5 Ways to Keep Up With Instagram’s Ever-Changing Algorithm

Opinion: Modify your strategy based on seven key factors

Instagram doesn’t formally release all of its algorithm changes
Prykhodov/iStock

Remember all of the fuss back in March 2016, when Instagram introduced an algorithm that changed how posts appeared in feeds? Instagram found that users had more posts in their feeds than they could keep up with and, as a result, they were missing out on about 70 percent of posts. Posts had previously appeared in feeds chronologically, but with the algorithm, they were now prioritized based on what users were most likely to engage with.

The algorithm was designed to bring increased likes, comments and engagement to Instagram content as a whole. But not everyone was happy with the changes. Marketers and influencers, in particular, had gotten used to Instagram’s chronological feed, and they found their engagement rates dropping after this update.

The initial introduction of the algorithm was the biggest change, but Instagram has been tweaking its formula ever since. Instagram doesn’t formally release all of these changes, so you may find it hard to keep up, but if you want to maintain a connection with your following, it’s in your best interest to try.

Modify your strategy based on seven key factors

As the algorithm keeps evolving, you need to stay on your toes. Understanding the general nuances of the algorithm is the best place to start. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Only Instagram knows exactly how the algorithm works, which means that there’s no golden rule to Instagram engagement. But the platform has revealed a number of key influencing factors:

  1. How much engagement your posts get
  2. How long your content is viewed
  3. Who engages with your account the most
  4. What time of day you post
  5. What type of content you post
  6. Who searches for your account and how often
  7. How often your posts are shared via direct messages

In a nutshell, engagement is key—both the amount of time your followers spend on your posts and the accounts that are engaging with you. If a consumer engages often with a brand’s videos and stories, that brand’s posts are more likely to show up in that user’s feed.

By virtue of the algorithm, certain types of content will inherently be more successful. For instance, people typically spend more time watching videos than they do looking at photos. This increases engagement rates and makes brands that post video regularly more likely to appear in consumers’ feeds.

How to boost engagement on Instagram

By getting consumers to spend more time viewing content in the application, Instagram itself can earn more ad dollars. Driving engagement is, therefore, beneficial to everyone—brands, consumers and Instagram. It’s no wonder why distributing better, more engaging content helps you rank higher on the platform.

While the target may be moving, there are a few things that you can focus on to ensure that your content continues to perform well:

  1. Find the best time to post: This is a familiar one. You don’t need to abandon everything you did when feeds were ordered chronologically. Timing still matters, but it’s more complex than simply posting in the evening because users are home from work. Use an algorithm to determine when your specific audience is most engaged.
  2. Ask for an action before the line break: The captions are as important as the images and videos themselves. They could be the consumer’s first introduction to your brand, so make them count by prompting users to leave a comment.
  3. Use strategic hashtags to increase engagement: On average, Instagram posts with at least one hashtag see 12.6 percent more engagement than those without. Hashtags and calls to action can help you land a spot on the Explore page.
  4. Use the latest Instagram features: Take advantage of all that Instagram has to offer—Stories, videos, pictures and Boomerangs. Keep tabs on any features Instagram rolls out, like carousel, where you can share multiple videos and pictures in a single post. Instagram will no doubt want consumer data to validate and tweak these features, so testing them right away could put you in its favor.
  5. Don’t neglect paid advertising: While Instagram has never commented on this, a strong paid strategy will presumably help you out with the algorithm. Instagram won’t give you specific “points” for a paid spend, but if your paid strategy does well, you will build a more targeted audience and better relationships with people who will engage with your content long-term, earning you priority in their feeds.

You can pull your hair out trying to determine exactly what the Instagram algorithm is looking for, but just like the Google Search algorithm, nobody really knows for sure. However, with good strategies and an agile approach, you can ensure that your content is viewed by more people and shows up in the right feeds. Just keep calm and post on.

Matt Smith is the founder of Instagram marketing platform Later.