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Instagram’s Algorithms in 2021: How do they work?

We, for one, welcome our new algorithm overlords.

Instagram’s algorithms used to be relatively simple; however, as the platform continues to add new features, its algorithms become more complex.  

When Instagram made the controversial decision to scrap the chronological feed, it left many people wondering how this mysterious new algorithm actually works. 

Social media giants are often fairly tight-lipped when it comes to revealing their secrets, but Instagram has shed a little bit of light on how its algorithms work.  

Once you have a better understanding of how Instagram’s algorithms work, you’ll be able to tailor your content accordingly and give yourself a better chance of success. 

Let’s dive in and take a closer at how Instagram is getting to know people. 

There isn’t just one algorithm 

You may have noticed that we’ve been talking about algorithms, not an algorithm. That’s because it’s a common misconception that Instagram employs just one algorithm. In fact, Instagram actually uses multiple algorithms. 

Don’t believe us? Well, don’t take our word for it. Check out what Instagram has to say on the matter

When you’re thinking about how Instagram’s algorithms work, you need to consider how they work in relation to which feature of the platform you’re interacting with. How you use Instagram, what you post, and where you post it will all impact how its algorithms interact with you.  

Let’s take a look at how Instagram’s algorithms work in relation to the feed, the Explore page, Instagram Stories, and Reels. 

Feed 

When it comes to how Instagram’s algorithms interact with your feed, according to Instagram, there are four main factors:  

1. Information about the post 

These are signals both about how popular a post is – think how many people have liked it – and more mundane information about the content itself, like when it was posted, how long it is if it’s a video, and what location, if any, was attached to it.

2. Information about the person who posted

This helps us get a sense of how interesting the person might be to you and includes signals like how many times people have interacted with that person in the past few weeks.

3. Your activity 

This helps us understand what you might be interested in and includes signals such as how many posts you’ve liked.

4. Your history of interacting with someone. 

This gives us a sense of how interested you are generally in seeing posts from a particular person. An example is whether or not you comment on each other’s posts.

With all of this information taken into consideration, Instagram can calculate something called a “score of interest”. Sounds scary, right? It may sound relatively technical; however, a score of interest simply calculates how likely a person is to interact with a post.  This score of interest then determines the order in which posts will be displayed in their feed. 

However, Instagram’s algorithms want you to do more than just look at a post. The algorithms want to show you posts that you’re likely to interact with. That’s why Instagram’s algorithms also factor in time spent looking at posts, likes, comments, shares, and saves. 

Explore

The way Instagram’s algorithms work, in relation to Explore, is quite similar to the feed. However, the most important actions here are likes, saves, and shares. 

If you can create content that gets people liking, sharing, and saving, you’re setting yourself up to make your content appear in people’s Explore pages more often. 

Community engagement is a big player in getting your content onto the Explore page. The more people interact with you, the more likely your content will appear on their Explore page. 

Stories 

Once again, the way Instagram’s algorithms work with Instagram Stories is quite similar to the feed. Interaction plays a key role here, too. In most cases, you’re likely to see Instagram Stories at the start of your feed from people that you interact with the most.

Similar to how people interact with Reels, Stories are often binged by Instagram users. If your Stories aren’t reaching as many people as you’d like, stick with it. The more regularly you post, the more chances you’re creating for people to interact with you. However, make sure you’re not overwhelming people by constantly posting Stories all day. 

A successful Instagram Stories strategy is all about balance. 

Reels

In terms of Reels, getting Instagram’s algorithms to work in your favour is all about producing quality content that utilises the tools you find within Instagram. 

Reels are designed to be entertaining, and Instagram wants you to watch and keep watching for extended periods of time. 

You may think uploading Reels to Instagram is as simple as recycling what you’ve already posted in TikTok. They’re essentially the same thing, right? Sure, TikTok and Reels are pretty much the same feature; however, Instagram wants users to use its features. 

When creating content for Reels, you should prioritise using Instagram’s text, camera effects and filters, and make sure you avoid uploading low-resolution videos. 

Don’t forget to use relevant and trending hashtags to boost your reach, and don’t be afraid to survey your followers and use analytics to see what is (and isn’t) working for Reels. 

How to get the most out of Instagram’s algorithms

So, you’re searching for that one magical way to conquer Instagram’s algorithm. Well, there’s good news, and there’s bad news. The bad news is that there is no one way to conquer Instagram’s algorithms. The good news is that you can take steps to give your content the best chance of success. 

Embrace new features

When Instagram launches a new feature, they want people to use it. If you’re looking for a way to give your content a leg up, Instagram will always boost people who use the new features being rolled out.  

Ask your followers 

It may sound strange, but if you want to know what content your followers want to see from you, ask them! Your followers are an invaluable resource, so make sure you’re embracing your community and harnessing all of that brainpower. 

Use stickers to make Stories more engaging 

Whether it’s a poll, interesting questions, or even an emoji slider, Instagram Stories are packed with interesting stickers, offering you so many different ways to interact with your followers. 

Need help lifting your social media game to the next level? Check out our online webinar on developing a social media strategy