Social media platforms' algorithms are the pain points of marketers all over the world. They change all the time, they are unpredictable, and we are dangerously dependent on them. Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid learning how the algorithms work, regularly update your knowledge, and adjust your content to the newest fashion. Simply "producing awesome content", as Google constantly tells us, is usually not enough. No matter how good your ideas are, they are no use if no one sees them. So here's how Instagram's algo works in 2019.
Wait. There is a couple of things you should realize before we dive into technicalities.
- Instagram is a platform made for advertising. It's not there to connect its users to their friends, crushes, and forgotten classmates. It's for the company (Facebook) to make money. This means that just like Facebook, it will continue to become harder to reach Instagram's users without paying for ads.
- Instagram is not going back to the chronological order of the posts - for the reasons described above. The company will keep using machine learning to assess users' past behaviors and create a unique feed for each user.
- Despite the rumors, Instagram doesn't hide any posts from the users' feeds. Each user will see everything if they just keep scrolling.
- Right now Instagram doesn't favor personal accounts or business accounts.
- Shadowbanning isn't a real thing: Instagram doesn't hide content for including too many hashtags or taking other similar actions.
Now to what the algo takes into account. There are three main factors:
Instagram's goal is to raise the user's engagement. The more they like, share, and comment, the more time they spend using the platform, the more ads they'll see, the more money Instagram makes. So Instagram does its best to predict how much the user will engage with each new post using machine learning and the user's past behavior, and shows each one what they are most likely to engage with. What exactly they use to determine the level of engagement is not 100% clear, but we know that, first, it's the user's engagement with the similar content, and, second, potentially, machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post.
Even though the order of the posts in the feed isn't chronological anymore, the time the post was shared is still very important: recent posts are prioritized over the weeks-old ones.
This might be the most obvious one. Just like with Facebook's "prioritize your friends and family" motto, Instagram tries to figure out how close you are with the people you follow. It, therefore, gives priority to people you've interacted with a lot previously (liked, shared, and commented on their posts) as well as people you've been tagged with in photos.
Besides interest, timeliness, and relationship, there are additional factors that also play a role.
This is not how often you post; it's how often the user opens the app. The more often the user opens Instagram, the more chronological the order of the posts will be.
Logically, if the user follows a lot of people, they will see fewer posts from the specific person. And, the more people the user is following, the pickier the algorithm gets.
Instagram's algo also takes into account how the user spends time on Instagram. Is it the person that logs in, sees the freshest five posts and leaves or is it someone that scrolls the feed for a long period of time? In the first case, Instagram is more likely to show the most relevant content, in the second - the freshest content.
Now all of this is great, but what are our options as marketers? How to make sure the users engage and the algo deems the content as relevant and interesting?
1. Measure engagement
It's always important to first measure what's already working, improve what's good already, and get rid of what's not. Once you've been on Instagram for a while, posted frequently, and got enough data to analyze, go to Posts engagement in your Instagram Insights page and try to find patterns of which content performs best. Once you know what type of posts perform best (the type of content as well as its voice and its form), keep producing this one and making it better.
2. Test new content
As good as your usual content is, your users will eventually get bored of the same type and the same form. Besides, even if something works well already, it doesn't mean something else can't work even better. Experiment and see what your followers and Instagram algo robots have to say.
3. Post at the right times
Despite the plethora of research on the perfect times to post, there's no real way around testing what works for you and your brand. Your timing will depend on your time zones and the time zones of your target audience, on the age group of your followers, and on the type of content you post.
4. Focus on Stories
Instagram claims Stories don't have any influence on its algorithm. However, it's not a bad thing: Stories live separately from Instagram. They are the most popular type of content on the platform. Stories are special: they provide a sense of urgency and they appear on top of the Instagram feed, which makes them more noticeable and more appealing. Besides, they provide an authentic and speedy way to engage with followers. Basically, Stories are a must.
5. Make videos
It's stated nowhere that the algo prioritizes videos over photos. However, everything Instagram and Facebook have been doing over the years hints that they value video engagement more than any other. Perhaps, because it's simply longer: you spend more time watching a video than you do looking at a photo. Instagram has done a lot lately to promote IGTV. IGTV became horizontal, and it will now appear on the followers' feeds. It seems that Instagram wants to do even more with video. So it's not unlikely that they also favor video content (or will favor video content) without telling us.
6. Go live
Again, live content is what's been booming lately on both Instagram and Facebook. It's the quickest way to reach your audience, it's authentic and engaging by its nature. It's also something that your followers are very likely to see despite Live videos having no effect on the algorithm. Your followers get notifications when you're going live, and you go on top of the followers' feed straight away. Something to be aware of!
7. Post frequently
Instagram doesn't downrank for frequent content, so you can only win if you post often. You'll have more chance the algo finds your content relevant and timely and shows it to the followers quicker.
That's it, folks! Now you're equipped enough to go out there and do your best to reach your followers organically. Also, keep in mind that Awario monitors Instagram and will help you reach the target audience that's not following you yet :) Let me know if you have any other tips and tricks in the comments!