Instagram Algorithm: What You Need to Know to Boost Organic Reach


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So much content is shared on Instagram that it’s estimated people miss 70 percent of their feeds, on average. But the creators of the platform are committed to ensuring that you see the photos and videos you care about most.

So, instead of the good ol’ reverse chronological order, Instagram has implemented a “best-first” algorithm-based approach.

We’re here to give you the low-down on the Instagram algorithm—what fuels it and how to master it when it comes to social media marketing for your business.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps an adventure photographer used to grow from 0 to 110,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear. Plus we’ll show you how you can use Hootsuite to grow your own following on Instagram and other platforms.

What we know about the Instagram algorithm

In their own words, Instagram displays posts “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post.”

The essence of the Instagram algorithm, from a user perspective, is figuring out what content interests you and driving it to the top of your feed. This means less low quality content. And eventually posts that Instagram deems as low quality may be filtered out entirely.

These qualities are shared by the Facebook algorithm, which makes sense since Facebook owns Instagram.

How does Instagram determine the algorithm?

While Instagram has kept quiet about the inner-workings of their formula, here’s what we do know about the factors that influence the Instagram algorithm:

  • Timing. The algorithm is based on how recently a photo or video was shared. Your feed does not run in reverse chronological order as it once did—but you won’t see your best friend’s post from a week ago at the top of your feed either.
  • Engagement. The algorithm is about likes, but it’s also about comments. Comments take more effort on behalf of the user, which shows a higher level of engagement. Instagram now also lets you like comments. By liking comments, you can “promote positivity,” according to Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom.
  • Previous interactions. The algorithm takes into account how often a user interacted with your post in the past.

How to improve your organic reach on Instagram

We saw the way organic reach dipped when Facebook launched their algorithm. Chances are, it’s going to happen to Instagram, too.

If maintaining social reach is part of your social media marketing strategy, here’s how to tackle declining organic reach on Instagram:

  1. Write compelling captions. Make sure they’re engaging. Tell a story, teach something, or include a CTA that links back to your site or a contest. Here’s a full guide on how to write Instagram captions that drive engagement.
  2. Post videos. Video watch time on Instagram increased 40 percent in only six months in 2016. Instead of likes, Instagram offers the number of views to better capture video engagement.
  3. Use the right hashtags. Hashtags will make your content more discoverable on Instagram. And by making yourself more discoverable, you have a better chance of attracting new followers, getting more likes, and increasing engagement. For a detailed how-to, Hootsuite’s got an ultimate guide to Instagram hashtags.
  4. Post high-quality content. Instagram may eventually eliminate low quality posts. Don’t let your content get written off because it’s a grainy image or blurry video.
  5. Cross-promote. This is something you should already be doing—promote your Instagram content on your other social media channels. It’ll help drive traffic back to your Instagram account.
  6. Encourage engagement with an Instagram contest. Providing an incentive is a good way to connect with your audience and get them excited about your brand. It’ll get people talking about and interacting with your brand fun. For tips and ideas on hosting your own contest, check out our post on running a successful Instagram contest.
  7. Invest in social ads. Put budget behind your content to ensure that your audience sees it. Instagram Advertising uses the same tools as Facebook Ads—making it easy to create ads that can be displayed on both platforms.

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