About a year ago Instagram shocked its users by changing the way users see their feed. No longer could they see posts on a chronological basis. Instagram now delivers posts in an order that it feels best meets a user’s browsing patterns. Like its parent company Facebook, Instagram has a special algorithm where it favors some posts over others.
In many ways, Instagram’s change is a result of its own popularity. With 700 million people now using Instagram, most people are fed considerably more posts than they have time to look at. In fact, the average user misses about 70% of the posts in their Instagram feed. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the Instagram boffins have tried to ensure that the 30% of the posts you actually see is the 30% you most want to see.
While the Instagram algorithm is complex, it bases the order of your feed on seven key factors:
- Engagement - if people like or comment on your photos they tend to jump to the top of peoples’ feeds. This can sometimes annoy people as it means they tend to see the same posts multiple times.
- Relevancy - this can be challenging. Who is to say how relevant a particular post is. If you get sick of seeing numerous pictures of cute kittens, you must wonder why Instagram considers them relevant to you.
- Relationships - Instagram tries to predict the top eight people you follow and place their posts near the top of your feed. This puts a brand in direct competition with friends and family, but it is one reason why influencers can still succeed on Instagram.
- Timeliness - this has changed from how it was. Now Instagram’s definition of timeliness is “the order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.” So, in other words, they will give you the most relevant posts by the people you care about in approximately the order that they post them.
- Profile searches - Instagram recognizes that if people regularly search your profile then they probably have an interest in you, so they boost your posts up those people’s feeds accordingly.
- Direct shares - Instagram views that if you directly share somebody’s content then you probably like it - so they bump it up your feed
- Time spent - if you spend more time looking at a user’s photos or images then Instagram assumes you want to see more of them and places that user’s content higher in your feed.
Instagram hasn’t stood still with its changes either. It continues to make updates to its features and algorithm nearly every month.
Although the feed has changed it is not random. We know the key things Instagram is looking for as they decide which posts rank well. Therefore it is possible to adapt your content and Instagram practices to give yourself a better chance of pushing your posts into the more visible parts of peoples’ feeds.
How to Beat the Instagram Algorithm Without Actually Cheating:
- Focus on Unique, High-Quality Content - Quality Over Quantity
- Post on Trending Topics
- Make Short Video Posts
- Use Your Pictures to Better Tell Stories
- Build Your Instagram Page Around a Theme
- Find Your Optimal Posting Times
- Use Calls to Action in the Middle of Your Posts
- Host a Giveaway Contest to Engage Followers
- Go Live on Instagram
The most important way for your followers to easily see your content is to ensure that you only post content of the highest possible quality. High-quality content encourages people to engage with it. It will also be considered relevant more often by those who see it.
Use relevant (and make certain they are only relevant) hashtags in the captions to your posts. Don’t try and join in the latest fad with your hashtags unless they truly describe your content, otherwise, it looks like you’re gaming the system.
Of course, if you are already considered an influencer, you will already be providing this type of content all the time. That’s how you will have gained your reputation - with authenticity, trust, and quality content.
In the past, people thought that you could gain a greater exposure by increasing the quantity of postings you make. That can backfire now. If you post too often, people are less likely to take notice of all of them, and that will dimish your overall engagement rate. That will, in turn, send posts even further down the queue.
People will react far better to a few great posts, than a lot of mediocre images with irrelevant captions.
Be prepared to experiment with Instagram's wide range of filters to help you create that perfect image. Research shows that posts with a filter on are more likely to be viewed and commented on than unfiltered pictures.
If you are showing images of products, you will often get better engagement if you show images of the products in use, rather than generic product images - even if they are being used in unusual situations. Starbucks, for instance, gained more than 300,000 likes for a post they made depicting Starbucks drinks as Christmas decorations.
It also helps if you become a “good Instagram citizen”. This means that you post quality content, correctly targeted to your followers. You quickly answer any questions people leave on your posts, and you thank anybody who comments. You also don’t want people to see you as simply being a broadcaster. You need to engage with, share, and comment on other peoples’ posts too.
With Relevancy and Timeliness being key factors in the current Instagram algorithm, it makes sense for you to create posts on trending topics.
Of course, these still have to be authentic. In the past, businesses have used trending hashtags in totally irrelevant posts. For instance, businesses made posts advertising gold rings for sale that include the #worldcup tag but no other mention of the then current World Football Cup. This sort of gaming the system is unlikely to work now.
However, if you can authentically weave in references to trending topics into your posts, then you have a good chance of pushing these posts into a higher place in your followers’ Instagram feeds. They will also be visible, of course, to anybody who searches for those particular hashtags, potentially gaining you a new audience.
Consider adapting your posts to the seasons. This could be as simple as modifying the predominant colors of your images for certain times of the year.
As internet speeds have improved, video has increased in popularity. While YouTube used to have the video market to itself you can now include video in quite a few other social networks, including Instagram.
Both video output and engagements have increased for publishers. BBC News, for instance, now includes video in 85% of their Instagram posts.
Since March 2016 you have been able to post videos of up to 60 seconds on Instagram. Newswhip surveyed 20 publishers and media brands of Instagram video in June 2017. They found video lengths ranged from 10.6 seconds for E! News to 60 seconds for Buzzfeed News. Overall, though the typical BuzzFeed Instagram video post only averages 14.4 seconds.
The average video length from these top 20 publishers was 30 seconds.
Newswhip found that the keys to video success on Instagram were to:
- Use relatable or pop culture memes your audience would resonate with
- Show your viewers something that is different from their everyday life
- Feature action-packed feats, stunts, or sports
- Give an inside look at the lives of celebrities or athletes
- Show interesting collages or animations
- Tell heartwarming stories and tales that personify animals
Newswhip also discovered that videos tend to generate about twice as many comments as still images, meaning more engagement and a subsequent boost in the feeds.
Another use for Instagram videos if you have a successful YouTube channel, is to create teaser trailers for your YouTube videos on Instagram.
One way to create a theme is to tell an ongoing story through your posts. You can post a pre-planned sequence of pictures on a regular basis, which along with your captions tell a compelling and interesting story.
If you hook your audience early enough, they will look at Instagram at regular intervals expecting to see the next part of your tale. If they actively search for the next installment, it won’t matter whether the algorithm places your posts at the top of their feed.
You can expand on your story in your comments section, where you can explain the relationship between the images in your story.
Instagram helped this process when the introduced Instagram Stories. These collate a series of posts from a 24 hour period into a slideshow format. You can gradually build up your story over the day - although they do disappear after 24 hours. One of the nicest things about Instagram Stories is that they sit separately from your feed in a bar at the top, so they will not get lost if you have a lot of posts on that particular day.
The Newswhip survey of top 20 Instagram video publishers showed that many of them use videos approaching 1 minute to tell stories. BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed Tasty, Fox News, BBC News, and CNN all use 60 seconds of Instagram video to tell compelling stories. These were stories of human interest, often animal stories, that invoked empathy, joy, or positive sentiments.
If you are looking for inspiration, REI is one brand that does an excellent job of telling stories with their Instagram posts.
With the Instagram algorithm now focussing on how a person has reacted to content in the past, it makes sense to build your audience around a theme. If people like your theme and engage with your posts, they are more likely to be fed your future posts near the top of their feed.
You could perhaps begin this by looking at your analytics to see which of your posts have resonated most in the past. Are there any trends in there that suggest a theme for you to focus on in the future?
As you tell Instagram stories, take note of which work best with your audience. These can offer you suggestions for future themes that work well with your audience.
Although Instagram no longer displays posts in the order they are made, you can still benefit from making posts at certain times, compared to others. This is partly because for Instagram to know how good your post is, it needs to first show it to a sample of people. If the first sample likes and engages with your content, then Instagram will jump it higher up the queue for other people.
This means that you want to post a time when you have followers who will engage with your posts as soon as you post them. It’s a good idea to look at your Instagram Insights analytics to determine the times when the greatest number of your followers are online and schedule your posts then.
Although you can’t place a clickable link anywhere apart from in your bio, you should consider putting a Call To Action into your post - either in the caption or on the image itself. While this will have little effect on where your posts appear in peoples’ feeds, it can help drive traffic to your site, and help increase your conversions.
You can easily include statements like “double tap if…”, “enter our competition on our website to win…” or “tag your friends” to drum up excitement and engagement.
One Call to Action you could consider using is to encourage your followers to join in a contest. If you host some form of giveaway competition this should enhance your engagement, which will help boost your posts up the rankings.
You do have to be careful that you don’t overuse them, though. You want any giveaways to appear fun and attractive to your followers. If your followers perceive you to be constantly holding competitions you risk losing that special edge that encourages higher engagement.
As with telling an Instagram Story, going live on Instagram helps you to bypass the main feed altogether. You will appear at the front of the stories at the top of your supporters’ feeds. Also, having the LIVE logo makes your profile more prominent compared to others.
There can also be a flow-on effect. If people regularly see you live, they will also probably look for your non-live material, and the extra searches will help boost that in the rankings.
One of the reasons that influencers are so successful on Instagram is that they don't have to worry about how to make their posts visible to their followers. They produce quality posts that people want to see. Influencers produce posts that jump to the top of feeds, simply because people want to engage with them.
Influencers know how to beat the Instagram Algorithm without cheating. They simply post as they always have, by following the nine practices given above.