An Updated 2021 User’s Guide to the Instagram Algorithms

Are you looking to get a better grasp on how exactly you can use Instagram to your advantage? Have you ever wondered exactly how Instagram decides what content users will see during their time on the app? This past week, Instagram has shed some light on how exactly the app works and the content that users see (the algorithm). 


Introducing The Algorithms

Instagram officials have stated that there is not one single algorithm that controls what people do and don’t see on the app. There are a “variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose”. There are so many different ways that people can use the app that it can be a challenge for users to navigate their way through the platform. This is why the focus of the Feed and Stories algorithms is generally on friends, while the Explore and Reels algorithms can uncover topics relevant to the user based on trends, interests, etc. 


Ranking Feed and Stories

Over the years, Instagram has noted that when users are viewing their Feed or Stories, they want to see content from those they are closest with. When ranking posts for a user’s feed, the first “quality” of a post to be considered is how recently it was posted. Next, Instagram takes the information about the post (how many likes, when it was posted, location of the post, etc.), who posted it, and a user’s own preferences, to make a set of predictions. These predictions are guesses as to how likely a user is to interact with a post in different ways (likes, comments, shares, etc). The more likely a user is to take one of these actions, the higher up the post will be in their Feed and Stories. 


Ranking Explore

Explore’s function is to help users discover new things. According to Instagram, “To find photos and videos you might be interested in, we look at signals like what posts you’ve liked, saved, and commented on in the past”. For example, if a user has shown interest in video tutorials on how to make spaghetti, they may start to see video tutorials on related topics, such as how to make various kinds of pasta dishes. 

After making the predictions as to what kind of content a user may be interested in, Instagram uses a ranking method very similar to the one used for Feed and Stories to determine the order of posts. This method includes analyzing the popularity of a post, a user’s interaction history with the account that posted, and once again, a user’s own personal preferences.


Ranking Reels

Similar to Explore, the majority of the Reels users will see are from accounts they do not follow. Instagram goes through a similar process where they find Reels they think a user may enjoy, and order them based on how interesting they think they will be to that user. With Reels, the specific focus is what will entertain the user. When predicting which videos a user will find entertaining, the most important indicators Instagram measures are a user’s activity, history of interactions with the person who posted, information about the reel, as well as information about the person who posted. These indicators allow Instagram to predict videos that a user is more likely to watch all the way through as well as interact with. 


Instagram has made a lot of changes over the years. With all of the new changes to the app comes new ways of engaging with people from across the world. We hope this guide to Instagram’s various algorithms helps you to understand your own experience on the app!


Source: Instagram. “Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works.” Instagram, Instagram, 8 June 2021,

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