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How the Instagram 2021 Algorithm Works & Hacking Tips

How does the Instagram algorithm actually work? This is a question that comes up all of the time. All of the reading in the world will not teach you this because it is part analytics, part consistency and part logic! Many people fail to realize how much work falls behind a successful digital presence.

In this blog post, we will share how the Instagram algorithm works for stories, posts, Explore page, IGTV and Reels. ALSO, tips to hack the Instagram algorithm for higher engagement.

2021 Instagram Algorithm

A lot of times when clients ask ‘How does this algorithm work?’, their eyes glaze over when they realize how elusive it actually is. It can behave in mysterious was, however once you understand it with practice, it can be tailored to work hand and hand with your content strategy. Lets get to it!

How It Works for Feed Posts

#1: Interest

Your Instagram feed is a combination of your IG behaviors. People you interact with the most, tagged in photos with and the type of posts that you like and comments on. The more the algorithm thinks you like a certain type of post, the higher it will appear in the feed. This is why constantly showing up on IG is important whether its like, sharing, posting or tagging. These engagements all send positive signals to the algorithm giving your audience more opportunity to interact with your content.

TIP: Schedulers help with keeping consistency…but which one to choose?! We can help Day One House

#2 Relationship

The IG algorithm prioritizes posts from your family, friends and accounts that you care about and uses your interactions to piece together who is closes to you.

  • People whose content you like (stories and videos)

  • People you DM

  • People you search for

  • People you know

As soon as you follow someone they will calculate and monitor how you engage with them.

#3. Timelines

IG wants to show you the most recent and interesting posts so it is important to post when your followers are online and most active. This will give you a better chance of getting more engagement. Deciphering this can also be a little difficult as reading the IG analytics is not so straight forward.

TIP: Just because I certain time says most of your followers are logged in at a certain time doesn’t not meant you will get the most engagement then. We can help Day One House

#4 Frequency

If you visit the IG app often your feed will look more chronological as it will show you the best since your last visit. If you do not visit the app often it will show you what it thinks you like over a period of time.

#5: Following

How many people do you follow on Instagram? If you follow a lot of people, then Instagram has more options to choose from, so you probably won’t see all of the posts from every account.

On a related note, it could be worth systematically removing inactive or “ghost” followers. If a large percentage of your following is inactive, they could be doing more harm than good for your account’s algorithmic ranking.

#6: Usage

If you spend a lot of time on Instagram, you’re going to see more posts as Instagram digs deeper into its catalog. If you spend enough time on Instagram, you can even run out of new content to see. Once this happens, the algorithm will serve you suggested content from new accounts — based on your previous interactions. However, if you only spend a few minutes in the app each day, then you’re going to just get the day’s highlights from the algorithm.

Algorithm & Instagram Stories

IG Stories that appear at the start of your feed are accounts that you engage with the most through likes, comments, views or DMs. If you regularly engage with an account then their content will always be pushed to the front of your feed. This is why it is important post daily on your IG stories for the highest engagement.

Algorithm & the Explore Page

The Explore page and the feed algorithm are quite similar - they both deliver content based on your prior interactions. The difference, your Instagram feed will be made up of content from accounts you already follow, whereas the Explore feed will consist almost entirely of content from new accounts.

The Explore page algorithm is essentially trying to serve people the best, relevant content. By continually sharing great content with strong captions and niche hashtags, you’re already contributing towards your Explore page ranking.

For hashtags search results, Instagram prioritizes top performing posts:

These posts are selected based on engagement (how many likes and comments the post received) and the amount of competition for the hashtag.

Search results will be the same for every user searching a specific hashtag, while the main Explore page is tailored to your individual interests.

TIP: If you’re a brand looking to get on the Instagram Explore page, it’s more important than ever to focus on your niche topics and use hashtags to help categorize your posts.

How the Instagram Algorithm Works for IGTV Videos and Reels

For IGTV videos and Instagram Reels, the algorithm prioritizes content from the accounts you interact with the most, as well as the type of posts you typically engage with.

Beyond the home feed, Instagram serves suggested IGTV videos and Reels in relevant Explore pages, including the new Reels tab.

This is based on what Instagram thinks you will like, based on a machine learning model.

So how can you give your IGTV videos and Reels the best chance of being seen by new (and existing) audiences?

The trick is to give them as much of a helping hand as possible.

For IGTV videos, you can share a 1-minute preview to your Instagram feed — increasing initial exposure and providing a positive signal to the algorithm.

A Few More Ways to Build Your Instagram Algorithm…

If you want to improve your ranking with the Instagram algorithm, the best thing you can do is drive as many interactions (likes, comments, DMs, saves, and shares) as possible.

And by building momentum with your existing community, you’ll soon find your content is being surfaced to new audiences.

Here are a few ways to achieve this:

Embrace Instagram’s Latest Features

When instagram releases a new feature (ie. Instagram Reels) you can gain favor with the IG algorithm by utilizing the feature. New features need a helping hand so take advantage of the opportunity for the extra boost!

Encourage More Interactions with Instagram Stories Stickers

Stickers are a great way to encourage more engagement. Whether using the poll, emoji slider, question sticker or driving awareness to a new post this is a quick way to make the algorithm work for your business or brand.

Drive Conversations with Engaging Captions and Comments

It has been confirmed that comments are very important for feed ranking. The best way to encourage more comments on your posts in addition to great content is captions that drive engagement. Asking people to engage with some type of call to action such as asking your followers to share thoughts or feeling, tag a friend in the comments, double tap if they agree, etc. Check out our blog post for writing great captions!

Optimize a Hashtag Strategy

Hashtags are a great way to reach new people for more views and better yet people who are relevant to your business and likely want to engage with your content. When choosing your hashtag strategy it is important to research the audience and hashtags you want your audience to fall in front of. We always find a little mix of niche and mainstream show great results.

Cross-Promote Your Content

If you’re looking for a quick and easy engagement win to help boost your algorithm ranking, cross-promoting your Instagram content is a great place to start.

As Instagram has grown, so too has the number of channels that you can share content: feed, stories, IGTV and Reels.

And thanks to these different publishing channels, you can strategically use them to drive different audiences to your most recent content.

Respond Quickly to Your DMs

Direct messages (DMs) are a strong engagement indicator for the Instagram algorithm.

You may have noticed that the accounts you DM most often are bumped to the front of your Instagram Stories feed — the Instagram algorithm at work.

One way to use this to your advantage is to regularly invite your audience to DM you with their questions or feedback.

Written by:

Christina Ballinger

Day One House


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