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How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work?
To understand how Instagram’s algorithm works, it’s important to consider the purpose behind it: the algorithm aims to delight you. If it doesn’t show you interesting and engaging content, you’ll exit the app.
The algorithm needs to keep you scrolling.
When deciding how high your post should show up in someone else’s feed, the Instagram algorithm measures how quickly your post attracts engagement, and evaluates the relationship between your account and your audience’s accounts. Engagement on prior posts, direct shares, and even Instagram Stories can also affect where your post shows up in a feed.
Prior to 2016, Instagram’s algorithm was pretty straightforward: posts were ordered chronologically, regardless of engagement. If I posted a picture of a vanilla latte 10 minutes after my friend posted a picture of her engagement ring, my picture showed up first.
But in March 2016, Instagram implemented a major change to the algorithm, pivoting away from the chronological feed and moving towards an experience based more on user engagement They explained, “People miss, on average, 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it has become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most.”
The chronological algorithm couldn’t ensure you’d be continuously delighted. To keep you engaged, the algorithm started to take into account factors like which accounts you like best, which posts you engage with the most, and which posts were attracting the most likes and comments from your friends.
To help you better understand how Instagram’s current algorithm selects posts to display at the top of your feed, let’s take a look at the specific factors taken into account. Hopefully, this information will equip you to deliver higher-quality, more visible Instagram posts.
It’s All About Engagement
First off, let’s take a look at what happens the moment you post a picture on Instagram. Why do some of your posts stay at the top of your audience’s feeds for hours, while others, seemingly identical in quality, disappear from everyone’s feeds within minutes?
The answer is engagement.
How Instagram’s Algorithm Uses Engagement to Evaluate How Many People See Your Post:
- When you first post a picture, it’s shown to a small percentage of your audience.
- Instagram measures how quickly that photo is engaged with, commented on, and liked.
- Instagram will compare the engagement your picture is getting to other posts you’ve shared at similar times and days. For example, is this Monday 10 a.m. post getting more or less traffic than last Monday’s 10 a.m. post? It would be unfair of Instagram to assume your post is less popular if it compared your post to another one you posted at a more popular time of day, so it compares similar times to ensure accuracy when it’s evaluating the quality of your post’s engagement.
- If your photo is attracting a lot of engagement, Instagram will show it to a higher percentage of your audience, and maybe even surface it on the Explorer Pages.
- If your post continues to attract a lot of engagement, your photo will stay at the top of your audience’s news feeds and reach more people.
- If your photo doesn’t attract a lot of engagement initially, it will get pushed further down the page, and less of your audience will see it.
Relationships Play a Big Role
Now that we’ve explored how Instagram’s algorithm uses engagement to determine what percentage of your overall audience sees a post, let’s examine the factors that influence the order in which posts appear on a user’s feed.
Not only is this good to know from a business’s perspective, but it’s also interesting to know as a user. If you think you’re suddenly seeing too much of one person or one company on your feed, here’s why:
The Five Factors Instagram’s Algorithm Evaluates When Deciding How High Your Post Will be on Someone’s Feed:
- Your relationship with the person. If you regularly comment and like a person’s posts, Instagram will understand you have a stronger relationship with this person, and will make sure you keep seeing this person’s posts.
- Timing. Although your feed isn’t quite chronological, for reasons like “relationships,” it still wants to show you new and relevant posts; it won’t just keep showing you your best friend’s posts from three weeks ago.
- Likes and comments. Although Instagram does not want the algorithm to become a popularity contest, it will consider how many likes and comments a picture has when deciding what to show you.
- Direct shares. If you’re sending posts to your friend, it’s a sign you really like those posts, so Instagram will show you more in the future.
- Profile searches. If you search for someone’s profile, Instagram has a clue that you want to see this person’s posts.
How to Get Your Posts Shown Higher on Your Audience’s Instagram Feeds
We’ve covered how Instagram’s algorithm works and which factors Instagram considers when deciding which posts to show you. Finally, let’s take this information and explore how you can use it to get your posts higher on your audience’s Instagram feed.
Tips for Getting Your Posts Shown Higher on Instagram:
- Post your pictures when you know your audience is on Instagram (try using Squarelovin to figure out when your audience is most active).
- If you have a business account on Instagram, check out your Instagram Insights page to see which of your posts are most popular. This is a good indicator of which types of posts you should replicate, and even which time of day attracts most engagement.
- Create “human” posts your audience will enjoy and get value from. Instead of creating an advertisment for your business, consider what your audience will engage with.
- Make Instagram Stories. Instagram takes note of this engagment, too (for example, if someone replays your story, comments or shares it, or votes on a poll, your business could show up in his feed next time).
There you have it! A full rundown of how Instagram’s algorithm works, which factors Instagram considers most important, and how to take all that information and use it to promote your brand in a stronger, better, more engaging way.
Originally published Mar 8, 2018 6:00:00 AM, updated October 30 2019
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