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Understanding the Instagram Algorithms

Okay, so over the course of the next 9 videos, we’re going to be taking you through our 9-step process to succeed with Instagram marketing. These steps are to firstly understand the algorithm, which is what this video is going to be about. Next, to create great content, not just good content, great content that really engages your audience, then you want to define your strategy on Instagram. You want to make it happen. Think about how you’re going to be both effective and efficient with your content creation, and also your management of Instagram. You want to make sure that you’ve fully set up your profile so that you really maximise the chances of someone hitting follow when they visit your profile.
We want to make sure every single post or reel, or story or IGTV video is configured for maximum amount of engagement, because that engagement will be rewarded with more reach by the algorithm. You want to attract profile visitors. Obviously, this comes quite late in the steps because we want to make sure we’ve done everything up into this point. Because if there’s no point bringing a bunch of people to your Instagram profile, if you haven’t set it up properly, and if you haven’t got great content going because otherwise, you’re going to lose them forever.  Step 8 is to measure and adjust, look at the results that you’re getting, and make the adjustments that you need to make to improve your results.
And then finally, we’ll talk about how you monetise your account, what are the options available to you to turn those followers into dollars. So, this video is going to be looking at understanding the algorithm. So, let’s dive straight in. When Instagram first launched, their algorithm was based on what’s called ‘Recency’. So it was in a chronological order, and Instagram sort of came out. They said that what was happening as Instagram became more popular is that a lot of people were missing the important post that they wanted to see from their friends, or the people that the brands that they followed on Instagram and so, they changed the algorithm to ‘Relevancy’.
I think part of the reason they probably also changed it to relevancy was to ensure that they could introduce some of the paid advertising formats as well.   And what this algorithm does, what this relevancy based algorithm does, is decide which content will be shown to you and in what order. So essentially, it ranks the content that you’re going to see in your feed. Now, if we look specifically at the algorithm for feed and stories, what we see is that the vast majority of posts and stories that you see are going to be from accounts that you follow. But despite this, everyone’s Instagram account is personalised to them.
So even if two users follow exactly the same accounts, their feeds and their ranking of their stories is going to be different, based on how they interact with the content that they see. And the algorithm, the Instagram algorithm is going to assess 1000s of different data points, what they call ‘Signals’, they’re going to look at the user’s past behaviour and they’re going to evaluate all the available posts and stories content, and then predict exactly how interesting that particular post or story will be to the user. Therefore, decide the ranking how high up in the feed, or how far along in the stories stream, that the content will be shown.
  And the Explore and reels algorithm is different, we’re going to be talking about that coming up. Well, the Explore page is based on people you don’t follow. So, 100% from people you don’t follow, and then Reels are predominantly from people that you don’t follow. But nevertheless, they have an algorithm which will still show you things that Instagram thinks that you’re most interested in. So, the result of this algorithm for the feed and stories is that around 5 to 8% of your followers are going to see your post or story and this is called ‘reach’ essentially the proportion of people who follow your account that actually see the posts.
So, this is a shock to a lot of people, they think that when they post something, a much higher percentage actually see it. But the reality is probably now, particularly for posts going on your profile, probably down around sort 5-8%, that’s it. And then what the algorithm will do is it will assess the initial amount of engagement that the post or the story receives and engagement, or any of the interactions that people take after seeing the posts. So, it could be liking, commenting, post saving, profile visits, etc. Okay, any interaction that they take, and if the engagement is high, what it’s going to do is it’s going to show that particular posts or stories and more people.
It’s going to rank that particular post higher up or further to the left in stories, and it will also start to show it on the top posts for hashtags or places.   And if it gets enough engagement if this increased reach leads to in turn even more engagement, then potentially that piece of content will be shown on the Explore page. So, the most important thing to understand is that you don’t want to fight the algorithm, you want to make sure that you are aligned to it. Because it will actually dictate a lot of what you do, a lot of the activity that you do as a marketer on Instagram.
Now, Instagram doesn’t tell you exactly how their algorithm for the feed and stories works. The reason they don’t do that is because if they did, people would try to trick it, they try to game the algorithm. But what they do provide is a lot of guidance and they’ve already as I’ve already mentioned, there’s 1000s of different signals that they look at, to determine the ranking of the content. But the guidance provided is that there are the top three factors that influence your ranking, which is Relationship, Interest, and Timeliness.   Relationship refers to whether or not the Instagram users interact frequently, not just whether or not a user interacts with you, but also whether or not you interact with them.
Interest is whether or not the user likes that particular type of content, they’ve got some pretty cool image recognition technology that knows whether or not people are interested in certain types of content, whether that’s about surfing or fashion, etc. And then third, timeliness, “was it shared recently?” Okay, that’s what it’s assessing. So, let’s just have a quick look at each of these top three factors. When it comes to relationship, the closer the relationship you have to another Instagram user, the higher the content will rank, okay?
And this is why when you go into Instagram, you tend to see any posts that have been shared, or stories that have been shared from your friends, that you tend to interact with a lot.   So, some of the things that the algorithm is considering is how much you’ve liked or commented on each other’s posts, whether you’ve tagged each other in each other’s posts. If you’ve saved posts, if you’ve searched for that particular user, whether or not you’ve shared direct messages. If you view their stories, and if so for how long, whether you’ve replied to a story, and so on. We’ll talk about the implications of this.
But definitely the number one factor is relationship, how close a relationship you have with the other user. The second is interest and this is based on people’s past engagement, how much they have engaged with certain types of content, and also how much they’ve interacted with hashtags or location. They’ve got some incredibly powerful image recognition technology that knows what a post or a story contains, like, for example, they know whether or not in a lot of cases it contains a cat or a dog. Now, if you have engaged with a lot of content that has cats in it, for example, then you’re more likely to be shown more content with cats in it.   The third is timeliness.
If you pull out your Instagram app, and you open it up, and you go to your feed, and you scroll through it in the top 10 or 20 posts that you see there, you’re unlikely to see anything that’s older than two days. Like they ran an experiment about three, three odd years ago, where they all of a sudden started ranking content that was a little bit older, a bit of an outrage from the Instagram community and they quickly backtracked on that. Okay, so in most cases, the content that you see at the top of your feed is only going to be sort of one to two days old.
Now, there are actually six other factors that go into the influence of the ranking of content in your feed and stories. These are the post engagement rates or how much engagement the individual posts or story receives and the speed at which the engagement occurs. In particular, in that first hour after it is shared, how long people spend viewing the posts or the stories. Now, they actually have technology that shows that even if people don’t engage with the post, if they stop in their newsfeed and look at that particular post for a while, particularly video content, then that’s going to be favored by the algorithm. The accounts quality score overall.
So, this is really how good an Instagram citizen you are and if you are doing the right thing and abiding by the rules, then your overall engagement rate will remain higher. But if you’re doing the wrong thing, it can hamper the engagement rate of all posts.   Following, so, of course, how many accounts one individual follows will determine the ranking of the content. So, if someone follows only 200 accounts, then there’s a good chance that most of the content that those 200 accounts share will be seen by that person. If they’re following 7500, which is the absolute maximum, then obviously, it’s going to be harder for those 7500 accounts to get their content seen every time by that person.
And then finally, frequency and app usage. If you close Instagram and then open it up again, you’re likely to see a different post at the top of your feed. So how often people use the app and so forth will determine the ranking of the content. What does this mean? I think overall, the key takeaways from this, are when you are thinking about your content strategy, we want to make sure that when we’re creating content, it has to be engagement focused. We want to make sure that our goal with all of our content is to get people to interact with it in some way, shape, or form.   The second is that we want to look at a high engagement format.
So, carousel ads, for example, tend to consistently outperform static images, video reels formats tend to have a high engagement rate as well. We want to make sure that we’re using captions and features that drive and get engagement. So, don’t just think about the content using whether it’s an image or video, but think about how you accompany it with a caption, that it stimulates engagement? And what are the features? So, for example, augmented reality features, GIFs, stickers, text, etc. What can you do to enhance the content itself to stimulate more engagement?
You want to make sure that your posts when your audience is most active, if speed of engagement is important, then you want to be looking at when your audience is active and trying to share posts around that time, which this data can be gained from a lot of the scheduling software that’s available today. You want to be consistent with your content and frequency of posting and I can’t stress how important this is. When we say ‘consistent with content’ what that means is that you train your audience what to expect from you, the type of content that you create, and share on a regular basis and make them really look forward to receiving it.
So that you build what we call the ‘engagement staircase’ where your most loyal fans are always engaging with your content, and therefore, the algorithm is fired and rewards you with more reach.   Similarly, the algorithm has been showing that where you post, share content every single day, then you’re going to get that extra reach as well. So, missing just a few days, 2-3 days can really kind of set you back and not get the same sort of results that you were when you’re worth sharing every single day. You want to respond to comments quickly, try to stimulate engagements and conversations as quickly as you can.
When someone leaves a comment, they’re active and by responding, you might get additional comments, which is seen by the algorithm as additional engagement, which is again rewarded with more reach. You want to engage with users who engage with you, it’s not enough just to share content, you want to make sure that anytime you share a poster or a reel, or IGTV video story, that when someone does that, that you take the time to go to their accounts and try and interact with them as well. This is pretty time consuming.
But certainly, the research shows that when you do this, it can lead to a really, really close relationship with your followers and as a result, they’re more likely to see your content the next time they log into the app and engage with it again. So, it just has this snowballing effect. And then finally, be a good Instagram citizen, they have rules and if you’re being dodgy, or if you’re breaking the rules, then what they will do is they will punish your account. Your accounts quality score will decline and that means they’ll lower your reach on all of your posts, not just individual posts there. So, understand what the rules are, and always be a good Instagram citizen.
  The algorithm for the Explore page works a little bit differently, because it shows content from accounts that you don’t necessarily follow and this could be images and video posts that people share to the profile, it could be reels, it could be IGTV videos, could be shopping as well and there used to be a tab up in the corner here for IGTV and for the Instagram shop. But it’s actually now been just kind of integrated into this. So, when you first go to your explore page, you’ll just see a collection of all of those different things in one place. But you can actually search for particular topics. So here for example, it’s got some suggested topics.
And if you click on one of those topics that will then have essentially like a mini explore page for that topic. The explore page is based on posts that you’ve liked, saved, commented on, what’s in those posts, etc. Okay, so unlike the feed and stories where all of the content is from the accounts that you follow, this is all from accounts that you don’t follow, but it’s based on those accounts that you have and the content that you followed and interacted with in the past. The explore page tends to be trending posts, those that are slightly viral and it really should be your goal is that that’s what you want to be doing.
You want to be trying to get onto the Explore page because it’s going to introduce your Instagram account and your brand to a whole bunch of new people that don’t necessarily know about you. Similarly, for reels, the majority of the content is not all that is from accounts that you don’t yet follow. So, in this case, the algorithm is quite similar to the Explore page, the Instagram algorithm will find reels it would think that you like based on how you’ve interacted with other reels in the past.   And there’s no feed per se, this is the thing to understand about reels for those of you who haven’t really experienced it yet.
The way in which to toggle through content is just a swipe up. So, you’re watching a reel, and until you slide up, then that current reel just keeps playing, so it will play on repeat and the first time you’re in there, you need to tap on it for the sound to play. The thing to understand is that reels are much more focused on entertainment than anything else. Whereas the rest of Instagram is entertainment, education, inspiration, persuasion, in some particular instances. It’s really based on entertainment. So, the algorithm is looking for things like how much you’ve engaged with previous reels, how much of the reel you watch, whether you watch it a second time.
So, whether you watch the replay or maybe a third. How much you’ve interacted with that particular account before, the one that shared the reel. The particular reel features, for example, a certain audio track or the popularity of that audio track, and then finally of course, the account quality score again comes into Instagram for reels.

Video Overview

Understanding how the Instagram algorithms work is important, as it will allow you to get the most engagement and reach for your posts, simply by doing the things that the algorithms like. Once you understand the three key things that the algorithm favours, you’ll be able to create content across all the placements and see your engagement skyrocket!

In this video, we’ll take you through the algorithms for the Feed and Stories, as well as how to get onto the explore page and go viral on Reels.

Video Timestamps

To ensure you can refer back to the key topics in the future, we have provided a list of the topics below with their timestamp within the video (video timestamp: topic)

0.05: Course Recap

1.30: Instagram Algorithm: Feed and Stories

5.16: Feed and Stories: Factors That Influence Ranking

6.17: Relationship

7.07: Interest

7.42: Timeliness

8.20: 6 Other Factors That Influence Ranking

9.55: What It Means

13.28: Algorithm for Explore

14.59: Algorithm for Reels

Additional Resources

Can’t watch the video or just want to have the written copy on hand? Click on the link below to download the transcript.

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Instagram Marketing: Instagram Essentials and Content Creation

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