Find out how to use the Instagram algorithm to your advantage. Spoiler! You can boost your engagement rates and performance without spending a penny.
Building success on social media is a time-consuming and sometimes precarious process. But nowhere so much as on Instagram, where what works well one month might not the next. This is all down to the mysterious Instagram algorithm, which determines how much airtime each post receives.
What is the Instagram Algorithm?
We hear you cry! Well, it’s the system of code which determines what a user sees as they scroll their Instagram feed. When the app first launched in 2010, all posts were shown in reverse chronological order. Which meant you saw what your friends posted, in the order in which they shared it. While this seemed logical, it actually led to users missing a reported 70 per cent of all posts and 50 per cent of their friends’ posts.
So, Instagram decided to mix it up. The platform introduced a relevance-based algorithm to help users see the content they were more likely to enjoy. But the elements that impacted this Instagram algorithm remained shrouded in mystery. Until 2018, when the platform explained that there were key factors which influenced each user’s optimised feed.
The top three Instagram Algorithm factors are:
- Interest. How much you’re likely to care about the content based on your previous activity.
- Recency. A natural priority given to the latest posts.
- Relationship. The more you interact with a profile, the more likely you are to see its content.
But what does this mean for brands?
There are over 25 million businesses already active on Instagram. If you want to receive real traction, you’re going to need to do more than just post product pictures.
Let’s translate the above Instagram algorithm factors into actions for your business:
- Interest: Pay attention to your engagement rates. If one style of post is performing well, that means your audience is interested in it. Replicating and developing that posting style will mean that more of your content gets seen by wider audiences.
- Recency: Posting regularly. A post might be fantastic, but if it’s a couple of days old, it’s not going to outperform the equally engaging content shared by your competitors in the meantime.
- Relationship: Interacting with your followers. Community management is the most neglected area of most businesses’ social media strategy. This is ironic as it’s one of the best, and cheapest ways to boost your Instagram algorithm ranking.
How can community management boost my Instagram algorithm performance?
The main reason you should be interacting with and managing your social media community is so that your account appears active. Inactive accounts have little algorithm learning associated with their content and so perform poorly in most user’s timelines. You’ll notice it if you take a break from Instagram. When you return and start posting again, your engagement levels will be much lower than when you left. Inactive accounts must claw their way back up to high engagement rates by regularly posting and interacting with other users.
An unwritten rule of the Instagram algorithm is that you get out what you put in. Unless you’re Jennifer Aniston, you can’t expect to see real growth on your brand’s page if you aren’t engaging with the accounts of others.
Four tips to help you master the Instagram algorithm
And now that you know all about how the Instagram algorithm works, I’m sure you’re already thinking of ways to master it. Well, at Giraffe, we’ve been creating content for Instagram pretty much since the platform was founded, so we know a thing or two about working with the algorithm. Below, you can find our four top tips to help you master the Instagram algorithm:
Make engaging content
Regularly creating high-quality, aesthetically pleasing posts with conversational captions should be a cornerstone of your Instagram strategy. Ask your followers questions, encourage them to tag a friend or host occasional giveaways to boost inbound interactions on your page.
There’s no point encouraging your followers to comment on your posts or direct message you if you’re not going to reply. As well as being a bit on the rude side, ignoring your followers hinders your page’s performance. Responding to comments quickly not only encourages conversation but also builds your account’s ‘relationship’ with that user. This makes them more likely to see your future posts.
As we always say here at Giraffe, if you want to see engagement, you need to give engagement. Performing plenty of outbound interactions will help you reach new users and strengthen your relationships with existing followers. You should be doing this both on your account’s timeline and via hashtags. Simply scrolling your feed and offering genuine comments is a great first step. Then cast the net wider by browsing and engaging with the ‘Top’ and ‘Recent’ posts in hashtags you regularly use.
If you want to see the Instagram Algorithm in action, outbound interactions provide immediate proof. You’ll soon notice that the accounts whose posts you comment on or like will begin to appear more and more in your feed. So, it’s worth making sure you keep your outreach relevant if you want your timeline to be efficient.
When should I be interacting?
In an ideal world, the answer to this would be, constantly. But unless you’re willing to spend all your time monitoring your social channels, constant interaction is impossible. Many industry professionals believe that there is a golden window of interacting around the time you post. It’s generally thought that this window is around an hour before and after you post. This time is when interaction outreach will be the most effective at boosting your page and post-performance.
This timeframe also makes sense in non-algorithm terms. By interacting then, you might catch the attention of a new follower who will see your latest post and engage.
The Instagram algorithm, like the rest of social media, is constantly changing. Regular updates mean that the playing field is frequently re-levelled. The best way to stay on top of industry-wide changes is to work with a dedicated team like ours.
Here at Giraffe, we never miss a beat and are continuously discussing and relearning what it means to be successful on social. If you want to chat with us about improving your brand’s Instagram algorithm performance, or anything about the world of Social Media, you can contact us here.
This article was originally published in 2020. It has been edited in 2023 for relevancy.