Every social network on the planet wants one thing. Attention! While we have complicated words like AI and algorithms, what they all effectively do is allow different social networks to try and increase the time people spend on them. If social networks retain more user attention, that’s prime real estate to sell to advertisers.
Likes, reshares, and comments signal to the algorithm that a post is interesting and that others can also find it interesting. But that’s not the complete story.
Here are 5 factors that determine how the Instagram algorithm decides which posts feature on an individual’s feed.
Interest: With this, Instagram takes a bet on how high the odds are for you to care about a post. It rewards a post with higher ranking based on past engagement behavior on similar kinds of posts.
Recency: This displays content on your feed based on how recently the post was shared. The priority is for timely content.
Relationship: A third factor that judges the post’s relevance is the relationship the follower shares with the poster. You will find posts from a person with whom you interacted recently higher up in your feed. The interaction can be anything like liking their photos or commenting on them.
Following: The algorithm looks at your following. The people you follow and your followers also are taken into consideration while determining what you should see.
App Usage: The content you view on Instagram borrows heavily from the frequency of your app usage. If you scroll a lot, Instagram shows you new posts selected from after your last visit. If you don’t use the app much, the feed will contain a curated list of the best posts based on the above factors.
If you spend lots of time on Instagram you are going to likely see all the posts in the catalog for you. If you spend only a few minutes each day you get to see many more selected posts depending on your likes.
Of these factors, the bottom two aren’t under your control as an Instagram marketer and hence don’t warrant much discussion.
Here are more details on how the Instagram algorithm works and what you can to increase engagement…
The Instagram algorithm ranks posts based on user interest
To successfully increase engagement, the algorithm simply analyzes past behavior on similar content and sees if a post holds any potential to be interesting to an individual.
The better the engagement seen on past posts, the better a similar post’s chances of making it to the top of the feed. Put simply, according to the algorithm, if a particular kind of post did well earlier, the higher the chances of similar kinds of posts doing well.
Does that mean you need lots of likes and comments on your posts to make them successful? Not necessarily. The algorithm gives a heavy leeway to past interactions and not the total number of engagements. It’s an attempt at tailoring an individual’s news feed with content that he or she might potentially like. And that might mean pushing up more of the same kind of content they have engaged with before. This is a simple case of the algorithm learning to cater to individual tastes.
So what does this mean? To determine how interested someone is going to be with a post, the algorithm looks at:
- The profiles you follow (to understand content from which “kind” of profiles make the most sense to you)
- Hashtags you follow or have searched for in the past
- The stories you watch and how much of them you watch
- The content you engage with in terms of comments and likes
- The profiles you send DMs to
- Where you post comments
- The kind of ads you click on and the profiles you search on Instagram.
There could be even more tiny details baked into the algorithm. We can’t know for sure. The algorithm processes all these data points to ultimately tell which content would create the highest engagement.
How to make your posts interesting and creative?
Put a call to action in all your posts. A call to action gets you action takers. People are psychologically primed to think about questions. So include questions that ask people to drop comments.
Two, write good captions that drive engagement. Doing so betters the odds of the post getting noticed and raking up likes and comments. Engagement in the form of likes and comments is important when it comes to determining how well the post will rank.
Taco Bell nails it with lip-smacking photos, great captions, and descriptions.
You should post interesting content to Instagram that people are inclined to engage with. Look at social media trends and create interesting content off those trends.
The amount of content you post should depend on the level of success you’re hoping to find. Have an Instagram posting schedule and plan ahead.
The algorithm weighs in on your relationship with followers
Relationship scores are based on how frequently someone engages with the other person on Instagram. So to determine the strength of the relationships here’s what the algorithm studies:
- The frequency at which you access a particular profile
- If you DM each other frequently.
- If you save their posts
- If you watch the stories until the end.
- If you’re all tagging each other in posts.
Based on these factors the algorithm decides the strength of your relationship and prioritizes the posts on the feed.
Think about how you can encourage the highest possible levels of engagement on your posts. Think of what you can do to encourage people to like or drop comments. If you can encourage engagement from people, there’s a high likelihood they’re going to check back for more content. They may even click through your bio link to land on your site.
If you’re not seeing success for your posts on Instagram that’s because instead of building a relationship all you are trying and do is post pictures of your products. The goal shouldn’t be to try and sell to them, the first chance you get. Make it a point to analyze Instagram follower demographics, create personas, and interact with all followers of different demographics on a personal level.
To the end here’s what you can do.
- Upload and share behind the scenes content
Upload behind the scenes content to gain visibility and exposure for your brand. Get rid of corporate language and engage at a human level. When you think of Intel what comes to mind? I imagine people in black suits and ties. And I couldn’t be more wrong.
Intel grew its Instagram presence on the back of great photos. Most of these photos are behind-the-scenes content that helps people develop a connection with the brand.
By posting such pictures, Intel projects itself as more than a hardware brand.
You can also post images of your products. But do it in a clever way, like Warby Parker.
In this post below, they talk about one of their products called the Nesso Series frames by showing a picture of a mini-celebrity, the editor of Bon Appetite Magazine wearing the frames.
And always make it a point to reply to all the comments on your feed. You should also answer your DMs and engage with other users’ posts with likes and comments.
- Post consistently
Posting consistently to Instagram is key to building a great relationship with your followers.
Another thing to note is to post quality content.
It’s only natural that people are going to be more engaged by high-quality photos rather than low-quality photos. They rank higher on followers’ feeds. It’s a key element that makes your posts tick.
According to 2ndKitchen, “Develop an aesthetic to your Instagram that makes it consistent across your posts. This will create a sense of stability and followers will know what to expect from your feed, creating brand advocates and awareness along the way”
Fitness brand Onnit with its 224k followers posts just once a day. Their feed is full of high-quality snaps and videos.
When your posts are consistently good you will improve the engagement you generate on the channel. When followers or customers are happy, Instagram knows that. It signals to the algorithm that yours is a quality account. With increased frequency and consistency more and more followers see the content and are willing to engage with what you’re posting. Consistency gives a boost to your lead generation efforts while also boosting loyalty.
Ultimately how often you post also derives from your business goals and the time you can dedicate for Instagram. If you were posting several times before and lower down the frequency, you generate less engagement.
The best frequency is what you can maintain throughout the life of your Instagram account.
If you don’t think you can post that much content, rope in followers to post UGC (user generated content). By asking followers to share content, you increase the trust associated with your brand while also improving your relationship with them.
Free People has 3.6 million followers. They post lots of content, several times a day, most of it coming from their own Instagram followers.
In addition to UGC, you can also share stories of your customers just the way Taco Bell does it.
The Instagram algorithm factors in timeliness
To that end find out when your audience is most active.
To make use of this particular factor, post when your audience is online. Schedule your Instagram posts at the best times only.
It’s a great way to reach your audience when they’re most receptive. Think of it this way. You’re not going to generate any engagement when most of your audience is asleep. Isn’t it better to post at active times?
The brand’s demographic makeup and niche play a big role in determining when the audience is most active. They show you when your audience members are most engaged. You see active times boiled down to the day and hour when they’re most active.
Scroll down to discover on which days your followers are most likely to be online. As you spend time analyzing these graphs you see patterns emerging. This gives you your window of opportunity on when to post content.
This way you arrive at a posting schedule that will maximize engagement.
What not to do on Instagram?
Generate fake interactions
They aren’t worth the trouble
It’s easy to pump up likes and the number of comments on your posts with Instagram bots. But Instagram is smart. It is most likely to ignore the interaction that emerges from such activity. Such interactions always leave a pattern that is easy for the AI to recognize and eliminate when it comes to ranking content on the feed.
Authentic and transparent engagement is your only way to up the odds of ranking high.
The first 30 minutes don’t make or break post ranking
Another myth to abandon is to believe your posts start flying high if they net engagement 30 minutes after posting the content.
The first half-hour isn’t the most important time in the life of your post.
Posts that tend to generate a lot of engagement in the first 30 minutes don’t get prioritized. That means your followers and others will still see the content even after a good deal of time after 30 minutes.
It will still gain traction. Don’t be blindsided by myths like this.
Concluding thoughts on the Instagram algorithm
Instagram has a built-in analytics module that lets you see what’s working on your account. Track and monitor how the content is performing. This yields a good understanding of what’s working and what isn’t.
Don’t nitpick into individual posts. Rather look at the overarching trends.
Finally, add hashtags to your Instagram posts to reach more people. With those additional people, you stand to get more views for your posts. Whether it be SaaS marketing, b2b or b2c, relevant hashtags will get you before the right people.
The more the views a post generates the higher it goes up in ranking. You will reach more people relevant to your business.
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About George Mathew
George is a writer and blogger at Kamayobloggers, a site he started to share cutting-edge marketing advice online.