How to master the Instagram algorithm

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Unlock the gate to growth. 

The Instagram algorithm, like other social media algorithms, acts as a gatekeeper in determining who is shown the content you publish through a number of ranking factors. 

When you know how to appease the algorithm with the content you create and distribute, improved brand awareness naturally follows. We’ve collated everything you need to know about how the Instagram algorithm works and the dos and don’ts of successful Instagram posting!

What is the Instagram algorithm? 

The Instagram algorithm encompasses a set of instructions for how and when to display content to platform users. It considers a multitude of factors, including user history, device location, profile, trends, relevance to the user, etc. 

Based on these factors, the algorithm prioritizes the “best posts” by pushing them to the top of the user’s feed. This determines the order of posts users see when scrolling through their feed. 

Essentially, there are three feeds within the Instagram platform today: The explore page, a user’s personal feed, and a dedicated tab for recommended Reels

The explore page is like a roundup of the “greatest hits” specific to the user. All content types, be it photos, videos, Instagram Reels, and stories, occupy real estate here. Because each explore page is customized to the user, no explore page is the same. 

The explore page is designed to help users discover new things, which based on interaction history data, are predicted to be relevant to the user. Interaction history measures how often a user has lingered on an account’s posts, commented on them, liked, saved, and visited the profile page. Instagram considers this data and curates a user’s explore page accordingly.  

Instagram personalizes explore pages based on: 

  • accounts followed
  • content similar to what you regularly engage with
  • posts that are new and earn high engagement
  • types of posts your followers engage with

A user’s personal feed typically comprises posts from accounts they follow and are placed in reverse chronological order on their feed. Though, “favorites” (accounts interacted with the most) are given placement priority over the chronological convention. 

In the Reels tab of Instagram, users are usually fed Reels from accounts they don’t follow. The goal with the Instagram Reels tab is for users to discover and remain engaged. Instagram curates this feed according to what they predict users will watch all the way to the end as well as other ranking factors like how popular that video is with similar users to you, prioritizing accounts and hashtags you have a proven interest in. 

To be successful on Instagram, creators need to consider a holistic approach to the platform and how they can adapt their content strategy to the way the Instagram algorithm works.

What the Instagram algorithm likes

Content that includes the right hashtags isn’t a blanket guarantee an Instagram post will be seen by desired audiences. There are many more moving parts at play. 

Starting with the elephant in the room, let’s consider the recent explosion of Reels on the platform. This surge in popularity is similar to what was seen when Instagram launched stories in 2016, by way of competing with Snapchat. What marketers and business owners can learn from this is that the algorithm prioritizes content that utilizes the latest features of the platform. For example, Instagram stories introduced a bunch of interactive features that can be integral for creators looking to build a community and loyal following. Question stickers, polls, chat boxes and more exploded onto our phone screens as a new way to connect to followers and upped the game.

So, keep an eye out for the latest features and consider how you can leverage them to tell your story and consider presenting in a fun, and meaningful way outside the traditional post based method.  

Another critical piece of the algorithm puzzle is earning real estate on the explore page. As with the TikTok algorithm, getting featured on the explore page is imperative for great exposure. More than 200 million accounts reportedly visit the explore page daily. 

To be expected, getting a spot here is very competitive. Looking at creators who currently have content featured on the explore page can provide insight into the type of content that is favored by users. 

Popular types of content today include:

  • before and after transformations
  • carousels 
  • how-to videos; and
  • infographics.

Your posts are more likely to appear on a target user’s explore page if they already interact with accounts and posts that yield similar content. From the top search bar, users can enter keywords to find popular content, accounts, and tags related to a specific topic. 

The algorithm makes note of the search terms users enter. Because of this, business owners can then ascertain what customers are seeking when they look at the terms Instagram suggests in the search bar.   

Embedding key search terms into content allows brands to connect the dots between them and their target audience, leading to more views, impressions, engagements, and followers.

It’s also important to be aware that the algorithm makes note of post-timing. The ideal time to post varies by location, industry, and audience. Observe how your own followers (and those of your competitors) behave to understand when to publish content. For instance, if your target audience is high school students, you wouldn’t post at 10 in the morning. You would want to post outside school hours (e.g. 4 in the afternoon). 

In summary, brands are likely to win on Instagram when they leverage the latest platform features in their content mix, experiment with different types of content in ways that are meaningful to their niche, and post during peak engagement times.

What the Instagram algorithm doesn’t like

Instagram is a lucrative platform in allowing brands to be creative and connect with diverse audiences. Given this, it would be a shame to jeopardize the chances of being successful on the platform by doing things the algorithm doesn’t like.  

It’s worthwhile to check the Instagram community guidelines before implementing a content strategy as Instagram removes posts that violate the guidelines. Accounts that regularly violate the guidelines are often suspended. 

The Instagram algorithm also isn’t fond of misinformation. Posts that include what Instagram considers misinformation are penalized; They’re placed lower on a user’s feed. Accounts that frequently share misinformation are often close to impossible to find if they haven’t already been deleted from the platform. 

Relationships before reach

Regardless of algorithm updates, the need to foster authentic connections remains a constant for success. 

Let building a good rapport with your audience be the guiding focus, rather than solely seeking to maximize reach. Create content that makes your audience feel heard – Ensure it answers users’ questions, offers valuable insight, makes them laugh, and inspires curiosity.

When you cultivate a highly engaged, loyal following, users are more likely to recommend your profile to their contacts. This is known as word-of-mouth marketing and is arguably one of the most powerful ways for brands to improve awareness. 

According to the 2018 Chatter Matters Work of Mouth report, 71% of people recommend a great experience. It’s also been found that people are 90% more likely to trust and buy from a brand recommended to them by a friend

To situate the power of word-of-mouth marketing for your own business, request your sales and customer service representatives to ask customers how they discovered your business. Approximately 63% of businesses reportedly already do this. Alternatively, reflect on the brands you love and ask yourself how you became aware of them.

Repeat engagement is key to a loyal following and a positive brand reception. But keeping tabs on the content campaigns that deliver tangible results can be time-consuming. 

This is where the Digivizer platform enters the content marketing process. When you connect all your social accounts to the Digivizer platform, you can access digital performance insights across all your channels in a single view instantly. 

The Digivizer platform also supports data from your paid, web, and search channels. This enables you to obtain a panoptic view of your marketing picture so you can understand what works and what doesn’t. 

Sign up for free today to grow your digital marketing with data-driven insights.

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