After a very, very long time (so much so that it feels like it would never happen), Instagram decided to grace us with an Instagram algorithm update. This piece of information felt as elusive as the location of the Holy Grail, or Noah’s Ark.
As per Adam Mosseri’s piece:
Instagram doesn’t have one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app. We use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose. We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that.
Better understanding how your content is categorized on the feed matters, and getting clarity is exciting for two main reasons.
Firstly, this will help combat the rise of quick tips and hacks aimed at “beating the algorithm”, which has been relentlessly showing up over the past two years. Some of the advice is quite solid, but most of it is rooted in quick fixes without going back to any strategy or framework. As marketers, we are investigators, and being able to shut down some of that noise will be a sigh of relief.
Secondly, it gives us an idea of how and why people see our content on Instagram and the importance of engagement and relationship building within the platform – something we have forgotten about. Whilst rushing through the new feature, or the following format that we should be focusing on, many marketers these days adopt a “post and ghost” approach (yes, it’s a real thing).
Instead of focusing on the quantity of content, quality of engagement will become what truly helps marketers stand out from the crowd. The article I am going to analyze is quite long and in-depth. However, I wanted to highlight core takeaways for marketers by reading through and summarising my favourite points.
The truth about the Instagram algorithm update
Going back to Mosseri’s words, the algorithm dictates how Instagram can improve and optimize the user experience when using the app.
” When we first launched in 2010, Instagram was a single stream of photos in chronological order. But as more people joined and more was shared, it became impossible for most people to see everything, let alone all the posts they cared about. By 2016, people were missing 70% of all their posts in Feed, including almost half of posts from their close connections. So we developed and introduced a Feed that ranked posts based on what you care about most”.
The Instagram algorithm update has evolved is also affected by the fact that the app has now three key areas that work slightly differently:
- the Feed
This differentiation highlights how your content will rank differently in different parts of the app.
Ranking in the Feed
When it comes to the Feed, the biggest lesson from the article is that the Feed and stories ranking is based on relationships and habits, and patterns as the app is trying to detect behaviours to prioritize people that we’re closest to.
To rank the algorithm, they broke it down for us in steps, called signals, which can be helpful for marketers when building their strategy. Four signals are used across the different parts of the app:
- Information about the post – this includes how many people have liked it. when it was posted, video length, and location.
- Information about the person who posted – how many times people have interacted with that person, your relationship with them
- Your activity – for discoverability purposes, it goes back to signals such as how many posts you’ve liked, specific topics
- Your history of interacting with someone – how interested you are generally in seeing posts from a particular person
These signals help Instagram dictating why we see different things throughout the app.
Takeaway: it’s essential to create an engagement strategy as well as a content strategy. As well as getting clear on when your followers are online, looking at your analytics to get clear on what content resonates will signal Instagram that you are creating more of what’s working, favouring you in the Feed.
Ranking in Explore
Understanding how the Explore is ranked is also fundamental because people who don’t know might find you.
Instagram argues that the way they rank explore is very different from the Feed. Because of that, they will try to create a slightly different experience, which is also based on topics and various types of interaction.
Instagram will look at how popular a post seems to be, tracking signals like how many and how quickly other people like, commenting, sharing, and saving a post. These signals matter much more in Explore than they do in Feed or Stories.
It goes back to a point I highly encourage you to taken board when mapping your content—making sure that your content is saved and shared as a marketer is critical. It’s going to help Instagram signal that this content is something that people who don’t follow you will be interested in consuming.
The signals are the same as the ones in the in the regular Feed. However, they’re going to be tailored for people that don’t know you yet. For example, knowing what posts you’ve liked, saved or commented on and how you’ve interacted with posts in Explore in the past will be used to recommend you similar content.
Takeaway: this is where you must encourage your followers and audience to engage with you because it will help people find you on the Explore, based on the core keywords and topics that your posts and images will be related to. Also, spending more time as a marketer in the Explore feed can help you look at Instagram content through the lenses of your ideal audience.
Ranking in Reels tab
I was not surprised to see Reels having their signals and system for ranking, based on the popularity and high discoverability of the feature.
Reels are designed to entertain you; much like Explore, most of what you see as a user is from accounts you don’t follow. Elements like effects and trending audios help you with the algorithm because they will help create predictions based on what people are currently watching.
Thanks to the new insights, another significant metric you can start tracking would be how many people watch your Reel all the way through. The app’s information about the Reel is highly ranked as the content within the video, such as the audio track, video understanding based on pixels and whole frames, and popularity, are used to improve discoverability.
There is still a place for relationships, yet not as much as in the previous areas of the app.
Takeaway: trends matter on Reels. A lot. The choice of video, the style, all the way down to the audio, and the effects will signal the level of popularity of a specific Reel, helping you hopping a trend-train to aid discoverability.
Start thinking like your customers
Instagram is counting some specific actions as something that you can use to tune your Feed and understand the Instagram algorithm update. And this is going to affect what you see in the Feed itself.
- Pick close friends as this will prioritize them in both stories and Feed.
- Mute people you do not want to hear from to help to rank your Feed.
- Mark recommended posts as not interested, especially when you are in Explore, as this will help Instagram fine-tuning your topics of interest.
Spend more time engaging with your current audience and creating an engagement strategy. Ensure that you got clear on the topics and keywords that you were working on when it comes to your explore Feed. Encourage your audience to engage in any possible way, especially likes, comments, saves and shares.
And finally, for Reels, hopping on current trends and using trending audience or filters, or even structure of the video can help signal Instagram that your video is among the ones that have been trending recently, helping you boost discoverability.
It is essential to fully understand the Instagram algorithm update. Using these new insights to better shape your strategy can help you find more clarity around how to use Instagram going forward.
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My name is Fab Giovanetti and I am a writer, author, marketing consultant, founder of the Creative Impact Group and professional troublemaker. I help people grow their online audience and monetise their content and unleash their potentials as creatives.