The TRUTH About Instagram Algorithms

July 16, 2021

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew exactly how Instagram algorithms work? If you had more clarity on what goes behind content recommendations, and how it shapes Feeds?

We thought that might be on your wish list. So, in this article we're providing updates directly from Instagram to help you be more aware of how the popular social media platform operates. But first, a little history ...

The Prelude

Instagram was launched in 2010. At that time, the feed was quite simple, made up of a single stream of photos arranged in chronological order.

But with Instagram's soaring popularity and people joining in droves, it became obvious to the platform's decision-makers that they could no longer show everything to everyone. Thus, they decided to move away from Instagram's traditional feed and introduced a new way of ranking content.

And that's when the confusion started. With little information available on Instagram algorithms, social media marketers and small business owners were flummoxed ... and struggling.

Finally, in June 2021 Instagram Head Adam Mosseri shared some insight about Instagram algorithms – and in doing so, he broke a number of longstanding assumptions and myths.

Some of you may have read about this already, but perhaps you'd like a bit more explanation. After all, the more clarity you have, the better you understand what drives traffic and engagement on Instagram.

In this article, we have dissected and broken down hard-to-understand topics into easily digestible bites. So let's get straight to the topic.

How Instagram Ranks Feed and Stories

Instagram uses sophisticated algorithms and advanced machine learning to rank content in Feed and Stories. Here’s how it works:

1. As Mosseri explained in a June 8, 2021 article: "Over the years we’ve learned that Feed and Stories are places where people want to see content from their friends, family, and those they are closest to."

So when you open the app, in most cases you'll see posts from accounts you closely follow and people with whom you interact on Instagram. You may also notice ads in this space.

2. Instagram collects thousands of “signals” to make educated guesses. Some of the inputs used include:

  • Signals about the post, its popularity, number of likes received, and engagements. The algorithms also look at the publishing time, location, length of the video, and the information of the content itself.
  • User information. Instagram algorithms try to predict the likelihood of your interest in the publisher or the account, and consider signals like how many times people have interacted with that person in the past few weeks.
  • Activities such as likes and engagement with various posts to understand what kind of content a user is interested in.
  • Past history of interaction with an individual or business.

A few important points to keep in mind ...

  • Instagram heavily relies on user interactions. The more you take an action in the form of watching videos, liking and commenting, saving to favorites, the higher the chances of showing up content from that account at the top of your feed.
  • Instagram refreshes and removes signals over time based on your activities.
  • Algorithms try to avoid showing too many posts from the same account in a row.
  • Instagram doesn’t actively take down posts that third-party fact checkers label as misinformation; however, if your account publishes misinformation multiple times, as Mosseri states, Instagram “may make all of your content harder to find.”

How Instagram Ranks Explore

Explore is designed to help you discover new accounts and content. The grid is made up of photos and videos that Instagram recommends.

Small businesses and influencers can take advantage of Explore and show up to potential followers. So how does Instagram rank Explore?

To rank content in Explore (as with Feed and Stories), Instagram makes an educated guess of the topics that might interest you based on your activities. Here’s an example of how that’s done:

Suppose you’re a dog lover; the accounts you follow and posts you typically like are often about dogs and pets. Instagram will take this into consideration when shaping Explore grids for you.

Also, algorithms looks at other followers with similar interests, and accounts and businesses they follow and/or posts they like, and may show you content from those accounts.

Each time you watch a video in Explore or like posts, Instagram will take cues and further refine the algorithms.

What Signals Are Used for Ranking Content in Explore?

  • Information about your posts – how many and how quickly Instagram users are hitting likes, sharing comments, and saving your posts – is one of the most important signals used for ranking Explore.
  • On most occasions you’ll see content from people you don’t follow; but if you have liked or engaged with content from someone, Instagram is likely to show content from that account based on your perceived interest.
  • Your activities and engagement across Explore.
  • Publisher information and how many Instagram users interacted with your account in the past few weeks.

How Instagram Ranks Reels

Much like Explore, the majority of Instagram Reels can be from accounts you don’t follow (yet). Instagram depends on similar sets of algorithms discussed above to predict what videos you’re likely to enjoy watching.

When it comes to Reels, Instagram collects feedback and survey responses from users to determine if they liked what they found, and whether the Reels videos are entertaining or not. Based on this data, algorithms make predictions and show content accordingly.

Some of the signals used to rank Reels include user activities; history of interaction; information about the Reel, such as audio, pixels, and whole frames; and creator information, among others.

Do Hashtags Work on Instagram?

We hear this question often, and our answer is always the same: YES! Instagram is a great place to use hashtags and they absolutely work.

In fact, Instagram's own guidelines promote the use of hashtags.

You can add hashtags on Instagram in a number of ways, including captions, videos, Reels, and Stories. If you want to learn more, here's a guide that explains in detail where to add hashtags on Instagram.

If you want your posts to generate organic views from potentially interested and already-sold followers, there is no better way than using hashtags.

Small businesses can benefit from our How to Include Hashtags in Your Social Media Strategy guide. Be sure to check it out!

At Hashtag Expert, it's our goal to help small business owners and individuals by sharing knowledge through which they can leverage the power of Instagram marketing. We put together this article because Instagram algorithms are among the most commonly misunderstood topics. Hopefully, all your questions about this subject have been answered. If not, don't hesitate to contact us – we love hearing from you.

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