Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the infamous Instagram algorithm and how it wreaks havoc on Instagram accounts far and wide. But how important is the Instagram algorithm, really? It’s easy to blame the algorithm when things aren’t going your way on Instagram.
The truth is that Instagram is constantly updating and refining its algorithm to create a better user experience. While you won’t even notice most algorithm updates on Instagram, you should still be following best practices on Instagram to increase your engagement and followers.
How the Instagram algorithm works in 2020
First off, what is an algorithm, anyway? That word seems to be thrown around a lot in the world of social media, but what exactly does it mean? In simplest terms, an algorithm is a mathematical formula. Instagram uses an algorithm to determine what posts, Stories, Reels, and videos to show users and when to show them. While the algorithm itself is a well-guarded secret, Instagram has unveiled the key factors that they consider when deciding what to post and when.
The Instagram feed algorithm and its criteria
According to Instagram, the following factors are important considerations when prioritizing posts on the Instagram feed:
- Past interactions and engagement: The more often a user likes, comments, and interacts with certain kinds of posts, the more likely it is that they will see similar content. That means the more your post is liked, shared, and commented on, the more likely it will be shown to a wider audience.
- Relationships: Instagram prioritizes posts from users that you interact with on a regular basis. That’s because they want your feed to include plenty of posts from people you care about.
- Timeliness: Instagram is more likely to show users posts that receive a lot of engagement soon after being posted. This helps keep the Instagram feed fresh.
- User frequency: An Instagram user’s feed will look different depending on how often they open the app. Someone who visits once a day will see the most popular posts they’ve missed since their last visit. Someone who opens Instagram multiple times a day, however, is more likely to see posts in chronological order. By the same token, Instagram will show the most popular posts to someone who only spends a few minutes on the app at a time.
The Instagram Story algorithm
The Stories you see at the top of your home screen are those of the accounts you interact with most often. Accounts that you build a relationship with are deemed more important and are therefore shown first. If you tap on your Instagram Story to see who has viewed it, the profiles that appear at the top of the list are those you interact with the most.
Was there an Instagram algorithm change in 2020?
While the Instagram team’s lips are sealed on the subject, it’s widely known that the Instagram algorithm is always changing. Instagram collects a huge amount of data daily. This information is used to fine-tune the algorithm to deliver a uniquely personalized feed to every user. While it might seem impossible to use such a system to your advantage, Instagram has always prioritized authentic content that sees lots of engagement, and will continue to do so.
How to get the Instagram algorithm to show your posts and Stories
So, can you “trick” the Instagram algorithm to show your posts and Stories to more people? Not exactly. Instead, the following tips can help you take advantage of Instagram’s algorithm to increase your engagement and followers. The following tips aren’t shortcuts, but they will help get your posts and Stories in front of more people.
Post when your followers are active on Instagram
The Instagram algorithm rewards posts that are popular during the first hour of being posted by showing those posts to even more people. Instagram’s goal is to show people what they want to see. So if you have a post that is popular with your most loyal fans, then the assumption is that others will like it too. Take advantage of this by posting when the people who follow you are most active on Instagram. How can you tell when your followers are most active? Head to Insights > Total Followers and scroll down to Most Active Times. This is when you should be posting to your Instagram feed.
Engage with your audience
Once you’ve posted your photo, video, or carousel to your Instagram feed, it’s time to immediately start engaging with your followers and with the people you follow. It’s important to do it right away because timeliness matters, and your engagement is most likely to be reciprocated if you jump on it as soon as you post. The key is to leave meaningful comments that will start conversations. Take the time to respond to every comment on your post, and be sure to return the favor by liking and commenting on the accounts that give you the most engagement. Not only will this please the Instagram gods, but it’s a great way to make friends!
Follow and engage with hashtags
Did you know you can follow hashtags that you use regularly? This is a great way to engage with like-minded Instagrammers, find new people to follow, and develop new relationships. Follow the hashtags you use the most, and make it a habit of scrolling through and engaging with top accounts that use them. Here’s how to follow your favorite hashtags:
- Open Instagram and tap the magnifying glass at the bottom of the screen.
- Tap Tags and search for a hashtag that you regularly use on your posts.
- Select Follow. Posts that use that hashtag will now show up in your feed.
Add Alt Text to your posts
The Alt Text of an Instagram post is a text description for people with visual impairments. If you don’t include an Alt Text with your photo, Instagram will automatically create one based on what it thinks is the subject of your photo. A typical Instagram-generated Alt Text will say something like “may contain tree, grass, dog, and person.” Creating a more specific Alt Text will not only make your post more accessible but will help Instagram better understand what your post is about. It does not conclusively increase engagement on posts, but it doesn’t hurt your chances. Here’s how to add a custom Alt Text to your post:
- Create a post to add to Instagram and add your filters, captions, hashtags, etc.
- Before posting, tap Advanced Settings.
- Scroll to the bottom of the screen and tap Write Alt Text.
- Create a custom Alt Text that describes your photo.
- Tap Done.
Post Reels and IGTV videos
Instagram wants people to spend time as much time as possible on the app, which is why they’ve created several ways for users to post videos. Stories came first, but don’t forget about IGTV or — the new kid on the block — Instagram Reels. The more you use all of these features, the more likely your posts will show up on Instagram’s Explore page, and the more people will see your posts.
IGTV and Reels both have a permanent place on your feed in separate tabs that can be viewed from your profile. Use IGTV for long-form videos between 1 minute and 15 minutes long (60 minutes when uploading from the web). Reels, on the other hand, are quick 15-second videos that are usually set to music. Using both — along with Stories, of course — is the best way to increase your engagement on Instagram.
Post Stories daily
Engaging with accounts on Instagram includes using all of the tools available to you: Reels, IGTV, and Stories. The more Stories you post, the more likely that your account will show up on your followers’ screens. Try to commit to at least one Story every day. If you can do more, even better! Use your Story Insights to find out what’s resonating with your community, and post similar content to your best-performing Stories.
Interact with your community on Stories
If more accounts interact with your Stories, Instagram is more likely to make your Stories visible to a wider audience. So, how do you get people to interact with your Stories? Simple — post Stories that ask for a response, such as questions, polls, and quizzes. Asking for simple engagement, like yes/no questions, will generate the most responses, but don’t be afraid to occasionally ask for longer responses. This is a great way to build community within Instagram.
Ready to take advantage of Instagram’s algorithm to give your account a boost? Our tips will help you get your photos seen so you can grow your following and find your Instagram family. And for more Instagram knowledge, check out this guide to Instagram giveaways we published earlier.