The new Instagram algorithm just became much more transparent. Since 2016, Instagram has largely been a mystery—that’s when the social media platform replaced its chronological feed with a secret algorithm.
The idea behind the algorithm was simple: a chronological feed isn’t the best way for users to get the content they want. That’s why Instagram’s algorithm has been designed to better match users and content, simultaneously improving both user engagement and satisfaction.
Today we’re going to explore what those journalists learned, and how you can use it to boost your brand’s visibility on Instagram.
The Instagram engineers leading this discussion laid out 6 basic signals that the new Instagram algorithm looks for when building a feed:
We’ll get into those specifics in just a minute, but the overall takeaway boils down to something like this: every user sees a unique feed designed to boost engagement on a personal level.
In a way, the new Instagram algorithm makes a lot of sense: it ensures users are seeing more of what they like. But because the factors were opaque for so long, there was an inevitable sense of disappointment, like everyone was missing out on something. Now that Instagram has begun to explain what factors are involved in their algorithm, brands can begin to take the wheel and exert some influence over what they see—and how they’re seen.
So what exactly does this mean?
There’s a reason why Hey Tiger’s posts are always near the top of my feed. I love their glitzy, ostentatious, and often silly photos, so Instagram knows that I like seeing more of their posts. But while some of my friends follow Hey Tiger, they’re not all chocoholics, so if they aren’t engaging with the Australian chocolate brand often then their posts will probably show up lower down in their feeds.
Leveraging the new Instagram algorithm can help you enjoy a competitive advantage over other users and businesses on this incredibly popular and powerful social platform. In other words, the more your brand knows about Instagram’s new algorithm, the more visible your brand can become.
Instagram’s algorithm looks at 6 different signals when it weighs where to present content. The three most important features are Interest, Recency, and Relationship.
Simply put, interest refers to how attracted to a certain post Instagram’s algorithm feels you might be. The new algorithm takes a look at your history: what you’ve liked, what you’ve scrolled past, what you’ve commented on, and what you’ve actively searched for. In other words, Instagram will take a look at your behavior and attempt to gauge how interested in a given post you might be, ranking them accordingly.
There is even some suggestion that Instagram uses machine learning to take a peek at posts and try to figure out whether a user will like them or not.
Brands looking to leverage the interest signal of the new Instagram algorithm might want to try the following:
The second of the three big factors that Instagram’s new algorithm looks at is called recency. Simply put, recency is Instagram’s way of ensuring your feed doesn’t get too far out of date. For fans of the chronological feed of yesteryear, recency is a big deal. The algorithm favors posts that are more recent—although, not exclusively.
An emphasis on recency in the algorithm doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll see a chronological feed. Rather, the intention seems to be to ensure that users are not inundated with out-of-date material.
Brands looking to ensure recency is part of their Instagram strategy may want to ensure that they:
The third primary factor in the new Instagram algorithm is the relationship factor, and this is where engagement really starts to play a significant role. Under its new algorithm, Instagram is more likely to show you posts from people whose previous posts you have commented on or interacted with in some way.
In other words, mastering this part of Instagram’s algorithm depends on putting the “social” into social media. People who comment on your posts are more likely to see future posts because Instagram assumes they like what you have to say and want to see more.
In some ways, good social media strategy has always been about building connections and engagement. But there are specific ways you can use relationships to increase your reach:
Here’s a quick example of tagging in posts: social influencer Keira McGuire always tags brands in her posts—and in turn receives free clothes, makeup and other goods from brands looking to leverage her 176,000-strong following.
There were six algorithm factors in total that the engineers at Instagram discussed with journalists. The three signals discussed above are generally understood to be primary factors. In principle, these next three supporting factors round out the algorithm to give the best possible experience to users.
The 3 secondary signals described by Instagram include:
Because they’re a bit more potent, leveraging primary algorithm factors is perhaps a bit more straightforward than leveraging these secondary factors. However, knowing these secondary signals can still be incredibly valuable to your Instagram brand campaign.
These secondary factors can help ensure your Instagram strategy is moving in the right direction—and can help you troubleshoot when things aren’t going quite the right way.
Because the algorithm has been opaque for quite some time, the team from Instagram spent a little bit of time helpfully clearing up some misinformation. We’re quite happy that they did because knowing what Instagram’s new algorithm isn’t is almost as useful as knowing what it is. You can avoid strategies that just don’t work—or that make faulty assumptions.
The following items are not a stated aspect of the new Instagram algorithm:
The final thing that was cleared up in this meeting at Facebook HQ was this: there is no such thing as a shadowban. For brands who were worried about hashtag violations or dropping engagement, this is a significant relief.
First, it means that brands don’t have to be worried about violating some unwritten rule and being exiled from meaningful Instagram interactions. It also means that drops in engagement or followers are correctable with the right strategy.
If you’re a content marketer, social media manager, or brand expert, these Instagram algorithm updates will be pretty significant for you. It’s important to take some time to look at your current strategy and evaluate its strengths and opportunities in light of this new data from Instagram.
Savvy brand managers will make adjustments to their strategy based on this new data. But in some ways, the best social media strategy remains unchanged: foster engagement on your social media account.
If there’s one thing these new Instagram algorithm updates show us, it’s that there are significant rewards for emphasizing user interactivity, in getting your followers to interact with your posts.
The specific strategy will vary by brand. But we can’t help applauding Instagram’s commitment to transparency. These type of algorithm updates helped decimate the marketing value of Facebook. It’s reassuring to know that Instagram has taken some of these lessons to heart.
Leveraging the new Instagram algorithm won’t just make your account more successful. It will make your Instagram account better—and in the long run, that’s a marketing strategy win.