Understanding the New Instagram Algorithm

Instagram’s chronological feed: the epitome of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” No more are the golden days of Instagram where your likes were maximized, you didn’t have to worry about accidentally liking a picture from two weeks ago and X Pro II was the most popular filter.

While we mourn its premature departure and hold out hope that it will once again return, we join the millions of IG users that are trying to figure out what’s going on with the new algorithm.

The short answer is, that...well...there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Every feed is personalized to each unique user. That’s why some of us have days old posts populate on our feeds while others feel like they always see content from the same 15 users.

Believe it or not, there is a method to all of this madness. While Instagram usually remains mum on the inner workings of their elusive algorithm, they have recently shed some light into what's going on behind the scenes.

Keep reading to learn more about how your content gets ranked and ways you can capitalize on it for your personal and professional feeds.


Factor 1: Engagement

What it Means: Instagram wants to show you content that you will enjoy. Reasonably, the more you interact with certain accounts, the more IG will prioritize their content on your feed. Typically, these accounts will be the first posts you see when you log in. The same is true for your followers. If they regularly interact with your account, your posts will top their feed. However, it goes even more specific than that.

In addition to account engagement, Instagram also considers how engaging each individual post is. Typically, the more comments and likes a post gets, the more feeds it will pop up on. Furthermore, it’s been observed that significant amounts of engagement within 30 minutes of posting strengthen this effect even more. With this being said, it’s important to consider that all of these specifications are relative to the user’s account and their other posts.

How to Improve Engagement: Tailor your social content to spark engagement with your audience. You can get creative with this: ask questions, share advice, make interactive content. All of these will help your posts rank higher on their feeds and enable more of your followers to see your content. Unfortunately, Instastories don’t help you out in this category, but they do help build a more meaningful relationship with your audience which can help sustain their interest in your account.

It’s not enough to create engaging content for your audience. Rather, you have to actively drive engagement among your followers, especially immediately after posting. The easiest way to do this is by hanging around on the Instagram app for a little while after your newest snap hits your feed. Spend this time engaging with other users and replying to new comments right away.

Believe it or not, comments from your own account actually help boost your engagement ranking. The more replies, the higher the chance of Instagram boosting your post. Pro tip: Instagram only counts comments that have more than three words in them and emojis don’t count. So, make sure your replies are more substantive than “😘😘😘.”


Factor 2: Interests

What it Means: On a baseline level, Instagram collects your basic demographic information and your interaction habits on the app. With this data, they guesstimate what type of content you would enjoy the most and create a portfolio of your top interests.

If you ever want to see this in action, you can click “About Instagram Ads” on in-feed ads or click through the newly designed “Explore” page. This will give you a feel for the kind of person Instagram thinks you are.

Whether it's accurate or not, this profile of interests contributes to who actually sees your content. If the content your posting is deemed to fall in line with your followers’ interests, it will be prioritized on their feed. This aspect of the algorithm is partially to blame for why some posts perform very differently than others.

How to Keep Your Audience Interested: It’s vital to build a following that has a keen interest in your profile, especially for a brand account. Avoid doing “follow for follow” for random accounts simply to increase the number on your profile. Instead, clearly define your target audience, go after them, and start building a relationship with them. That large follower count won’t mean much when none of them possess an interest in engaging with your content.

From a content perspective, stick to a comprehensive feed. You want your posts to fall in line with what you’re offering and what your followers signed up for. If you build an audience up of individuals that are interested in a certain mix of content, and then you go rogue and post something completely different, your content will, understandably, not rank as high. If you feel the need to pivot your content strategy, ensure that you do so slowly and deliberately to ensure a smooth transition.


Factor 3: Timing

What it Means: It’s common knowledge that users are most likely to see recent posts first. While the chronological feed is a thing of the past (RIP), you will typically see content posted the same day. The timing of a post has a significant effect on who will see your post and how many people will engage with it. After all, your audience likely isn’t sitting around on Instagram waiting for your newest Insta. You want to post your content on a schedule when the majority of your audience is online so the most possible people will see it.

In addition, it’s important to consider how often your audience is logging in to their account. Think about it, when you go offline for a few days, you tend to see posts from a few days ago (usually your closest friends) when you log back on. On the other hand, users who log in more frequently will see more up to date posts. If you're not posting regularly, it may be difficult to reach users, based on something as minute as their login habits.

Finding the Best Time to Post: One of the keys to increasing exposure is understanding when your audience is online. You want to capitalize on peak usage times so a larger audience will get to your post.  Apps like UNUM or Instagram’s Business page analytics will provide you an idea of when your followers log on. It’s important to keep in mind that different types of users log on at different times. Depending on the content you’re posting, you need to consider what segment of your audience a specific post is targeting and when these individuals are online.

In addition, posting frequently will give you more opportunities to catch your audience, regardless of the login habits. Even if they’re not online regularly, you should remain steady posting content on schedule. That way, there will be content, both recent and old, present for users when they decide to log back on.

If you haven’t noticed the parallels yet, all of these elements work together which makes each strategy rather complicated. Trying to post a picture at a good time that also aligns with Instagram’s understanding of your audience’s interests that will also drive engagement is much more complex than simply posting to a chronological feed.

It’s a delicate balance that takes trial and error to figure out and some factors may way heavier than others depending on the type of account. In addition, your strategy needs to be regularly pivoted as your audience profile evolves and develops. Confused? We don't blame you, it's a very complicated concept to understand. Sometimes, it's best to leave it to the experts.

As much as we grumble about the new algorithm, we do appreciate what Instagram is doing. While our likes may have taken a hit in the process, IG has set the app up in a way that allows accounts to create more genuine connections with their users. It’s no longer just a numbers game but it’s about building lucrative relationships with people who care about your account. Now that’s a lot more valuable than a high follower count.