The Instagram Algorithm of today is a mysterious, secretive, and incredibly powerful beast that is yet to be tamed by brands the world over. Its power comes from its ability to control which posts the social platform’s 700 million+ users see – and which they don’t.
So yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. This blog will take you through its history, what factors we know contribute to the organisation of the feed, and what those factors mean for your brand.
The Instagram algorithm: A brief history
Up until March 2016, the Instagram algorithm was simply reverse chronological. Users would see the posts of the accounts they followed in the time order that they were posted, with the most recent first. So, if as a brand you posted at the times your audience would most often use the app, your content would get seen. Easy.
Then came one fateful post on Instagram’s official blog that would change the social landscape forever. Instagram stated that, as it stood, users were missing on average 70 percent of the content on their feeds. The feed was to be reorganised to ‘show the moments we believe you will care about the most’.
The social world was sufficiently shook. An online petition to switch things back feed-wise gained 70,000 signatures in 24 hours, as the devalutation of petitions continued to progress. Instagram claimed 2 months later however that since the update to the feed, the platform’s community had been liking, commenting and engaging more than ever.
So, that’s a good thing right? Well, it can be, it just takes a bit more thinking about. Let’s get started.
What we know about the Instagram algorithm, and what that means for your brand’s content
There’s no single official document out there that explains the exact workings of the Instagram algorithm, and there likely never will be. That would be too easy, and would render this blog futile, so we wouldn’t want that anyway.
However, there are bits of info out there that give us a fighting chance. The first Instagram blog on the feed update listed only “the likeliness you’ll be interested in the content”, “your relationship with the person posting” and “the timeliness of the post” as factors the algorithm would consider – and that’s it.
Thankfully, a Business Insider interview with a company spokesperson went a little further, listing the following factors as being among those the Instagram algorithm considers.
So the feed may no longer be fully reverse-chronological, but the algorithm still knows people want to see fresh posts each time they log in.
What it means for your brand: it’s still important to post at your audience’s peak times, even if you can’t guarantee that people will see your post as soon as you share it.
As engagement indicates a post is, by definition, engaging, the Instagram algorithm will bump up posts that gain more likes and comments. Comments are weighted more heavily due to the increased effort required over the simple like.
What it means for your brand: this makes it even more important to find the best time to post for your brand, as an early flurry of likes/comments will push you up the feed, likely leading to even more of that sweet engagement. You can find information on when your followers are using the app in Instagram Insights (that little graph logo in the top right corner of your profile), while captions that encourage interaction with a post can help to drive comments and likes.
This element places value on the Instagram accounts that a user frequently likes and comments on over time. Crucially, it goes some way to balancing out the engagement factor: your best friend’s posts might not ever get as many likes as Kylie Jenner, (unless that best friend is Kendall Jenner) but because you like and comment on them often, you’ll still see their posts.
What it means for your brand: this factor makes it important to maintain relationships with your audience over time, leading to consistent rather than sporadic engagement. You can use Instagram Insights to track which of your posts perform best, then any similar content you produce should lead to success.
If you regularly search for a particular Instagram account, say @pacecomms (hint hint), then that indicates to the Instagram algorithm that you’re pretty interested in posts from that account. And why wouldn’t you be, there’s some fine content on there.
Anyway, what that means for your brand: it’s a good idea to make sure your profile is easy to find, along with fully completed profile information and bio.
The sharing of a post privately through direct messages is another indication to the Instagram algorithm that a user is likely to be interested in posts from that account.
What that means for your brand: you can’t track this type of engagement, but it’s another reason to create content that users will want to share with their network.
And there we have it, they are all the known factors that contribute to how the Instageam algorithm organises the content on a user’s feed. There may be more factors out there, but Instagram aren’t likely to tell us any time soon.
Part 2 of this blog will go through some tactics and techniques on how to make the Instagram algorithm work for your brand in more detail, so strap in for that.