The Instagram algorithm has perplexed social media marketers and content creators for some time. How exactly does it work? And what steps can we take to ensure our content is ranking well on the platform?
Adam Mosseri issued an update on the Instagram algorithm back in June, providing more insight into the common misconceptions, and how Instagram actually works. So, how does Instagram work?
Let’s find out.
Instagram Algorithm 2023: how it works
Adam Mosseri (head of Instagram) gave us an insight into Instagram’s ranking algorithms, providing solutions on optimising content visibility and enhancing its performance on Instagram’s main feed, Stories, and Reels.
The “Algorithm” (Or Algorithms)
From what we can gather, Instagram does not have a singular algorithm that dictates what people see in their feeds. Instead, it uses a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processors that tend to their own purposes.
The same can be said for Feed, Stories, Explore, Reels, Search, and more – each area relies on its own algorithm tailored to how people use the feature. For example, the algorithm knows users look for their close friends while in Stories, an Explore is used to discover new content, while Reels users seek entertainment.
So, how is each feature ranked by the algorithm?
How Instagram Ranks Stories
Stories are snippets of everyday life, a way to share moments and grow closer to your favorite people and interests. The Stories we see consist of those we follow, as well as ad placements.
Instagram’s Stories algorithm starts by defining all of the potential stories (excluding ads) posted by those we follow, removing any that violate the app’s community guidelines. The algorithm will then look at “a variety of input signals” including:
- Viewing history
- Engagement history
What this means is that Instagram calculates whose Stories you view most, which accounts you engage with most, and the level of relationship you have with users, when ranking Stories. Based on these areas, the algorithm can determine how likely you are to tap into a story, reply to a story or move onto the next story.
In essence, Instagram spotlights the Stories that you are most likely to engage with, based on your user habits.
How Instagram Ranks Your Feed
Feed is the hub within Instagram. It features a mix of content that helps us catch up with friends, family, and interests.
The algorithm first must define which content it wants to rank in the first place. This is achieved by looking at recent posts shared by the accounts you follow, and posts from accounts you don’t follow but might be interested in. Content you might be interested in can be based on what or who you’ve followed, liked, or engaged with recently. The experience is personalized to balance content from accounts you follow, with those you don’t but may be interested in.
Instagram will then collect information about what was posted, the people making the posts, and your preferences. Considerations are made toward factors like format, so if you enjoy photo over video, you’ll see more photos in your feed. This is brought together by the use of “signals”, which include everything from when a post is shared, to the device you’re consuming media on, and even how often you press like on certain posts. The most important signals across Feed are:
- Your activity
- Information about the post
- Information about the person who posted
- Your history of interacting with someone
The algorithm will then make educated guesses at how likely you are to interact with a post in different ways. For example, a video you see in-feed has been placed there because Instagram thinks you are likely to engage in one of five actions – spend a few seconds on it, comment, like, share, or tap on the profile photo.
If you’re a prolific engager, Instagram may take other considerations into account. For example, the algorithm will attempt to avoid showing too many posts from the same person in a row, or too many suggested posts simultaneously.
How Instagram Ranks Reels
Like on TikTok, the implementation of a vertical-swipe short-form video feed is focused on discoverability. Instagram Reels has much more emphasis on entertainment than any of the platform’s other features.
For ranking, Instagram must first survey people to find whether they find a particular reel is worth their engagement, using the feedback to personalize the experience. Considerations around engagement signals come into play too, how likely are you to watch the full reel, reshare it, like it, or go to the audio page. Signals for Instagram Reels include:
- Your activity
- Your history of interacting with the person who posted
- Information about the reel
- Information about the person who posted
Your in-app behavior will dictate the type of content that displays in the Reels feed.
How Instagram Ranks Explore
Instagrams main port of discovery is its explore tab. Here, you’ll find photos and videos collated from accounts you don’t yet follow, but may be interested in.
These posts are selected based on your interests, which can be found by looking at previous posts that have been liked, shared, saved, or commented on.
In the same way feed and stories are ranked, explore estimates how likely you are to interact with a post, which again requires specific signals to determine. The most important signals on the explore page are:
- information about the post
- Your activity in explore
- Your history of interacting with the account that posted
- Information about the account that posted
So in Instagram’s explore tab you’re likely to see content that is based around your interests, content from accounts you’ve previously interacted with, or content from accounts that may align with your interests.
Leveraging the Instagram Algorithm for Brand Success
Now we’ve figured out how Instagram’s many algorithms work, it’s time to look at how we can best utilize them for brand success.
Focus on creating engaging content
From what we’ve gathered on how Instagram algorithms work, engagement is key. Content recommendations assume a large portion of the total distribution, and those recommendations are based upon how likely a user is to interact with a post, among other variables. For your content to show up in-feed, across reels, stories and in the explore tab, it has to be engaging.
Instagram Reels are a great way to enhance discoverability on the platform, and to entertain dedicated and potential audiences. For maximum effect, Reels should encourage users to like, comment, and reshare as much as possible. Engagements are a key driver for Reels clips, so consider how you’re going to drive them.
Don’t forget what your target audience wants
Content optimization, making the most of the algorithm, and appearing in-feed are all desirable metrics on Instagram, but above all else you must ensure that your audience is satisfied. How are people interacting with what you post? Analyze the sentiment, and create actionable enhancements that are more personalized to what your audience wants.
Stay authentic and consistent
Authenticity is key in modern social media and influencer marketing. If there is a specific trend that promises views and clicks, but requires you to stray from consistent brand messaging you risk damaging your reputation amongst your audience. Your content, activations and overall activity on the platform should remain consistent and promote authenticity.
7 in 10 customers will buy more from brands they trust. So to build that trust, you need to create an authentic brand presence on Instagram and create transparent, honest, and informational content for real interest, not just vanity metrics. Consistency also helps you foster that all-important trust. Posting regularly will not only keep your brand top of their mind but will also help you cultivate an ongoing community who come back for more.
Leverage Other Marketing Channels
Cross-channel social media marketing is the way forward. Instagram shouldn’t be your only marketing platform. Yes, it’s a powerful tool, but utilizing other avenues as well will always work in your favor. Different channels have different algorithms, and of course, changing audiences. Assess which will work best for you and your brand’s goals and create a robust strategy across all of them.
Concluding thoughts – Instagram Algorithms
From what we’ve gathered from Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s ranking algorithms dictate content visibility and performance across the platform’s various features. Instagram uses different algorithms, classifiers, and processors for each of its main functions.
Stories, Feed, Explore, and Reels each have distinct algorithms, which are used to gather audience preferences and reflect the most personalized content for their platform experience.
As a brand, you should look to leverage these algorithms for brand success, focusing on creating engaging content that encourages interactions—for example, implementing a Reels strategy to enhance discoverability and drive engagements. Authenticity and consistency are paramount. Maintain your brand messaging and stay true to your audience, even amidst trends.
In essence, understanding these intricacies offers brands the tools to navigate the Instagram landscape, optimize their content strategy, and effectively connect with their audience while staying true to their brand identity.
Are you a brand looking to freshen things up on Instagram? The Goat Agency has over 8 years experience, specializing in social media marketing on Instagram. To find out more about how we launch industry-leading campaigns, contact us today!