When planning a social strategy for Instagram, it is impossible to not come across the all-powerful phrase: the algorithm.
With Instagram’s latest announcement that its algorithm will now be prioritizing original content, what other key changes should social marketers be aware of?
Consider this post your Holy Grail to the Instagram Algorithm. In it, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the dreaded Instagram algorithm in 2022… so that by the end, it’ll be your social selling partner, not your enemy.
What is the algorithm?
The Instagram algorithm is the platform’s interworking tool to continually deliver relevant, personalized content to its users on the app. It collects data from Instagram users to learn about their likes, preferences, social tendencies and more to optimize the user’s experience on the platform.
It also collects data from content that users create to determine how “valuable” it is. Things like likes, saves, shares, comments, watch time, and more, all factor into the ranking a piece of content is given which determines its spot in the Instagram algorithm. Content that Instagram deems valuable is shown to more users, whereas the ones that don’t make the cut see a limit in reach.
The Major Algorithm Changes of 2022
The algorithm is not a stagnant tool, Instagram is constantly adapting and altering its formula in an effort to perfect its role on the platform. However, with that comes a plethora of notable changes, especially recently, that every social seller will want to be aware of.
- Introduction of more “suggested” content in Instagram user’s Home Feeds (emphasis on Instagram Reels)
- The option for users to select new home views: “Following” and “Favorites” for a less algorithm-defined experience
- Priority for original content – meaning content that has not been previously shared by someone else on the platform (think: no reposts)
- Less visibility for content that contains a visible watermark from other apps
- Content categorization improvements based on keywords and content, as opposed to hashtags (though hashtags are still valuable for direct search)
Next, we’ll review how the algorithm applies to the various components of Instagram as a social platform including Feed Posts, Reels, Stories, and more.
The Algorithm & Feed Posts
For our purposes, we’ll be focusing on the default Home Feed that all users experience when they first open the app. For more information on the “Following” and “Favorites” Home Feed options, please reference this post.
Instagram’s Home Feed has arguably undergone the most significant changes throughout the past five years. What began as a Feed ranked by most recent posts has now shifted to a stream of recommended content by the algorithm.
So how does Instagram determine what content to put on your main Home Feed?
Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, says that it has a lot to do with signals and predicting how a user will interact with a piece of content. But what sorts of signals do they use?
While Mosseri notes that the signals are still being updated regularly to ensure they are effective, as of 2022, Instagram uses the following indicators when determining what content to show users:
- Information about the post: Is it a photo or video? How long ago was it posted? Is there a tagged location? How many likes does it have?
- Information about the poster: Do you know this person? Are they your friend? How often do you interact with content from this specific user?
- Your activity: What content are you most interested in on Instagram? Do you prefer to watch video content over viewing static images?
- Your interactions on content: Are you likely to comment or like users’ posts? Which types of content do you save most often versus share with other people?
What engagements on posts does Instagram care most about?
Instagram considers five main interactions when determining how to rank a post on a user’s Home Feed:
- Time spent on content: How much time does the average user spend on the content?
- Likes: How likely is the user to like the post?
- Comments: How likely is the user to make a comment on the post?
- Saves: How likely is the user to save the post for later?
- Profile Taps: After seeing the post, how likely is it that the user will tap on the profile of the poster?
When creating content and thinking of captions, it’s important to ask yourself, “Is this a post that users will want to comment on? Would someone want to save this post and return to it later?” and probably most importantly, “Does my post or caption include a Call-to-Action (CTA) that will prompt someone to click on my profile?”
The Algorithm & Reels
With the emphasis Instagram has been placing on video content, especially Reels, lately, cracking the code to the algorithm for Reels is key for successful social selling.
Similar to what we just covered in Feed Posts, Instagram Reels are ranked by content that the algorithm predicts is most likely to be interacted with.
The interactions that matter for Reels, however, are slightly different from Feed posts. Key predictors are:
- View completion rate
- Profile Taps
Instagram encourages users to create Reels that are fun and innovative, ones that utilize trending audios, creative text features, and engaging filters.
Users should avoid posting Reels that are low-quality, or have visible watermarks from other social platforms – namely, TikTok, as this will result in the Reel being deprioritized (or shown less) on the Home Feed.
As a best practice, it’s good to share your Reels to your Main Feed in addition to just the Reels tab. Also, using hashtags and keywords in your caption increases potential discoverability.
The Algorithm & Instagram Stories
Stories are really the outlier when it comes to the algorithm: in that they are the only content on the app to be prioritized almost entirely on which accounts you interact with the most, as opposed to the specific content within an Instagram Story.
Instagram will show Stories to users based on which accounts they engage with the most. So when trying to plan your strategy, the real key is to create Stories often that encourage interaction.
Because Stories have a short lifespan, it’s important to regularly post them, so your account is always more likely to show up at the top of your followers’ feeds.
As far as what to post on Stories that encourage engagement, here are some ideas:
- Create a poll
- Use the quiz sticker to test your followers
- Use the questions box to do a Q&A
All of those options prompt your followers to interact with your content, therefore demonstrating its value to Instagram, and ranking your Stories higher in the algorithm.
One update to note: Instagram appears to be testing a new “collapsed” Story format in which only a poster’s first 3 stories are presented to their followers and to see the rest of the slides, users would need to press “Show More.”
If this update becomes mainstream to the public, social sellers would need to prioritize their most important and engaging content in the first 3 slides of their Stories for optimal viewership and interaction.
5 Tips for Beating the Algorithm
To truly make the algorithm work for you, the best thing to do is drive as many engagements on your content as possible.
Furthering your engagement within your current community opens the door to Instagram presenting your content to new audiences, allowing you to grow.
Here are 5 tips to get your algorithm planning started:
- Post at Peak Times
Use your “Insights” tab on Instagram or third-party apps like Later or Planoly to view your optimal posting times and then post your content within those ideal windows. Posting when a large number of your following is already active increases your chances of interaction on your posts.
- Make a Habit of Posting Reels
As we mentioned before, Instagram is pushing their video content more than ever before. Reels receive priority on the Explore page and are integrated more frequently into the Home Feed, so your odds of having your content viewed by users is significantly higher when you create and post a Reel. If you do this consistently, your engagement as a whole will benefit from the reach you’ll be cultivating.
- Use Hashtags and Keywords to Improve Discoverability
An easy way to expose your content to more people and gain more views (which is crucial for the algorithm) is to be intentional in your hashtag and keyword usage on posts. Research hashtags within your niche that aren’t too saturated but also have regular posts and put them in your caption! When writing your caption, use focus keywords that describe your content in a way that is searchable by users (ex: “clean skincare”, or “spring style”)
- Encourage Conversation through Captions and Comments
Comments are a key indicator in the algorithm’s ranking for both Feed Posts and Reels. So when writing your captions, write something that will make your community want to talk and engage! Try to include a Call-to-Action when possible, like asking a question or telling followers to click the link in your bio. Also, be sure to respond to comments on your posts! This encourages your followers to come back and comment again, because they know it’s a conversation.
- Utilize Instagram Story Stickers
Using Instagram’s Story stickers is a great way to promote engagement on your Stories. Stickers like polls, questions, links, and quizzes are easy and quick ways to engage your followers and give your Story rankings a boost. Tip: post a sticker on the FIRST slide of your Stories to bump your viewership!
To conclude, knowing your specific niche and who is in your community is vital to being able to crack the code on the algorithm. Once you’ve identified and start using some best practices, all you need to do is sit back and let the algorithm do the rest of the work.
The most important takeaway? Be consistent and be authentic – it’s the best way to “beat” the algorithm and it will have positive effects on your brand relationships too.
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Instagram is a digital platform centered around sharing photos and videos, primarily through its mobile application. When your profile is set to public, both followers and non-followers can access and engage with your content, be it through likes, comments, shares, or saves.