How to make sense of the Instagram Algorithm
Instagram originally started off as a simple ‘reverse-chronological’ feed where you would see the most recent posts of the people you followed first. In March 2016 Instagram Switched to an Algorithm. The way Instagram works now, it uses an algorithm which figures out what content will interest you and this is the content you will see first
Instagram mentions the following factors as influencing the algorithm:
- “the likeliness you’ll be interested in the content,”
- “your relationship with the person posting”
- “the timeliness of the post.”.
The introduction of the algorithm means that content creators have to work a bit harder to get their work seen and to get engagement. It also means it’s necessary to have a bit more consideration about what, when and how to post. However, Instagram is a fast growing platform with it expected to top 1 Billion monthly users by Jan 2018, which allows a vast audience to tap into if you can get your strategy right.
The Instagram algorithm is somewhat of a mystery, so it’s only possible to make assumptions and guesses about how it works, based on the information they release and also from user experience. There’s no magic formula I can offer, but in order to frame the different elements that are thought to influence the Instagram algorithm, I have created the acronym – R.E.S.T.A.R.T. which I will explain in more detail.
]hares & Saves
Instagram is a ‘Social Media’….So not surprisingly ‘Relationship’ relates to the accounts you regularly interact with on Instagram.
“And no matter how many accounts you follow, you should see your best friend’s latest posts”.
How does Instagram know who are your “best friends”?!
Thomas Dimson, a software engineer at Instagram suggests the following ways may determine your best friends:
- Accounts whose content you like regularly(which includes stories & live videos)
- Accounts that you direct message
- Accounts you have searched for
- Anyone you know in real life
It can be assumed that the more of these elements you use with an account (i.e. if you regularly search an account, then like, comment and share their posts), then the higher they will appear on your feed as they will be considered ‘best friends’.
A post with more engagement is likely to feature higher. It is also believed that early engagement is particularly important, because a flurry of initial activity indicates to the Instagram algorithm that a post is worth bumping to the top of other users’ feed, which leads to even more engagement. Instagram considers engagement to be likes, comments, video views, shares (via direct message), saves, story views, and live video views.
Figure out the best time to post on Instagram for your account. You can use Instagram insights to give you an idea of when your audience is online. .
Post consistently engaging visuals paired with compelling captions that encourage followers to interact with your posts. Put the most important words up front in you caption, to draw followers in and encourage them to keep reading.
SAVES & SHARES
In regards to the Instagram Algorithm, direct shares and saves are another signal that you’re interested in an account. Also who you share the content with suggests to the algorithm that you have a relationship with that individual and this could rank them higher in your feed.
The other element is posts that are saved. If a post is saved it will suggest that it’s relevant content for you.
To use the algorithm to your advantage in this respect, create content that others want to save to come back to or posts that people will want to share with others such as:
* Tutorials .
* Facts .
* Hints and Tips .
* Instructionals .
* How To’s .
* Guides .
Instagram themselves have commented:
“The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”
This means that Instagram considers more recent posts, to be more relevant to you. This suggests that a post that is more recent will feature higher in your feed, than an older post with higher engagement.
With this in mind, you should make sure that you are posting fresh content regularly. Also ensure that you post when your followers are most active to hit the prime window of engagement. In addition, it would be beneficial to be active around the time that you post. So you should be available to like, comment around the hashtags/geotags you have used and also respond to comments on your post. The first hour is thought to be key.
This part of the algorithm relates to your activity around the accounts that you search for often.
An Instagram spokesperson commented to Business Insider that if you frequently search Instagram for a certain account, that indicates that your interested in that person or company. Their posts are then likely to appear higher in your feed.
It’s tricky to offer any advice for how to work this part of the algorithm to promote your own page in people’s feed. The only way I think you could get people to ‘search’ for your page is by using other social media channels and tell people to find you by searching. This maybe a slightly cumbersome way to go about it though when you could just directly link!!
Instagram have said:
”The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”
The Instagram algorithm uses your behaviours, such as follows, likes, comments, saves and shares to recognise what content you enjoy viewing to influence the relevancy factor. It is even proposed that Instagram uses photo recognition technology so that it can tell the type of images you are viewing.
In order to make the algorithm work for you consider the hashtags, content, images and accounts you follow as this will impact on what you see in your feed. You should ensure that you are genuine and authentic in your actions on Instagram, because your feed will reflect your behaviour.
Make sure that you engage and build relationships with accounts similar to yours – and “people like you”.
This is how long someone spends looking at and viewing your images, story or feed – or vice versa, how long you spend looking at someone’s images, story or feed.
The longer spent looking at the image, feed or story – the algorithm will assume you like it more and will bump that up your feed. That content will then become more relevant.
So when you’re creating content for your feed, you should be considering ways to get people to ‘linger’ on your post, story or feed. This could be in the caption you use (including engaging and interesting text), by encouraging your audience to visit other images on your feed or by adding an element to your image that means people have to view it for longer.
A good example of making an enticing image is @humannurture who cleverly conceals HN in their image for the audience to find.
Understanding the algorithm allows you to be able to ‘hack’ the algorithm to make sure that your content is shown to as many people as possible – enable increased reach and hopefully more engagement.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: Be empathic, authentic and genuine in your content and your approach – Respond and react to your audience and your organic growth and engagement will happen.
The algorithm is constantly evolving, changing and updating so no doubt I will have new information to feedback on this soon.