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Feb 17 2021

Let’s Talk Instagram Algorithm (Again)

It’s been almost five years since Instagram nixed the reverse-chronological feed. And throughout those five years, content creators, small businesses, and marketers have been trying to understand the alchemy that is the algorithm behind what appears in our feeds. It seems everyone’s got some idea or theory about how this algorithm works, which often creates a lot of unnecessary panic and confusion. It also certainly doesn’t help matters that Instagram maintains a high level of secrecy around its specifics.

It would be a lie if I told y’all I had all the answers myself, but what I do have is some understanding behind the algorithm that might be more useful to you than the theories.

What’s (Not Really) New About The Instagram Algorithm

A gentle reminder: the algorithm is a complex formula that decides what content you’re most likely to find interesting, based on your past and current behavior within the app. (I wrote about the basics of the algorithm last year, if you need a refresher.) It is primarily based on three factors:

  1. Interest – the type of content you’ve engaged with in the past (liked, shared, commented on)
  2. Timeliness – how recently the post was shared
  3. Relationship – the people/accounts you’ve expressed the most interest in

Instagram shifted to this engagement-based algorithm to offer its users more interesting and relevant content first, with the idea being that if folks see more of what they like, they’ll spend more time on the app. More time on the app equals more eyes on their advertisers, which means – truth bomb time – more ad dollars in their pockets.

With so many people using Instagram (over 1 BILLION users monthly, with over 25 million businesses among them), the competition for people’s attention naturally affects reach. It’s not just you – with more of us fishes in the algorithm sea, we have to be more strategic in how we show up online.

Find Your Own Rhythm

How do you make this algorithm work for you? You do it by setting an intention for your social media presence then consistently posting authentic, quality content in line with that intention.

That’s it. That’s the trick.

You didn’t start your business to spend countless hours agonizing over an online platform. You have an offering you want the world to see, to experience, to share with others. Social media apps like Instagram are tools you should use to share that offering. But they shouldn’t be the end-all be-all of your outreach efforts.

Create content that gets people’s eyes on your offerings – then gets them to connect more directly with YOU.

A basic call to action in your caption (asking a question, for example) encourages engagement and gives you an algorithmic boost. Add a second CTA in your copy to encourage followers to engage with you off the app. Use links in your bio to send users to a store page to make a purchase, for example, or to sign up for a newsletter or online offering. This takes the eyes off the ad machine that is Instagram and puts them all on you and your website.

Hack The Algorithm

Once you’ve set your intention for your IG presence, there are a few subtle ways to game the algorithm in your favor.

  • Get to tagging – reposting content is a great way to stoke the engagement fire. Take an extra step and tag the account whose content you’re sharing. They’ll get notified, which helps them see you and might encourage them to give your account a shout-out.
  • Cap IG Stories and Reels off with captions – Instagram’s audio default for video content is muted, which means folks won’t hear what you’re saying unless they manually turn up their volume. Give them a clue about your video content by adding easy-to-read captions that will stop their scroll and get them to tune in – a boon for your place in the algorithm, since they’re spending time on your feed!
  • Fresh Reels only – Instagram has offered one bit of insight about their algorithm: they intend to deprioritize low-quality video content and content cross-posted from TikTok. Makes sense; they’d rather keep you on their platform as opposed to share content with a competing app. If you have content to share, take the time to post it directly on each of your platforms, instead of relying on cross-posting.

Tips and tricks may offer a quick uptick in engagement, but the real key to making sense of the Instagram algorithm is a solid content strategy that showcases you and your amazing offerings. Take a deep breath, let go of your worries around likes and follower count, and focus your attention on creating high-quality, genuine content. Stick to that plan, and your people will find you!

(Need help creating that plan? Get in touch and let’s talk about it!)