Instagram content ranks on other peoples’ feeds.

how the Instagram algorithm works at peak times

  • Posting on Instagram during peak hours: This seems a bit self explanatory but you have a much better chance of people seeing and engaging with your Instagram posts if you’re posting when more people are interacting with the app. Check out the image above from Sprout Social to find the best times to post on Instagram.
  • Eye-catching imagery: Instagram executives have stated that posts that rank higher in the Instagram feed are posts with “great content” which we’re taking to mean visually striking images. If you need some inspiration on what kinds of images catch the eye on Instagram try searching for hashtags based on your interests or on the content you want to post and see what other users are doing that’s getting lots of attention.
  • Instagram video content: Everyone knows how much people like video content, especially on Instagram. It is far above the most popular type of content on social media because it’s more engaging. There’s also a lot you can do and say with Instagram videos that you can’t with photos.
  • Engaging Instagram post captions: Encourage others to engage with your Instagram posts by tagging them or asking a question. Engagement is something the Instagram algorithm factors in when it is ranking content on Instagram. So one Instagram algorithm hack you could leverage is if you can find a way to motivate followers to reply to your post, your content has a much better chance of ranking higher.
  • Going live: Whenever you go live on Instagram, your followers get a notification, unlike a regular Instagram post. This is huge because that notification increases the likelihood that your followers will interact with your Instagram posts!
  • Utilizing hashtags in your Instagram posts: Hashtags are a great way to help new followers find your Instagram posts. While it’s important not to go too heavy on your Instagram hashtags, don’t let that idea discourage you from using them.

When you keep in mind these strategies on how to beat the Instagram algorithm you gain a much better chance of ranking higher in the Instagram feed, gaining more followers, and improving engagement with your Instagram posts. Even though Instagram seems to be keeping their Instagram algorithm’s secrets hidden, we’re learning more every day about its various quirks.