How the Instagram Algorithm Works

How exactly does the Instagram feed work?
That question has puzzled marketers ever since Instagram first introduced its algorithm in July 2016.
The Instagram algorithm was introduced to help surface the best, most relevant content to each user every-time they check their feed. Until now, though, the inner-workings of the feed have been kept under wraps, but recently Instagram shared the six key ranking factors publicly for the first time.
Recently, Instagram invited a small group of journalists to their San Francisco office to put an end to the rumors and share how the Instagram feed ranking algorithm really works.
Instagram revealed that there are three main factors that determine what you see in your Instagram feed:

  • Interest
  • Timeliness
  • Relationship

There are also three additional criteria that play a smaller part in your Instagram feed rankings:

  • Frequency
  • Following
  • Usage

We’ll discuss each factor in a little more detail below.

The 3 most important Instagram feed ranking factors

1. Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post

When the algorithmic timeline was announced, Instagram mentioned that it would show you content that you’ll likely be interested in first:

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.

Content that is relevant to your interests will rank higher on your feed. But how does Instagram know your interests? One way could be to look at the genres of content (e.g. travel, food, fashion, sports, etc.) you have interacted with in the past.
With the level of photo recognition technologies available now, I believe it’s possible for the algorithm to categorize posts into simple genres such as travel, food, fashion, and more — and possibly even more sophisticated genres. The algorithm could also look at the hashtags used.
If there’s a certain genre of content that you engage with more frequently (e.g. food), Instagram might rank content of that genre (e.g. food, restaurants, etc.) higher on your feed.
An Instagram spokesperson told Business Insider that ranking of Instagram posts is not a popularity contest. Posts with less engagement that are more relevant to you can still appear right at the top of your feed.

2. Timeliness: How recent the posts are

The next key ingredient in the Instagram algorithm, as shared by Instagram a while back, is timeliness.

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.

Instagram wants to show you posts that are recent and, consequently, more relevant.
Something from last week might not interest you as much as something from an hour ago, so Instagram will likely show you more recent posts rather than posts from a few days or weeks ago — even if the older post had received a lot of engagement.
This implies that recent posts likely rank higher in your feed and that the timing of your post is still relevant.
According to a talk from Instagram’s Thomas Dimson, and my personal experience (admittedly, a sample size of only one), it seems that the Instagram algorithm re-orders only the new posts between your current visit and your last visit.
For example, if I visited Instagram at 11 PM last night and again at 9 AM this morning, and there were 50 posts created in between. The algorithm would sort only those 50 posts created and not include posts from before 11 PM last night. Based on my personal experience, if I were to scroll past all those 50 posts, I’d see the same posts in the same order as when I last visited (11 PM last night).
(If your personal experience is different from this, it’d be great to hear from you!)
If this is true, it could mean that the best time to post is when your followers are most active as there would be less competition (e.g. between 9 to 10 AM in the image below).
Feed sorted only within vists
(Image from Thomas’s slide deck)

3. Relationship: The accounts you regularly interact with

In a June 2016 announcement about the feed ranking algorithm, Instagram stated the following:

And no matter how many accounts you follow, you should see your best friend’s latest posts.

Just like Facebook, Instagram doesn’t want you to miss important posts from your friends and family, such as a post about your friend’s engagement. This implies that content from your “best friends” likely ranks higher on your feed.
I also believe that the Instagram algorithm studies your past interactions to determine your “best friends”. In a talk about designing and implementing the Instagram algorithm, Thomas Dimson also shared in his talk how Instagram could have determined the people you care about:

  • People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos)
  • People you direct message
  • People you search for
  • People you know in real life

While these might not be the exact criteria used in the Instagram algorithm, they give us a hint that Instagram probably considers the accounts you frequently interact with as “people you care about”. And it has confirmed that content from these accounts will rank higher on your feed.
An Instagram spokesperson also told Business Insider that profile searches are a signal Instagram looks at when ranking posts in your feed. When you search (regularly) for certain profiles, it likely indicates that you are interested in the account’s posts and might not have seen them on your feed.
Instagram might then rank their posts higher on your feed so that you don’t have to search for their profiles to see their posts, improving your Instagram experience.
Thomas from Instagram also mentioned in his talk that when they experimented with the new algorithm, the number of searches went down. They took it as a good sign as it meant that people are seeing the posts they are interested in without having to search for their favorite profiles.
Continue reading here…

14 Ways to Outsmart the Instagram Algorithm

If you’ve been on Instagram recently, you’ll notice you probably haven’t received as many likes or comments as you did a year ago. When the Instagram algorithm was adjusted from chronological to algorithmic, many people worried engagement rates would drop.
Instagram’s own press release talked about favoring the moments you care about most, much like how Facebook’s algorithm operates.
So how does your brand stay present in users’ feeds without having to rely on ads? Luckily, there are some work arounds to get your Instagram posts visible.
Here are 14 ways you can make the Instagram algorithm work in your favor:

1. Invest in a Photographer or Videographer

Quality reigns supreme on Instagram. When most of the app’s real estate is taken up by visual media, it makes sense to hire a professional if you need one. Your photography needs to be eye-catching and designed for storytelling.
Instagram video posts are now on auto-play. Using videos gives you a slight leg up in grabbing those who are browsing their feed.

Coffeecakescafe enjoys using a mix of illustrated photo and video posts. Her style is unique and the videos are always fun to watch.

2. Frequently Post Instagram Stories

One way to get around the decrease in post engagement is to expand your posting in another area. Instagram Stories offer a variety of engagement opportunities, including the newest Poll feature. The algorithm takes into account all actions of engagement like replying to a Story or sending a Story to someone. The more engagement, the likelier your posts will show up in the feed.
Mammoth Espresso demonstrates a fun way to use the Poll feature in Instagram Stories. It’s timely and relevant to their customers in New Orleans.

3. Use Live Video

Much like the previous suggestion, Instagram Live videos are another way of engaging with your followers. The video is bumped up in the Stories feed and your followers might also receive a notification if they opted in.

4. Run a Contest

One surefire way of increasing your engagement is to run an Instagram contest on a regular basis. Consumers love free items and it creates a little goodwill in your fan community. The frequency and rewards can vary, but the idea is to increase engagement and brand awareness.

Sola Coffee used Instagram Stories and a post to advertise their donut giveaway. You can see on its standard post that they’ve received a lot of comments already. The Story they posted only encourages more entries.

5. Post Engaging Captions

Captions that ask questions or provide a call to action can help start some conversations with your followers. But don’t stop at asking the question. Be sure to reply to comments and continue the conversation, otherwise, your followers might stop engaging.

Stephanie Be travels often and likes to engage her audience. The questions are often relevant to their interests and helps boost her engagement rate.

6. Offer Free Advice or Information

Consumer education is one of the slower but more effective ways of building your brand. Offering information that’s useful for your fans can eventually turn them into paying customers. The advice can be posted on social media in small bites, in a blog post format and even in a newsletter.

This is a good example of giving information on how their photo processing works. Beth Kirby’s editing and photography style is distinctive. In her caption above, she goes into detail on what went into the editing process. She also released some Adobe Lightroom presets, which the post clearly illustrates.
If you consistently post educational content, you’ll begin to build up trust and engagement with your followers.

7. Jump on Trends

Whether they are fleeting hashtag trends or making holiday posts, timeliness is an important factor in the Instagram algorithm. This is not to encourage you to participate in every viral meme. Instead, choose the ones that are most applicable to your brand and test a post out with it.
The Pokémon Go mobile game was a trend last year that took over social media. Brands offered Pokémon-themed deals, posted about catching a rare one and even advertised if they were near a gym. The trend was massive and was a great opportunity for brands to attract new customers.

In the holiday trend, nail art is shown off not only in #halloween hashtag but also in the more specific #halloweennails hashtag. This post works to both remind their followers about prepping for Halloween and to showcase their creative skills.

8. Post During Active Hours

To increase your chances of higher engagement, schedule posts when your followers are most active. If you don’t have an idea yet, you can take a look at our post for best times to post on Instagram.

best times to post on instagram

If you have a business account, you can see which days and times have the most engagement. Since brands differ, it may not be the same as our chart above. Using Sprout Social to schedule your Instagram postsmakes it easy to post at the optimal time.

instagram schedule in sprout social

Stick to the schedule that works best for you and drives the most engagement to beat the Instagram algorithm!

9. Join an Instagram Pod

This one may take a little more searching and organizing. The idea of an Instagram Pod is to let everyone in your group know when you’ve posted. Then ideally, everyone visits the post and likes it. The post receives a bump in engagement in the first hour it’s online and is interpreted as a good post by the algorithm.
To do this effectively, you’ll need to find some like-minded individuals, hopefully in your industry or with a similar follower base. Everyone also needs to be committed to the pod so all the accounts are receiving their due attention.

10. Incorporate Instagram Ads

The downside of algorithmic timelines is that you need to boost your posts when they’re time sensitive. If you have an event you’re promoting or a product that you want to talk about at a certain time, Instagram Ads are the way to go.
Ads now offer a wide variety of goals and targeting options. You can learn more in our helpful guide to Instagram Ads.


Keds used a video to announce a collaboration between their company and Rifle Paper Co. Rifle is known for their eye-catching floral designs, so the fast-forwarded video animation with floral illustrations was a great way of announcing the new product.

11. Consider Influencer Marketing

If done right, influencer marketing on Instagram can help you with brand awareness, sales and new customers. The best influencers collaborate with brands but still manage to stay authentic to their personality.

This video collaboration tells a story of a product in a way that still fits Patrick’s personal brand. It also reaches an audience that the brands may not have direct access to.

12. Get Personal

We all see glossed-up and styled product images on Instagram. When you offer a behind-the-scenes look or write honest captions, your followers are more likely to engage. Authenticity is a word that’s thrown around a lot. At the most basic understanding, you don’t want every caption or image to be 80% advertising words.

Paul demonstrate hand screen printing on silk in this video. It shows a dedication to their craft and the work that goes into each piece.

13. Develop a Strong Visual Brand

Create a photo editing and taking style that is distinctive to your brand. When you develop a strong visual brand, your customers are able to identify you from your photos and subliminally begin to associate you with certain visual attributes.

The Color Factory popped up in San Francisco in a burst of rainbows. Every room was deliberately designed for maximum color and photo taking. Their Instagram feed is filled with images of the rainbow ribbon curtain, yellow ball pit and other areas. If you’ve followed them for a few weeks, you can identify the brand solely from this image.

14. Plan Out Your Profile Page

Part of the Instagram algorithm calculations takes into account the content that you’re most interested in. This includes the searches you perform or the clicks you take to profile pages. If you spend time to map out what your page looks like, your followers will begin to get used to it and eventually start clicking over to see what’s new.

Beyoncé’s Instagram page has been very active recently with a fun mix of videos, photo galleries and collage. It’s clear that each post in the row is visually related to the next.

In Conclusion

Instagram is constantly receiving adjustments in its algorithm, so it takes a little patience and flexibility to see what works best for you. We recommend using Instagram analytics and reports to easily summarize what’s working for you and what’s not.

instagram audience engagement report

Our Instagram reports come with handy statistics like your top influencers engaged and details on your top performing posts. The less you have to think about in compiling a report, the more time you have to dedicate to strategy.
Have any tips for engaging users on Instagram to beat the algorithm? Leave a comment below!
Source: sproutsocial


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