Understanding and Beating the New Instagram Algorithm

June 8, 2017 | By: Adnan Muhammad | 4 min read

girl viewing Instagram algorithmWe’ve all come to know and love Instagram. Known as a safe place to capture, edit, and share your favorite memories, this platform has always been at the top of our list. But, behind a curtain of selfies, pups, and curated content is an Instagram algorithm we are not fond of. Instagram’s top dogs have figured out a way to tell us what we want to see, or so they think.

Why should we be told what we want to see when the “follow” button exists? Below we delve into the dirty details of this update and give you some tips on how to work around the new algorithm. We’ll also break down exactly how it works. Let’s begin.

Instagram algorithm change

According to Buffer Social, there are seven key factors that make up the Instagram algorithm:

  • Engagement
  • Relevancy
  • Relationships
  • Timeliness
  • Profile Searches
  • Direct Shares
  • Time Spent

Step one is self-explanatory. People like your photo? People comment on your photo? To the top of your followers’ feeds it goes. Before engagement was considered to be an important factor of the Instagram feed, what you saw was exactly what you wanted to see in chronological order.

If you’ve been on Instagram lately, you’ve likely experienced the annoyance of seeing a 16-hour-old photo that you’ve already liked. This is directly related to step number one - you’ve engaged with the photo or this user's photos in the past, therefore it shoots to the most important spot there is.

Let’s explore the next - relevancy. Now, let’s get one thing straight here. I absolutely believe that the excessive amount of frenchie photos on my feed are considered to be “relevant,” but that doesn’t mean I care about those photos more than my favorite celebrity or brand (sorry, puppies). The issue with relevancy being factored into the algorithm is it’s not always going to be accurate. As a brand, it’s important to trust that the content you tailor and create around a specific audience will, in fact, reach that audience. With Instagram deciding what’s relevant versus what isn’t, it’s tough to feel confident in your page.

In addition to finding the most relevant accounts for your feed, Instagram will also evaluate your “relationships.” In a nutshell, Instagram wants to predict your top 8 (anyone remember MySpace?). Whoever Instagram believes your best friends to be will appear as important posts. If you’re a marketing team trying to build a community around your brand’s Instagram, this can be frustrating, as you’re competing with friends, family and, oh yeah, an abundance of cute puppies.

Timeliness is listed as a key factor in the algorithm, but it seems hard to believe when you open the app and the first photo you may see was posted 24 hours ago. Though there are multiple factors to this so-called refresh, the sentiment behind this change is negative. According to Instagram, timeliness means that “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.” Essentially, Instagram is trying to populate the images it thinks you want to see. For brands, this could be tough, considering most businesses are calculated in the timing of their posts.

Next is profile searches. When Instagram is attempting to rank images in your feed, it takes profile searches into account. This part isn’t so terrible. After all, if you’re frequently searching the same page, you would hope that the page for that person or business would pop up on your popular feed. The only negative to this? Once you’ve finished seeing that content, it’s difficult to make it disappear.

Now we’ll move on to direct shares. Direct shares are classified as sharing posts on your feed from other users. This is another signal to Instagram that you’re interested in the content that this page is posting. In addition to serving up the content that this person posts, Instagram will also take into account who you’re sharing this content with.

Lastly, we’ll consider time spent visiting Instagram content. Think about Facebook videos - have you ever seen a video, watched it for five seconds, and then scrolled past it to find something you care about more? This is essentially how the Instagram algorithm works in regards to time spent viewing content. If you’re interested in an Instagram video or boomerang, you’ll likely watch it or interact with it. If you aren’t, you’ll move forward onto something you do care about. Instagram takes this into account when populating photos and videos onto your feed.

If these factors have you annoyed as a brand or individual user, we understand your pain. This algorithm is incredibly confusing and takes into account several different aspects of the platform and the content produced on the platform. It’s a pain, it’s frustrating, and it makes us miss the old Instagram.

How to beat the algorithm and get more engagement on Instagram

Now for the tips to help you beat the dreaded Instagram algorithm. First, think of your posts as a runner in a race. The first few seconds of the race are crucial to the success of the runner. Right out of the gate, you should pay attention to the minute details of your post in order to serve your content up to the right people. Try hashtagging relevant hashtags below your posts. We’ve seen other brands use this successfully. Here’s a guide if you’re having trouble.

Another way to beat the Instagram algorithm is to consider using a call-to-action in the majority of your posts. If you can drive traffic to your website or alternative platforms, this will greatly help how your content performs. Try to tell a story when posting to Instagram. Content that is colorful, attention-grabbing, and makes a personal connection with its audience tends to surpass its competitors. If you’re looking for an example of this, REI’s Instagram account is stellar.

At the end of the day, content that doesn’t resonate with your audience will not be found on Instagram. Crazy complicated algorithm aside, it’s important to understand who you’re trying to reach. Once you have a grasp of that, then you’ll be in the clear to focus on how to better serve your content. Happy gramming!

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