It is common for social media marketers to find themselves needing clarification on why suddenly their Instagram posts aren't generating high engagement. Even after spending hours researching the latest relevant trend or curating a post similar to those that have led to high engagement previously. As a result, marketers must keep up with the ever-shifting Instagram algorithms to maximize their content, regardless of how challenging it can seem. However, once understood and applied, it can help marketers optimize the effectiveness of their content.
Throughout the following guide, we will answer all your questions regarding how to figure out your Instagram algorithm and set yourself up for success when planning your Instagram strategy.
Once users open the Instagram app, the algorithm determines what content would serve them best. Using your post's metadata, which includes hashtags, alt text, caption, etc., the algorithm decides where it appears, its order, and who sees it. You may have wondered why this is necessary.
Put simply, in today's era of social entertainment, where audiences value being entertained, and platforms like Instagram are competing for their attention, the algorithm's primary objective is to make sure users get the most out of their experience by tailoring their journey so that they remain on the app and keep scrolling for a more extended period.
Ultimately, the Instagram algorithm combines information about your content with users' behavior and preferences to provide the right content to the right people. Hacking this is imperative for brands today since knowing how the algorithm works will help you modify your content accordingly and lead to higher engagement.
The algorithm considers three main factors when ranking your content. A first consideration is the relationship between the creator and the viewer, leading the algorithm to determine how often they have interacted and the depth of their connection. For brands, this is especially valuable because forming partnerships with creators who have a trusted and authentic relationship with their audiences will naturally work with the algorithm and increase brand awareness. It also emphasizes the importance of building an engaged social media community.
Second, the Instagram algorithm learns what users are most interested in over time by monitoring the content they search for and interact with. Thus, they receive more similar content and are motivated to stay on the app longer.
Lastly, Instagram determines the relevance of every piece of content based on its correlation with trending topics and timeliness, considering that recent posts are deemed more relevant than older ones. In the world of brands, this means keeping a pulse on current trends and acting fast when necessary.
In light of understanding how the algorithm works and the factors taken into account when ranking content, let's examine how it works explicitly for different content formats on Instagram.
Recently, the algorithm for feed posts has changed a lot to focus mainly on interests rather than when it was posted. When it comes to determining how the algorithm ranks your feed content, consider the following factors:
Remember how we said the algorithm considers how well your content aligns with trends? There is really no doubt that this is important as it will take it into account along with its likes, when it was published, and how long it is (if it's a video). These factors will help it determine its relevance.
Once again, the relationship between the user and creator determines how your content ranks. A creator's engagement factor and overall value to the user are measured along with how much interaction they received in the past.
Content will also be ranked based on the user's information, preferences, interaction patterns, and search history.
With Instagram Reels, users don't just see content from the people they follow but from a much broader pool of creators. The algorithm will consider the types of content they find most entertaining and provide them with more of that. To do this, it evaluates three factors:
For Instagram to understand what is relevant to a user, it analyzes Reels they've recently liked, commented on, and engaged with.
Instagram checks if they have historically engaged with the Reels of specific brands and creators, even if they don’t follow them. If users like, comment, share or watch the reel repeatedly, they will likely see those content authors again.
By analyzing the sound used on a Reel to determine its correlation with a trend and considering if the creator has many Reels going viral, Instagram will know users like their content and serve more of it to them.
To fully grasp how your brand can take advantage of this content format, you must first understand how to leverage Instagram Reels for your business. Having your strategy synchronized with your content output will ensure you create Reels that please your algorithms while aligning with your broader marketing and business goals.
Instagram Stories are a great way to engage with users, especially since most prefer swiping through Stories instead of scrolling through their feeds. Instagram's story algorithm ensures that users see the latest Stories from the accounts they engage with the most through likes, comments, shares, and saves.
Stories have a 24-hour lifespan, so timeliness is less important. Consistency and sharing regularly are therefore more critical—especially Stories encouraging interaction, such as questions, quizzes, and polls. More than anything else, marketers need to keep their eyes on their Instagram Story insights to determine what is working and what needs to be changed to stay ahead of the competition.
Similar to how the Instagram algorithm works for feed posts, the Explore page values content that seems interesting and relevant to users. But there is a twist. The content on the Explore Page is almost entirely made up of content from accounts that the users do not follow—thus presenting a fantastic opportunity for brands to capture the attention of new audiences. And as of recently, viewers can use the search bar to enter keywords and find specific content.
To get content on users' Explore Pages, brands must consistently post engaging content with compelling captions and specific hashtags, thinking like their users to understand what they would search for.
Even though the algorithm can be hard to keep up with, its ultimate goal is to provide users with better content and a more personalized experience. As a result, the Instagram algorithm changes regularly, so below is a breakdown of this year's most impactful updates.
Following or Favorites Feed allows users to look at their feeds chronologically, as well as accounts that users have selected as favorites. What this means is that there are three ways that people can view the order of their feed.
The default setting for most users means that ranked and personalized content is displayed in the feed.
The favored chronological feed that many users prefer, in which posts from people you follow appear in the order they were posted.
Also in chronological order, personalized by you, and featuring content from up to 50 of your favorite accounts.
Additionally, Instagram now suggests content from non-followed accounts in its home feed. Brands should take note that this favors Instagram Reels in particular, so read on to discover what you can do to make your Reels strategy more robust.
Instagram prioritizes original content from the original creator, not content reposted by other accounts. For brands, this simply means creating fresh, timely, authentic content that is in line with its brand voice and speaks to its audience's preferences. Ensure you have access to the right insights to help you better understand how your audience interacts with your content and double down on what works.
Throughout this article, we've discussed the algorithm's intricacies, how it works, and what's changed this year. It's time to help brands understand how they can truly hack the algorithm and boost their Instagram strategies.
As mentioned before, Reels are a preferred form of content for the Instagram algorithm, meaning that prioritizing it as a content format is favorable, as it can help bring in new audiences.
However, there are more benefits to creating Reels aside from pleasing the algorithm. Since audiences use social media to be entertained and short-form videos are their preferred content format, Reels offer a unique opportunity to capture their attention and demonstrate your brand's personality in a creative, digestible way.
Following on from the point that audiences want to be entertained, Instagram offers a variety of engagement and interaction tools. As an example, Stories include features like stickers, polls, Q&As, etc., which not only boost your story's engagement (making them rank higher in the algorithm) but also help you gain a deeper understanding of your audience, so you can create content that resonates with them more frequently and effectively.
Use hashtags and keywords in your posts so that Instagram's algorithm can categorize and distribute them more easily. The best hashtags will showcase your brand to relevant audiences, and by doing so, your chances of gaining more followers and engagement will be greater.
Creators offer an excellent opportunity to appease the algorithm while you’re still figuring out your original content output. With engaged audiences and specialized expertise, influencers and creators can help sift through the noise and reach new audiences in a flash. Make sure you work with influencers who are not only relevant to your audience but also align with your brand.
Dash Hudson’s Relationships feature will allow you to track creator activity, comparing and contrasting the ROI of different influencers. It ultimately saves you time and helps you determine which partnerships are worth nurturing and which might require reconsideration.
If marketers take away anything from this article, it's that hacking Instagram's algorithm is achievable with the right mindset to create content that truly engages audiences. And Dash Hudson’s AI-powered Instagram insights are designed to help you showcase the best-performing content that will resonate with your audience, as well as refine and evolve your strategy based on actionable analytics.
It is important to keep in mind that the Instagram algorithm takes a variety of factors into account when deciding how to rank your content. Most importantly, the relationship between the creator and the viewer, interactions with other users, as well as content relevance when it comes to trends and timeliness.
Your Instagram content can be aligned with the algorithm to ensure maximum exposure and success. Think about keeping your finger on the pulse for trends, creating original and authentic content that resonates with your audience, prioritizing Reels, and using hashtags and keywords.
A key objective of the Instagram algorithm is to ensure users get the most out of their experience by tailoring the journey so they remain on the app and scroll for an extended period of time. This is particularly important in today's era of social entertainment, where audiences value being entertained, and platforms like Instagram compete for their attention.
In general, creators experience higher engagement in the mornings and evenings, meaning the best time to post is between 9 PM and 4 AM.