How the Instagram Algorithm Works (And Where Your Strategy Needs to Shift)
From SEO to social media, algorithms are often what determine who actually sees the content you publish and who doesn't.
As these algorithms change, yesterday's marketing tactics might become less effective tomorrow. That's why your strategy on each platform needs to constantly evolve too.
On Instagram, in particular, simply posting on a regular basis with the right hashtags won't necessarily guarantee that your content will always reach its intended audience.
Instead, you'll need to consider how you can work with the algorithm to shake up your approach to Instagram marketing.
How does the Instagram algorithm work?
The Instagram algorithm dictates the order of the posts that users see when they’re scrolling through their feed.
Based on specific signals, it prioritizes posts, pushing the most relevant ones towards the top and giving them the most visibility, while other content ends up being placed further down in one's feed.
In June of 2018, Instagram released information sharing some of the different factors that the algorithm takes into account when prioritizing content in a user's feed.
While it’s important to note that the algorithm is subject to change, these three main ranking factors that were singled out can still help inform your Instagram strategy:
- Relationship with the user. If a certain user has interacted with a lot of your past content, they’ll be more likely to see your future content. This makes continual, repeat engagement on your posts important for building a loyal audience.
- Interest the user has conveyed. This signal is based on whether the user interacts with other, similar posts and accounts. Users who also engage with similar content are more likely to see your own posts.
- Recency of the post. While the simple chronological Instagram feed is a thing of the past, timeliness is still relevant. More recent posts will be favored and pushed to the top of the feed, while older posts will show up a little further down.
There were also other, more general considerations that Instagram shared, which you should make note of:
- If users follow a lot of accounts, you’ve got more competition for the top spot in their feed.
- If users either don’t spend a long time on Instagram or don’t open the app that often, you decrease the odds of having your content seen if you aren’t in one of the very top slots.
- Business profiles on Instagram are not immediately at a disadvantage in terms of organic reach compared to personal accounts.
Now, you might be wondering what all this means for your own Instagram marketing strategy. So let’s take a look at some of the different ways you can adapt your approach to reach more of your customers.
Focus on relationships, not just reach
Audience loyalty and continual engagement from your followers is now more important than ever, especially since it can earn you one of the top spots in their feeds.
Some ways to create these relationships with your content include:
- Prompts that encourage users to share their thoughts and give you an opportunity to start a conversation with them.
- User-generated content about your brand that your followers have posted. This not only inspires more UGC, but users may tag you in their posts and further expand your digital footprint on Instagram.
- Engagement-building posts, like tag-a-friend posts or Instagram conteststhat encourage users to comment.
But it's important to think outside of your own posts if you hope to find your customers on Instagram. This is a social network, after all.
Comment on posts from relevant users and brands
You can also engage with users on their posts to build relationships outside of your own content by leaving interesting and involved comments on content from potential customers, relevant influencers, and related businesses.
Posting first on larger accounts that have plenty of followers can help get your comment (and thus your profile) more visibility too. Think about accounts that your target audience is likely to follow, follow them, and join the conversation.
When doing this, be genuine and add value. Don’t try to just look for opportunities to get in a public sales pitch or leave generic responses. Show your brand’s personality and engage in a meaningful way.
Fashion Nova, for example, can be regularly found in the comments on posts by rapper Cardi B, among other influencers, where they get a fair bit of exposure and the chance to build relationships with their target audience.