Instagram’s algorithm changes are affecting everyone using the platform, especially brands. We’ve collected information on all the latest social media ranking factors. The tips you’ll find in this article are based on hard data or what Instagram itself has said about the algorithm and how it works.
How Instagram algorithm works in 2021
Instagram’s algorithm decides what content is shown. Every time a person opens the app, the algorithm instantly looks at all available content and decides:
- Which posts appear at the top of the news feed, and in what order.
- What messages are presented on the “Overview” tab.
- In what order the stories, live videos, videos and IGTV videos are displayed, in the feed and on the corresponding tabs, and more.
Instagram’s algorithm is a set of rules that control the organic reach of your content. And he is often criticized for this, because many are asking to return the display of posts in chronological order. However, Instagram claims that before the implementation of the algorithm in 2016, people missed 70% of brand messages and 50% of their friends’ messages.
But how does the algorithm decide whether to show a piece of content to a specific person at some point in time?
It looks at the user’s past behavior, looks at all available posts or pieces of content, and then evaluates each one to predict how interesting that user is. The most interesting content goes to the top.
To do this, the social network looks at thousands of individual data points, which are also known as ranking signals. In 2018, Instagram invited a bunch of tech journalists to their offices to explain how it works.
Instagram algorithm ranking signals
The ranking signals of the Instagram algorithm fall into three main categories:
1. Relationship with content. The algorithm assumes that people who have interacted with your account in the past will be interested in your new content. So when he decides whether to show a post to one of your followers, he evaluates his relationship with your content and your relationship with his profile:
- Are you subscribed to each other?
- Did the user search for you by name?
- Do you text each other or leave comments?
- Do you tag each other in your posts?
- Does the user save your posts?
If you have a brand account, you are probably not really best friends with your thousands of followers. But if you have an audience that loyally and consistently engages with your content, the algorithm will recognize that. In other words, rest assured that engaging with your followers is really helping to increase your organic reach.
2. Timeliness of publications. Instagram’s algorithm also assumes that the most recent posts are most important to people. While Instagram insists that all posts appear in a user’s feed at some point, new posts often rank higher in their news feed than older posts.
For brands, this means that one of the easiest ways to expand your Instagram reach is by posting while your audience is online.
3. Interest. The task of the algorithm is to give people what they want. By tracking user interests and understanding very well what is in a given photo or video, Instagram knows how to deliver basketball videos with highlights to basketball fans, astrological memes for millennials, and more.
For brands, a people-centered system means that your organic content needs to really engage your target audience in order for the algorithm to show it to them.
Other ranking signals. Instagram also mentioned two other factors that will affect your organic reach, but they have more to do with your audience’s behavior than yours:
- Frequency of use: if you have followers who open their feed 12 times a day, they are more likely to see your post than people who check Instagram twice a day. People who don’t open the app often end up with accumulated content and therefore rely more on an algorithm to choose what they see. People who follow 1000 accounts miss more messages than those who follow 100 accounts.
- Session time: If your followers spend a lot of time on their feed, they are also more likely to see every post available.
What does this mean for brands? Nothing fancy, except that the ideal Instagram follower faithfully reads his entire feed several times a day and doesn’t subscribe to so many accounts. But we will not urge subscribers to unsubscribe from other accounts!
We wrote about how to overcome the decline in coverage on Instagram in our other article.
8 tips for working with the Instagram algorithm in 2021
Publish carousels. While Instagram’s algorithm does not explicitly prioritize carousels, posts that get more attention are rewarded with wider reach. Carousel posts make up 17% of feed posts, and according to Hootsuite research, they get 3x more engagement and 1.4x more engagement than other post types. They are great for exploring a product in more detail, or for shooting the same topic from different angles.
Post constantly. This is key, whether you need reach, engagement, or follower growth. On average, companies post 1.56 messages per day on their feed. Instagram has never definitively stated that the algorithm takes into account your account’s post frequency when it decides how to rank your posts. However, a constant presence is the best way to forge a real connection with your followers.
Don’t try to cheat the system. Instagram automation doesn’t work. Do not try to use gray promotion schemes – they can lead to a ban.
Ignore myths. If you violate the Instagram community guidelines, your account may be deactivated. Contributor profiles, business accounts, and verified accounts do not receive support from the algorithm, although they do have their own benefits (like analytics). Instagram said that using other features of the app, such as Stories and Live, will not improve the ranking of your feed posts – but, they said it in 2018, before Reels and IGTV started to appear in the feed.
Better use hashtags. In fact, hashtags predate most acquisition algorithms: they appeared in 2007, when people had to sort information on their own. AI now sorts social content in much more sophisticated ways, but using the right hashtags in your posts can help people discover you, even if they don’t follow you.
Accurate and thoughtful hashtags signal people and the algorithm about what’s in your post and who might be interested in it. Plus, unlike Instagram ads (another way to expand your reach beyond your existing audience), hashtags are free.
To use hashtags correctly, don’t just put everything. Instead, dig into your niche, do your research, and use hashtags that actually describe what your post is about.
Post messages when your audience is online. This tip is the easiest to implement on this list. People spend an average of 30 minutes a day on Instagram, and Instagram wants to provide them with the latest relevant content.
To find the best time to post on Instagram, you need to look at your audience’s behavior, look at industry benchmarks, and also keep in mind when people are usually on Instagram.
Keep in touch with your audience. Whatever your Instagram KPIs – engagement, conversions, emails, follower count – success only comes when you touch the hearts and minds of your audience.
The overall rate of “good” engagement on Instagram is from 1 to 5%. But the average Instagram engagement rate for business accounts through 2020 was 0.85%. If you are looking to improve your own engagement rate, here are some tips:
- Define your audience and their interests
- Respond to comments and private messages
- Create timeless stories where you can share the messages you are tagged in.
Automate analytic reports. A good Instagram analytics tool (like Hootsuite and others) will go beyond vanity metrics and help you focus on your audience and determine what content they will come back for.
No matter how busy you are, getting automated analytics reports will help you with pretty much all of the tips above. For example, if you take the time once a month to look at the numbers and see what works in terms of content, posting times and hashtags, you’ll save a lot of wasted effort.
Use the Instagram analytics tool to find out:
- when your audience is online (you can schedule your posts to this window)
- what hashtags work well
- what posts bring real interest
Analytics automation provides your brand with insights on everything from audience sentiment analysis to campaign clicks and response times for your support team.