How Instagram’s algorithm works in 2022: a social media marketer’s guide
In this article, we explain how the Instagram algorithm works in 2022 to give you pointers on how to raise your engagement and following by playing by the platform's rules.
12 minutes read
- Essential things to know about the Instagram algorithm in 2022
- How does the Instagram algorithm works?
- Interest: what content you want to see
- Timeliness: when you the post
- Relationship: how you interact
- Usage: how you use the app
- Originality: is the content new
- 12 DOs and DON'Ts of the Instagram algorithm
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. You need to 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.
That's why you need to know how exactly the Instagram algorithm works in 2022.
However, before we dive into technicalities, there is a couple of things you should realize.
Essential things to know about the Instagram algorithm in 2022
- 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 (Meta) to make money. This means that just like Facebook, it will continue to become harder to reach Instagram's users without paying for ads.
- 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. However, there are certain indicators (hashtags and visuals) that can make your content restricted.
- With the recent updates, your profile got more chances to reach people who don't follow you. You can do it in three ways: through the Explore tab, through Reels and through appearing on their main feed.
- Instagram offers two additional modes to watch your feed: Following and Favourites. Following allows you to scroll your feed in chronological order, while Favourites is essentially a similar feature the to "Close Friends" list for stories, which lets you create a feed of posts for accounts you prioritize.
Now that we are settled on the main principles, let's discuss what exactly Instagram takes into account when it decides where to place your posts on your followers' screen.
How does the Instagram algorithm works?
Instagram highlights four main concepts they rely on in their work on the algorithm: Interest, Relationships, Originality, Usage, and Timeliness. Let's break down these concepts one by one and see how they affect the user's feed, Reels, and Stories.
Instagram's goal is to raise user 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.
The platform evaluates users' interests based on the content they interact with: the more cooking content they follow and engage with, the more posts about cooking they will see.
From publishers' perspective, it means that to reach their target audience, they need to clearly indicate what their content is about. Here's how you can do it:
- Post high-quality pictures and videos. Instagram's machine learning is able to predict what the post is about from the visual component alone.
- Add hashtags. Hashtags are still considered important for the algorithm (even though they are not the only indicator).
- Use keywords. Instagram SEO is a reality - the algorithm considers keywords you use in the post to determine its audience, so make sure you pay attention to the phrases you use.
The right hashtags and keywords give you the most chances to appear on users' Explore pages, so pay special attention to them. Essentially, they enable you to reach people who don't follow you (yet).
With Reels, it's recommended to share the videos to your main feed, using hashtags to increase discoverability, and including captions to make your content more accessible.
To do proper hashtag and keyword research and understand which keywords could bring you more followers and interactions, you can use Awario. Awario's Instagram monitoring analyzes what keywords are the most popular and get the highest engagement.
Even though the order of the posts in the feed isn't chronological anymore, the time the post was shared is still very important.
Instagram doesn't necessarily show you more recent posts when you log in, as a rule, it depends on how often you use the app. The more often your followers go to the app, the more recent posts they see. And the opposite, if they scroll through Instagram once in a few days, they will see more posts than are more than a couple of days old.
For Stories, the age of the post plays a bigger role: stories that are older than 10 hours tend to get more views, so it's a good idea to schedule a Story post once every 10 hours.
Relationships and interactions
This might be the most obvious one but it's also the most important one.
Instagram places great importance on the content you interact with. It notes down every like, Story view, and comment you make on the app trying to determine what kind of relationship you have with the author.
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.
For the Feed, it prioritizes posts based on the following questions:
Time spent: Are you going to spend time on the post?
Likes: How likely are you to like the post?
Comments: How likely are you to comment on the post?
Saves: How likely are you to save the post?
Taps on Profile: How likely are you to tap on the profile after seeing the post?
Seeing these questions, it's obvious that in order to appeal to Instagram's algorithm you need to create posts that encourage comments, saves, and profile checks. Besides, the more time people spend on your post, the more Instagram will like it.
Stories also give you a lot of additional opportunities for engagement with various stickers and polls, so be sure to use them!
Besides interest, timeliness, and relationship, there are additional factors that also play a role.
Instagram's algo also takes into account how the user spends time on Instagram.
Do you watch videos or pay more attention to pictures? Do you read ling captions? Do you like carousel-type posts? How often do you log in?
All these behavioral patterns are noticed by the app and affect what content you see.
That's why you need to do thorough audience research in order to win the Instagram algorithm.
One of the aspects that Instagram takes into account is the originality of the posts. The algorithm punishes posts that:
- Include pictures or video that has already been published on the platform.
- Include visible watermarks.
- Are screenshots from other social media platforms and feature their logos.
12 DOs and DON'Ts of the Instagram algorithm
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. DO: measure the 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 on 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 similar content and making it better.
2. DO: 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. DO: 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, the age group of your followers, and the type of content you post.
4. DO: use Stories' stickers to encourage interactions
Stories live a bit separately from Instagram and their influence on the algorithm differs from feed posts and Reels.
Yet, 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. Instagram provides users with many many ways to engage with their followers through Stories, from question stickers to polls and customizable prompts to share photos. Use this opportunities to raise your engagement and appeal to the algorithm.
Basically, Stories are a must.
5. DO: post Reels
Vertical video is probably the surest way to get ahead on the platform.
Instagram favours the accounts that make and post a lot of Reels. Perhaps, because it's simply longer: you spend more time watching a video than you do looking at a photo.
Post Reels but do make sure that these are not just videos downloaded from TikTok: as I mentioned before, the Instagram algorithm doesn't like seeing other platforms' logos. If you want to repurpose content from other platforms, use the original video without any watermarks.
6. DO: 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. DO: 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.
8. DO: Include CTA
Engagement is one of the drivers of Instagram's algorithm, so you should be doing anything in your powers to encourage it.
In addition to posting engaging content you can remind your followers to interact with your posts.
Add a call-to-action in your caption or even on your visual and ask people to share or save your post. This can help raise your engagement rate and will signal the algo to move your posts higher on the feed.
9. DO: optimize with keywords
Both the algorithm and the search features take keywords in your posts into account. So don't forget to include relevant keywords when writing your caption.
You can use tools like Awario to find keywords and hashtags popular in your niche and see which of them bring more followers.
10. DON'T: post low-quality content
It may sound obvious, but I want to reiterate: Instagram doesn't like low-quality grainy videos. It's not just a question of people not being able to make out anything, the bots themselves will downvote your content if its poor quality and looks like it was shot on a potato.
So refrain from posting dark, grainy, and low-quality videos and photos.
11. DON't: repost existing content
Instagram's algorithm downvotes unoriginal content that includes pictures and video. This can be hard if you want to share some viral trends since you'll have to create your own spin on them.
12. DON'T: break Instagram's Community Guidelines
Violating community guidelines can lead to temporary bans or limitations on certain actions, but it also diminishes your chances to get on top pf the main feed or on the Explore tab. Don't post nudity, violent and upsetting images, and mean comments - and you should be fine.
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!