How the Instagram Algorithm Works

In order for a brand or business to succeed on any social networking platform, it’s important to understand the algorithm that determines which content is shown, to whom, and when. For example, once you know how the Instagram algorithm works, you will be in a much better position to optimize your own Instagram activity to get views and comments. The good news for brands everywhere is that Instagram recently took reporters behind the curtain, showing them exactly how the algorithm works, and why.

Factor #1: Interest

This one is a no-brainer, if you think about it. The goal of Instagram is to show you content that you are likely to interact with, comment on, or follow. What’s interesting here is that Instagram uses a form of machine learning to figure all this out. It will analyze your past behavior on Instagram to figure out what you are likely to like in the future. And, it will also use machine learning to analyze the content of the photos you like. So, if you spend a lot of time commenting on photos of cats, then get ready to see a whole lot more cats.

Factor #2: Timeliness

Instagram has a recency bias. In other words, Instagram will always try to show you more recent content first. This is especially true if you are not a regular user of Instagram. If, however, you spend hours and hours interacting on Instagram, then you will get photos that are deeper in the archive. Remember – Instagram abandoned its purely reverse-chronological news feed back in July 2016, so it has to figure out the perfect amount of “timeliness” in any post that it shows you. Most likely, you will always see new content first, followed by older content that might be as much as a few weeks old.

Factor #3: Relationship

The third key factor used by the Instagram algorithm is the relationship that you have with another user’s account. The idea here is that there are various ways to show “closeness” or proximity – if you always comment on a certain user’s posts, for example, that’s useful information for Instagram. So is the fact if you are always tagged in another user’s posts.

Other factors influencing the Instagram algorithm

Of course, the entire Instagram algorithm is proprietary, so Instagram will never unveil exactly how much each of these three core factors matter. And they might not tell you everything that’s included in their “secret sauce,” but Instagram did tell reporters that a few other factors matter, although not to such a great extent. These include Frequency (i.e. how often you use Instagram), Following (i.e. how many people you follow) and Usage (how much time you spend on Instagram every time you open up the app).

Is it really possible to game the Instagram algorithm?

So, putting all that together, is there a way for brands to “game” the algorithm to make sure they are popping up more frequently in the news feeds of their followers? There appear to be a few things that brands can do. Posting regularly (but not too regularly) obviously matters, due to the recency bias of Instagram.

Moreover, it also matters if you can get fans engaged with your content – you want them to do more than just stare at a really pretty photo – you want them to comment, like and share. The more they engage, the more likely the Instagram algorithm will prioritize your photos in the future. By keeping these factors in mind, you will be well on your way to optimizing your Instagram presence and turning it into a key part of your overall marketing mix.

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How the Instagram Algorithm Works