OPINION: How to use Instagram’s algorithm to your advantage

Petra Smith

Petra Smith, Managing Director of Squirrels&Bears unpacks the algorithm on social network Instagram and how brands can take advantage of it.

The Instagram algorithm is a set of rules that evaluate the content on the highly popular social networking app. This algorithm decides what content, and in what order, will be displayed in all of its possible formats, including the feed, Stories, Reels and the Explore page. It is important to note that is not a single algorithm, but a combination of processes and classifiers, and each part of the app uses its own algorithm.

This sophisticated rating system ensures that the user experience is highly personalised according to each user’s preferences – meaning that no two users will ever see the same content on their Explorer page. Likewise, if one person has multiple profiles, the content recommendations will not be identical across those accounts.

The algorithm analyses posted content based on metadata including description and alt text, hashtags and interactions. Based on this information, it then distributes content in a way that is designed to ensure that users have access to the content that interests them the most. Simply put, the algorithm combines information about the content (posts, stories, reels) with information about users (interests and behaviour) in order to serve the “right” content to the right people.

Don’t forget that the purpose of the Instagram algorithm is to keep the attention of its users for as long as possible. Instagram is a profitable business that earns through advertising, meaning that the more satisfied users and the more time spent on the network, the better it is for the business.

Every time you open the app, the algorithm evaluates the available content and decides what you’ll see and in what order.  Your followers and potential followers have an influence on the content that the algorithm displays. What they like, view and comment on also affects the algorithm. However, what they don’t like, what they don’t watch or comment on is just as important – because every interaction or lack of interest is a signal to the algorithm.


How to make Instagram work for your business

  1. Post regularly, even if it’s not daily

The more you post, the faster you grow. But you have to be consistent, and you can’t publish 10x today, 2x tomorrow and 4x next week – the Instagram algorithm wants to see consistency. Remember, quality comes first. Start slow and test what works best for you.

  1. Include Reels

Take advantage of the opportunity to make yourself visible by creating eye-catching Reels that the algorithm prefers. You can apply your creativity on both TikTok and Instagram, but identical videos with the TikTok logo are viewed negatively by the algorithm, so focus on authentic and original videos.

  1. Focus on your audience, not yourself

Social networks are named after the social concept. Not only content, but two-way communication is the key to success. Instagram wants to promote content that keeps users engaged because that means more time spent on their app/website. Reply to comments and messages, visit your followers’ profiles, let them know you like their content and leave a comment. These types of interactions will make Instagram’s algorithm work in your favour and also help you establish authentic relationships with your followers.

  1. Use relevant hashtags

When it comes to hashtags and the Instagram algorithm, quality is more important than quantity. Hashtags must always be related to the content and should contain information about the post, whom it is intended for, and who is posting. The hashtag algorithm can determine which audience segment your post is relevant to and at the same time connect you with that audience.

  1. Be a storyteller

A caption is an effective way to add context to your story. Your goal is to use an image or video that motivates your audience to stop scrolling and check it out – so it’s crucial to make the post description interesting enough for users to want to read it. The time spent reading the description also signals to the algorithm that it is an interesting post that not only attracts but also can keep the audience’s attention and is more likely to positively reward it with increased reach.

  1. Create carousels

Carousels are posts with multiple images or videos that users can swipe through. Successful carousels have a fluid format, tell a story from start to finish or explain an idea in more detail, and offer value. Carousels are by nature more detailed in their content, signalling to the algorithm that this content format is keeping the audience engaged for longer, and each swipe represents an interaction, which is a sign of engagement and interest.

  1. Use Stories for authenticity

Interactions and time spent on Stories will positively influence the visibility of your content, while also giving you the opportunity to zoom in on the daily happenings behind your profile. Stories have a lifetime of 24 hours and are thus ideal for sharing spontaneous content, but Stories that you want to keep in your profile for a long time can also be saved as Highlights.

Remember that Instagram is only one means of communication for building your brand, so try to distribute your time, energy and budget among several marketing tools. Instagram’s algorithm will change many times, but what doesn’t change is the quality and reputation of your brand. Therefore, focus on a long-term strategy, not just on hacks that will help you in the short term.

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