Instagram first introduced an algorithm-based news feed in March 2016 in an effort to improve user experience. For the first six years of the platform’s existence, users would open the app and see a feed made up of photos posted by the accounts they follow in reverse chronological order. Since 2016, the content is instead organized based on what Instagram’s algorithms “think” each user would want to see.
The popular photo-sharing network wasn’t the first social media platform to ditch a chronological news feed in favor of an algorithm-based one. Its parent Facebook was the first to do it in 2011, followed by Twitter in 2013. The inner workings of these algorithms were shrouded in secrecy, so it’s no surprise that the reactions to these changes in all three cases were mixed at best.
Understanding the New Instagram Algorithm
Until now, neither users nor marketers knew exactly how these algorithms work and how to “outsmart” them or at least use the technology to their own advantage. However, earlier this year Instagram announced changes to its existing algorithm and revealed what types of data it collects and how it uses this data to select which posts to show first in a user’s Instagram feed.
Here are the five most important things you should know about the new Instagram algorithm.
1. Your Feed Is Personalized
Every Instagram feed is personalized, which means that no two accounts will have the same feed. Even if you follow the exact same accounts as some other user, your feeds will be based on how each of you interacts with those accounts. For example, if you frequently like and comment on posts by and/or about your favorite celebrity, their future posts will likely be shown near the top of your feed.
At the same time, Instagram’s idea is to allow users to see more posts from their family and friends. According to internal statistics, users would only see half of their friends’ posts when the chronological feed was there. Since the introduction of the personalized feed, this number has gone up to 90%.
2. Your Interests and Relationships Play a Vital Role
There are three main factors that determine which posts you’ll see in your feed – your prior Instagram activity, the date a photo was posted, and your relationship with its author.
Using advanced machine learning techniques, the algorithm can work out your interests based on your activity on the network. It then uses this knowledge to show you the posts it thinks you want to see. For example, if you like a few cat photos or videos in a short period of time, you will notice more cat-related content in your feed.
The more the algorithm thinks you’ll like a post, the closer to the top of your feed you’ll see it. The algorithm will give preference to recent content, as well as content posted by your friends and family. How does Instagram know your relationships with other users? Well, if you’re tagged in multiple photos with someone or frequently exchange comments with them, they’re family as far as the new Instagram algorithm is concerned.
3. Your Instagram Habits Also Matter
One of the main ideas behind Instagram’s new algorithm is to ensure that users don’t miss posts they might be interested in. If you’re not a frequent Instagram user or only log in for a few minutes at a time, rather than showing the most recent posts from the accounts you follow, your feed will give you the highlights posted since your last visit. To make the feed more chronological, you will have to log in more often.
The number of accounts you follow also plays an important part. Namely, the more accounts you follow, the more choice the algorithm will have. As a result, users who follow 1,000 accounts will likely miss some important posts. The only way to prevent this from happening is to unfollow or mute the accounts you don’t particularly care about.
4. Shadowban Is a Myth (According to Instagram)
About a year ago, many Instagram influencers and marketers noticed that their posts were being removed from their followers’ feeds for no apparent reason. It later turned out that they kept using the same hashtags in all their posts, which the algorithm interpreted as spam. Known as “shadowban”, this was a problem for marketers who had to rethink their hashtag strategies to work around the issue.
Well, according to Instagram at least, shadowbanning is just a myth. The developers said that all the content from the pages you follow will appear in your feed as long as you keep scrolling.
However, it is still important to use hashtags that are relevant to your content and avoid posting repetitive content as not only could that get you shadowbanned from other users’ feeds but also completely banned from using Instagram.
5. Stories and Live Won’t Improve Your Ranking, Frequent Posting Won’t Hurt It
Many marketers believe that using Instagram Stories, Instagram Live, and Boomerang helps rank their content higher in their followers’ feeds. However, as told by one of Instagram’s designers in a recent interview, this isn’t true. The algorithm doesn’t favor content based on how it was made but solely based on its quality and other users’ interactions with it.
Similarly, the claim that frequent posting will hurt your ranking is another popular myth. If you post two or more times in a row, the algorithm will likely insert a few posts in between to break them up. All your posts will still be shown in your followers’ feeds, but they won’t be next to each other. Meanwhile, your ranking will remain unaffected.
The Final Word
According to Instagram’s designers, the chronological feed is a thing of the past and won’t be making a comeback any time soon. The new algorithm is here to stay, so knowing how it works could help both regular users and marketers get the most out of this popular social media platform.
Users can utilize this information to improve their feeds and ensure that they only see the content they are interested in. On the other hand, marketers can use this information to better understand their followers’ behavior and find ways to develop content that’s more tailored to their followers’ interests. If you’re a marketer, you also need to monitor your metrics very closely and use this insight to build a foolproof Instagram marketing strategy.