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How the Instagram algorithm works

Learn how to make Instagram work for your business and how to grow your Instagram account

Imagem de Gerd Altmann por Pixabay

Much is said about the Instagram algorithm, and a lot of confusing news about the algorithm circulates online forums and networks. To find reliable information about Instagram - make sure you check first on Instagram's website or get information from one of their partners, such as TechCrunch and Later Media.


As you may know, Instagram is hugely relevant to businesses. It is the fifth-largest social network in the world, with approximately 830 million unique visits per month and it makes perfect sense for you to learn how to leverage this powerful platform to help you achieve your business goals.


Ok, ok, but how does the Instagram Algorithm Work?


Instagram’s algorithm, in general, is responsible for understanding the user's behavior and based on that behavior, it suggests and delivers content that this user may enjoy. The intent is to have users staying on the app for as long as possible, this way, users will consume more advertising, which keeps the platform up and running. (If you want to learn more about this mechanism, watch the Netflix documentary Social Dilemma).

Your content will rank differently to different people, based on the type of content each person likes to interact with the most. It's just like Netflix: based on your favorite genres and historical use of the platform, you will be recommended specific films and series that the AI thinks you will like. ⁠⁠So if you like interior design content, probably this type of content will be suggested for you inside the Explore Page for example.

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That's why having people engage with your account and content is so important: it tells the algorithm they like your content, so the AI can show more of your content to them and to people similar to them. It is unclear which types of engagement will count more points with the algorithm (this has never been disclosed by Instagram), but it's safe to say that all engagement forms will get you points. ⁠⁠That includes likes, comments, saves, shares, reactions, video watches, direct messages, and more.

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Each engagement goal will support a unique business objective, so you don't need to get too attached to attracting one engagement type over another.⁠⁠


How to Hack the Instagram Algorithm?


There are some key ranking factors that help the platform’s AI deliver the right content to the right user. So let's go through them.


1 - Interest. The more the Instagram algorithm thinks your audience will ‘‘like" your posts, the greater the probability it will appear on their feed. That's why your audience's interaction is so important, as it shows that they like your content and want to keep following.


2 - Relationship.

⁠⁠Instagram also considerers the level of the relationship your audience has with you. It measures DM interactions, comments, and taggings to show content to your followers. This type of interaction can even make your reach grow!


3 - Timeliness.

Instagram wants to share fresh content, so it will take into consideration how long ago the post was shared. For this reason, it´s best to post at a time when your audience is online, so they have higher chances of seeing the post on their feeds. Posting consistently will also help.


4 - Other Ranking Factors.

Instagram also considers Frequency, Usage, and Following to define the ranking of posts. This means each person will see a different feed based on how often they use the app, how long they use it, and how many people they follow. But, unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about that, just keep delivering good content to generate engagement and build a relationship with your audience.


How to appear on the Instagram Explore Page?

Would you like to reach a larger audience, organically, without spending money? This is possible with the Explore page on Instagram. Here are some of my hacks to help you get your posts showing up on this Instagram prime real estate.


It´s important to remember that Instagram wants to bring relevant content to its users based on their interactions, so users can spend more time inside the app. Here's how you can use this knowledge to your advantage to get better chances of showing on the Explore page:


  1. Foster engagement with your audience When you foster audience engagement, Instagram has more data to discover users who are similar to your followers and may also enjoy your content. With enough data gathered, this may be your ticket to the Explore page!

  2. Check the best time to post The algorithm prioritizes content that is ‘fresh’. So recent posts will have more opportunities to appear on the Explore page. Tools like Later Media and Hootsuite may help you understand the best days and times to post. You may also check the Instagram Insights, available on the app for business accounts.

  3. Make good use of hashtags If you searched for a certain hashtag recently, you will probably see content related to it inside your Explore page. The more accurately you tag hashtags to your content, the more chances you will get to appear on related searches and discoveries of other users.

  4. Create relevant content The better you know your audience, the better you can serve them with relevant content. In return, Instagram will be able to more clearly understand which users are similar to your audience, so they can continue to show your content to those interested in what you have to offer.

  5. Use different post formats Using different formats on Instagram, like Stories, IGTV, Reels, etc., will give your audience more opportunities to engage with your content, and thus, let the algorithm learn more about your content and your audience.


How to get more views on your Reels

Reels is the biggest release from Instagram since IGTV. Everybody knows that Instagram loves to get people using its new features and people using this feature may already be seeing a higher reach compared to regular posts on their feed. To motivate users to embrace the new feature, Instagram offers Reels more visibility on the Explore page and can also give primer positioning on the feed.


So how can you create a killer Reels strategy?

  1. Be you The best way to be seen is to create something authentic and creative. Creating something that has to do with your audience doesn't mean you have to do what everyone else is doing ;) It means you can let your creative side flow, making the process lighter and more fun.

  2. Make it relevant Relevance is key in everything you do, no matter if you are creating a Reels or a post on your feed. You need to understand your audience and what type of content they are interested in.

  3. Use hashtags Following the idea of organizing your content categories, Reels also offers the possibility for you to add hashtags before sharing the video with your audience. So it is super important that you put a # that is related to the content you are posting and people who are looking for a particular subject will be able to find you or have your video recommended to them.

  4. Use what the tool offers Instagram offers a lot of tools inside Reels that can make your videos more engaging and fun, so don’t be shy and make the best of it! You can add texts, filters, camera effects, music from the library, or upload your audio! You can also use other video editing apps, like @inshot.app, to give your Reels an edge.

  5. Use vertical videos As Reels have a short duration and people access them from mobile, the best format is to create videos vertically, especially if it has 'challenges' launched to the audience.

  6. Be consistent Posting on a Reels and expecting it to be a game-changer will simply not happen. Posting Reels consistently, however, will get you there. Brainstorm and plan Reels ideas and then film 3-4+ videos at once (each Reels is only 15s - 30s long). This will help you to generate more content in less time, without the dread of having to come up with something new all the time.


How to get more views on your Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories is a persuasive feature to increase your social media reach. It allows users to post or share anything in photos and video formats inside their "Story" (round icon, at the top of the feed) - which is visible to your followers and for other Instagram users if your account is public. The content posted on the "Story" will only last 24 hours, which says a lot about moments! Show something that is specifically happening right now is a good tactic.


In terms of viewing preference, typically, the accounts that a person engages with the most are going to take the first spots of the story tab. That's why it's so important to create plenty of opportunities for your audience to engage, so Instagram can learn that they enjoy your content.⁠

Make sure you make good use of polls, questions, and quizzes to encourage your audience to take action. You can also prompt them to DM you or to visit your profile to click on a link in your bio. Reactions also count as engagement. Timeliness is also an important factor for stories: the most recent ones tend to show first. That's why it is a good strategy to spread your Story content throughout the day and to post consistently. ⁠


Test different types of content formats to learn what your audience enjoys the most - so you can make more of it and continue to grow your engagement. You can use social media analytics tools, like @Latermedia, to learn more about your stats - or check the Instagram insights, available for Business accounts.⁠


Conclusion

Conversations around the algorithm always seem very mysterious, but in the end, it always comes down to having your audience's interest first, be here to serve them, be relevant, engage with them...and the universe (or the algorithm) may give it back to you.


Do you still have any questions on how to use the algorithm to your advantage in order to increase your reach? If so, send me a DM with your question to @juliafalci. I can't wait to see your business show up more on Instagram :)


Talk to you soon,

Julia


PS: Do you want to up your Instagram game? The Instagram for Business Bootcamp will open a new class soon. You can click here to join the waitlist and be the first to know when the program is open!


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