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How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work – And How Can You Leverage It for Your Business?

If your brand is active on Instagram, you probably already know how much the algorithm affects the performance of your posts. But how does the algorithm work? In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at Instagram’s algorithm, and give you tips on how to use this knowledge to get more engagement for your business.

Why does a certain story appear first in the story feed? How does a post make it to the Explore page? And which posts make it to the top of a user’s newsfeed, and why?

It’s Instagram’s algorithm which decides all of this! Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t fully disclose how the algorithm works. There are also regular tweaks and updates to the algorithm, so it can be hard for brands to keep up with the constant changes.

However, there are some things we do know about Instagram’s algorithm, and the company recently published some valuable insights into the mechanisms behind post rankings on Reels, the Explore page, and the feed.

In this guide, we’ll sum up everything we know about Instagram’s algorithm and show you how you can leverage this knowledge to improve the performance of your posts.

It’s not “the” algorithm—it’s multiple algorithms

When people talk about Instagram’s algorithm quietly working in the background, it sounds a bit like magic. However, the technology is less mysterious than you might think. Really, Instagram uses several algorithms and classifiers to rank posts.

The ranking is based on three main factors which we will explain in more detail later, but it is also based on personalization. This means that Instagram’s goal is to give every user the best possible experience on Instagram by showing them the posts that will probably interest them the most.

Originally, Instagram would show posts simply in chronological order. However, as Instagram explains it, with the increasing quantity of posts on the platform, by 2016, people were missing 70% of posts from people they were following, which is when Instagram started ranking posts based on users’ preferences.

Since then, the algorithms have been trying to establish what those preferences are. They do this based on several ranking factors, called “ranking signals.”

Instagram’s ranking signals

There are three main ranking signals that the algorithms on Instagram monitor in order to determine which posts will show up more prominently on a user’s feed: interactions, interest, and timeliness.

Interactions

Instagram looks at how “close” users are to other accounts. The algorithm determines closeness mainly by interaction. So, before Instagram decides to show your brand’s post to one of your followers, it will look at:

  • Following relationship: do you follow each other?
  • History: Did the user start following you after searching specifically for your company by name?
  • Proximity: Do you tag each other in posts?
  • Interest: Does the follower save your posts?

For your brand, this basically means that the more you interact with your followers, and in turn, the more they interact with you, the “closer” the relationship will be rated. So, posting engaging content and interacting with your followers is very important for increasing your reach.

Interest

When deciding which posts to show users, “interest” is another important ranking signal. Since Instagram wants users to spend as much time as possible on the app, the algorithm’s goal is to show people what they want to see. So, in order to establish what a user is interested in, Instagram tracks classifiers such as:

  • What type of content does the user engage with (videos, pictures, stories, etc.)?
  • What topics seem interesting to the user (sports, fashion, music)?
  • What type of brands and creators does the user follow?

So, how can you post content that matches your target audience’s interests and will appear more prominently in their feeds? By understanding your target audience! Take the time to find out what your audience is really interested in and what topics matter to them, and then post content that will really speak to them.

Timeliness

Aside from interaction and interest, timeliness is the third major ranking signal that determines the content that people see in their feeds. Timeliness means that Instagram thinks that the most recent posts are also the most relevant to users. So, newer posts will receive a higher ranking than older ones.

For your brand, this means that your content has the best chance of being seen if you post it when your target audience will be online.

There are a few other ranking signals such as how frequently users log into Instagram, how much time they spend on the app, and how many people they follow. However, as a brand, you have very little control over these factors, so we recommend focusing on the main three ranking signals.

While these three ranking signals will determine the organic reach of your brand’s content on Instagram overall, there are slight variations on how the algorithm works for different Instagram features.

Instagram’s algorithm for feed posts

When ranking feed posts, the algorithm puts the most emphasis on interactions and interest, and to a lesser extent, on timeliness.

These are the actions which are counted as interactions:

  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Reshares
  • Views (for videos)

You can actively work on getting your followers to interact with your posts by posting engaging content.

When it comes to interest, the following factors are important for ranking your feed posts:

  • Liking content
  • Direct messages
  • Searching for people
  • Knowing people in real life

Again, you can leverage this knowledge by reaching out to your followers through direct messages, or by posting content that will encourage them to send you a message or like your posts. Knowing people in real life is somewhat more difficult for a large brand. However, for small businesses, this is a great opportunity to reach out to people in your area and connect with them on Instagram.

Instagram’s algorithm on the Explore page

The Explore page algorithm and the feed algorithm are very similar, as they are both mostly based on trying to show users the most relevant content. The main difference is that the Explore page is made up almost entirely of content from accounts that a user is not following yet. So getting on the Explore page increases your brand’s chances of gaining new followers.

Our tip is to pick niche topics that could be relevant to your target audience and then post high-quality content. There is no guarantee that you will end up on a user’s Explore page, but posting interesting and relevant content will increase your chances.

There is also a tab where users can see the most recent posts, so make sure to post regularly in order to increase your chances of being seen on the Explore page.

Instagram’s algorithm for videos, Reels and IGTV

For videos, Reels, and IGTV, the most important ranking factor seems to be interactions. The algorithm pushes content from the accounts a user interacts with the most. So the more interesting your videos are, the more users will interact with them, and the higher your videos will rank in their feeds.

Additionally, Instagram has also been pushing video content by suggesting IGTV video content to users and including a Reels tab in the Explore page. So even if you normally don’t post a lot of video content, it’s worth giving it a try to see if it will increase your organic reach.

Instagram’s algorithm for Stories

As opposed to feed posts and video content, the story algorithm puts more emphasis on timeliness, since stories are designed for current and spontaneous content that will disappear after 24 hours. So, make sure that you post regularly and consistently, and ideally, when your target audience is online.

The stories that appear first in the story feed are usually the ones that a user engages with the most through:

  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Views
  • Reactions
  • Direct messages

As with most content on Instagram: Be sure to post content that is fun, engaging, and relevant to your target audience to increase your chances of being ranked higher in your followers’ feeds.

Four tips for leveraging Instagram’s algorithm for your brand

Understanding how the Instagram algorithm works can help you increase your organic reach and get more engagement for your brand. Based on what we know about the mechanisms of the algorithm, the following tips can be a good start to improve the performance of your posts.

1. Post Carousels

There is some indication that carousels are more engaging and reach more people than any other type of post. Also: since carousels include multiple frames, it means that users will spend more time viewing your posts or stories. So, carousels can boost engagement, increase interactions, and ultimately, improve your posts’ rankings on Instagram.

2. Try video content

Video content typically shows higher engagement and more interactions than still content. If you are looking to improve the performance of your posts by getting people more engaged, trying out video content can be a good start.

3. Work with influencers

In order to get the most out of Instagram’s algorithm and increase your organic reach, try collaborating with influencers. This allows your brand to increase its visibility and reach new users who, due to the ranking system of the algorithm, you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Working with influencers is a great hack to bypass the ranking signals and gain new followers.

4. Schedule your stories

As timeliness is an important ranking factor for stories, it is important to post your stories on Instagram at the same time when your target audience is active. The easiest way to do this is to schedule your stories. It will save you time, and it also means that you don’t have to post at odd or inconvenient times. Since there is no way to schedule your stories directly on the app, you can use online scheduling tools like Storrito.

With Storrito, you can upload images or videos to your profile, then use Storrito to edit them, and finally, schedule your stories to be posted at a certain time. It’s also possible to schedule multiple stories at once, which will save you even more time and can be a great help for time-sensitive campaigns. Scheduling your stories with Storrito is a great hack for the Instagram algorithm and can really improve the performance of your posts.

Try it out for free now!

Tobias ManrothAuthor image
Tobias Manroth
CMO at Storrito

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