Understanding and taking advantage of Instagram’s algorithms

Aug 27, 2021 by
Understanding and taking advantage of Instagram’s algorithms

Algorithms are the wizards behind the curtain that control who sees our content and how they see it. They are also something that very few SEO marketers truly understand. Sure, they might grasp the basics of why they work but the “how” is often mired in mystery. In an effort to seemingly show how transparent they are, Instagram, however, has decided to break with convention, let loose the inner workings of their sanctum and shed some light on how it actually works.

As the Facebook-owned social media giants themselves protest: “It’s hard to trust what you don’t understand.” So, in the interest of true transparency, I thought I’d cut through the noise and boil down exactly what makes Instagram’s algorithm unique. And what doesn’t.

What does it do

Simply put, the algorithm dictates the order of the posts users see on their feeds; the main feed and the stories located at the top of that feed as well as the explore search engine feed and reels video feed, which is essentially Instagram’s answer to TikTok. This is an important factor for any social media channel, but for Instagram, it is particularly relevant given how tied it is to specific posts rather than homepages. The idea is that it prioritises the most relevant posts for each user.

It’s not just one thing

There is no one all-encompassing Instagram algorithm, rather a collection of algorithms, each tied to a specific part of the overall Instagram oeuvre. The idea is to “rank posts based on what users care about the most.” So, while the focus of its feed and stories algorithms are generally based on friends, explore and reels look to uncover more relevant topics based on trends and interests.

There are three ranking factors for the feed

While there are more general considerations, like the fact that the users following more accounts will have greater competition, all content on the main feed and the stories feed is ranked by three factors:-

Relationship – If somebody has interacted with you regularly and built a strong digital connection with you, then your posts are more likely to be ranked higher on their feed. Comments, likes, and DMs all count toward your place in a user’s feed

Interest – If somebody interacts with content and accounts similar to yours then users are more likely to see your posts.

Relevancy – Every piece of content gets a relevancy score. It’s also worth noting that for stories, location is also a factor.

What’s the takeaway here?

Ultimately, the algorithm works exactly as you’d assume it does – it tracks a user’s activity and maps out their feeds to reflect it. Instagram has said that before the algorithm was implemented back in 2016, people used to miss 70% of their posts and 50% of their friends’ posts. Given that it was around this time that Instagram started to gain traction as a major player on the social media stage, it would appear it was a smart play.

In a nutshell, what the Instagram algorithm does is examine a user’s past behaviours, go through all available posts and predict how interesting those posts are to that user, with the most interesting content getting pride of place at the top of the feed. As for how brands can utilise this knowledge? Well, the great thing about Instagram is that it’s just as easy for brands and businesses to rank organically as it is for individuals.

So, our advice when marketing on Instagram? Basically, act like an influencer. Develop relationships with your followers and stay interesting and relevant. Probably a little harder than it sounds but solid, evergreen advice nonetheless.