The Instagram Algorithm – Understanding How It Really Works

If you’re trying to grow your Instagram account and increase your following, then you’ve probably heard of the dreaded Instagram algorithm. Many brands, influencers, and other users look for ways to crack the code and outsmart Instagram’s algorithm. But, it’s a much better idea to learn how it can work for you.

Understanding this algorithm and how it works is one of the biggest challenges facing social media marketers in 2019. But, it’s also the key to organic Instagram growth. Knowing what makes Instagram show your content to your target audience is vital to your success on the platform.

Let’s take a closer look at the Instagram algorithm and how it really works! Keep reading for more information about the ins and outs of Instagram’s algorithm. I’ll also give you a few tips on how you can use this algorithm to boost your Instagram marketing success.

What Is The Instagram Algorithm?

Before diving into how the Instagram algorithm really works, it’s important to understand its purpose. The Instagram algorithm wasn’t put in place to purposely limit your reach and following growth. It actually makes the Instagram experience more enjoyable for users. Simply put, the Instagram algorithm seeks to optimize users’ feeds to show them content that they are the most likely to be interested in based on their activity.

Many of us follow hundreds and even thousands of Instagram accounts. But, there are some users’ whose posts mean more to us. According to Instagram, most of us miss 70% of the posts in our feeds. With the old chronological feed, it was easy to miss posts from your closest family members and friends, and your favorite celebrities and influencers. The new algorithm prioritizes content posted by accounts that you interact and engage with often.

Common Myths About the Instagram Algorithm

One of the main reasons for the confusion surrounding Instagram’s algorithm is the many myths that are floating around online. Here are some of the most common myths about Instagram’s algorithm:

Algorithm Myth #1: Instagram Hides Certain Posts

The most common Instagram algorithm myth is that certain posts are hidden from users’ timelines.

This is a false rumor. Although the feed is no longer chronological, all of the posts from accounts that users follow are included. What happens is that the algorithm places the posts that are most relevant to the user at the beginning of the feed. If the user scrolls far enough, they’ll eventually see every post that the accounts they follow have shared.

This rumor is so widespread that Instagram issued a statement to clear things up in early 2019:

“We’ve noticed an uptick in posts about Instagram limiting the reach of your photos to 7% of your followers, and would love to clear this up.

What shows up first in your feed is determined by what posts and accounts you engage with the most, as well as other contributing factors such as the timeliness of posts, how often you use Instagram, how many people you follow, etc.

We have not made any recent changes to feed ranking, and we never hide posts from people you’re following–if you keep scrolling, you will see them all. Again, your feed is personalized to you and evolves over time based on how you use Instagram”

instagram algorithm tweet
Instagram’s Twitter Statement from January 2019

If it seems like your posts aren’t reaching your audience, then keep reading for tips on how you can make Instagram’s algorithm work for you.

Algorithm Myth #2: Instagram favors personal accounts over business accounts.

This myth goes hand in hand with myth #1. There’s a lot of misinformation online that suggests that Instagram limits the reach of business accounts. Some people also mistakenly believe that Instagram limits the reach of business accounts that don’t purchase paid promotions.

One reason that this rumor may seem true can stem from the type of content that you post on your business account. While Instagram’s preference for personal accounts is a rumor, users tend to favor content with a personable tone. If your Instagram brand account only posts branded and promotional content, then users are less likely to interact with your content. This can cause your content to appear later in their feeds causing many of your followers to miss your posts.

Algorithm Myth #3: Shadowbanning

Shadowbanning is a controversial practice that Instagram has denied using. Many social media gurus have reported differences in their engagement after using certain hashtags, adding too many hashtags to their captions, and other infractions. But, Instagram has stated that shadowbanning does not exist. Instagram has repeatedly stated that the platform does not hide content from its users.

How The Instagram Algorithm Really Works

The Instagram algorithm isn’t as complicated as it seems. While some social media marketers see the algorithm as an obstacle to their growth on the platform, the algorithm was actually developed to make Instagram more enjoyable for users. Here’s what the Instagram algorithm really does:

Instagram’s algorithm determines which posts users see as they scroll through their feed.

Many budding social media marketers mistakenly believe that the Instagram algorithm’s purpose is to hide and promote certain posts. The truth is that its main goal is to optimize what users see in their feeds. Since 2016, Instagram has promised to optimize users’ feeds to showcase “the moments [they] care about.

Let’s say for instance that a user spends a lot of time looking at posts that use a certain hashtag. To improve the user’s scrolling experience, Instagram may place posts using that hashtag at the top of their feed. Or, if a user consistently likes and comments on posts from specific accounts, then Instagram’s algorithm makes sure that they don’t miss any posts by placing all recent content from those accounts at the top of their feed.

Tips for Working With the Algorithm and Improving Your Visibility on Instagram

As we discussed earlier in this post, Instagram’s algorithm optimizes users’ feeds based on their relationships with other accounts and their interests. There’s a common misconception that this algorithm disadvantages brand and business accounts, but there are actually quite a few ways to use the Instagram algorithm to your advantage.

Here are a few tips you can use to make your content more visible to your target audience:

Post high-quality content.

It takes time to build an audience on Instagram. But, generating interest and credibility for your brand amongst your target audience is the best way to make the Instagram algorithm work for you.

The first step for any Instagram marketing strategy should be to create and post good, relevant content. You should always post content that provides value to your desired audience. Each post that you create should entertain, inform, or inspire your audience.

It’s also important to stick within your niche when posting content. This gives Instagram a better idea of what your content is about and will improve the chances of having Instagram recommend your posts to users within your niche.

A great way to find out what’s working for other accounts in your niche is to do some research. Visit the accounts of your competitors, or scroll through the posts under popular hashtags for your niche. Take a look at the content that generates the most engagement. This will give you a good idea about where to begin with your Instagram content strategy.

Encourage audience engagement.

Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes content from accounts that users engage with on a regular basis. Because of this, it’s important to encourage your audience to engage with your posts often if you want to increase your chances of having your posts show up first in their feeds.

A great way to encourage engagement is by including a call to action in each of your Instagram captions. Don’t just post an image with a descriptive caption. Write captions that ask your audience to like your post or use conversation starters that spark discussions in your comments section. Users enjoy this type of interaction, and it keeps their eyes on your content for longer periods of time.

You can also encourage engagement by interacting with other users. Liking a user’s post, leaving a comment, or viewing their Instagram Stories can encourage them to check out your feed and return the engagement. Several tools on the market can automate this task and help you reach more users within your niche. Some of my favorites include Upleap, Kenji, and JARVEE.

Post more videos and GIFs.

If you want to improve the way the Instagram algorithm works for you, it’s also a good idea to post more than just still photos. There are a variety of benefits to posting more videos and loopable GIFS to your profile.

First of all, this keeps your audience entertained and helps you to stand out amongst the thousands of still images in the feed. Videos are also great for “stopping the scroll” and getting users to stop and look at your post. When you post video content, users are more likely to stop on your post. The algorithm notes how long users spend interacting with your posts and will be more likely to suggest your content to these users in the future.

Post longer captions.

Adding longer captions to your Instagram posts is a great way to improve how the algorithm works for you. Like videos and GIFs, longer captions can encourage users to spend more time on your posts. The length of this interaction is counted as interaction according to Instagram’s algorithm. This can lead to your content being prioritized in users’ feeds and their explore pages.

Longer captions can also benefit your brand’s storytelling efforts on Instagram. Your captions are a great place to use the written word on this image-focused app and gain more loyal audience members who resonate with your messages.

instagram-algorithm-long-caption
Longer captions engage your audience and get users to spend more time on your posts.

Choose your hashtags wisely.

Using the right hashtags can also impact how Instagram’s algorithm works with your profile. If you want to get your Instagram content in front of more users, it’s important to choose relevant and effective hashtags. Since users can now follow hashtags, you can expand your audience beyond your following list. Users who follow the hashtags you use can now see posts using those hashtags in their feeds.

When choosing the best hashtags for your Instagram posts, there are a few factors to consider. First of all, you want to avoid using hashtags that are too generic. While generic hashtags often have a high number of posts associated with them, it’s easy for your posts to get lost among the crowd. You’ll also have trouble reaching specific target audiences with generic hashtags.

It’s best to choose more specific hashtags that are relevant to your particular target audience. Your hashtags should be niche-specific and trendy. To determine how many hashtags to use, it’s a good idea to check out how many the top accounts in your niche use.

For help with finding the best hashtags for your audience, check out Later’s Hashtag Suggestions feature. This tool helps you identify the most relevant hashtags for your brand based on the hashtags that you currently use. All you have to do is plug a relevant hashtag into the Hashtag Suggestions tool. Then, Later generates a list of 30 related hashtags.

later hashtag suggestions
Later’s Hashtag Suggestions Tool

A Final Word About The Instagram Algorithm

Many social media marketers view the Instagram algorithm as an obstacle to their success on the platform. But, after reading this post, I hope that you’ve discovered some effective techniques for making the algorithm work in your favor.

As I mentioned earlier, there are several strategies that you can implement to get your content seen by your desired target audience. To work with the Instagram algorithm, make sure you:

  • Post high-quality, diverse content
  • Engage with your audience
  • Write effective captions
  • Use relevant hashtags

Trying out these tips will help you to build better relationships with your audience and move your content closer to the top of their Instagram feeds!

Want to stay up to date and get free goodies? Sign up to our newsletter.