The Instagram algorithm is an ever-evolving part of the platform, but it often changes without input from its users. The only way to know what works, other than asking the creators themselves, is to look at the hard data. Increasing engagement is like a game of chess; you have to convince your opponent to give up their pieces, or in this case, their attention!

How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work?

The Instagram algorithm seems to work in mysterious ways, but some criteria stay popular no matter the update. The following 6 factors affect the algorithm more than anything else.

Intertest in Content

The Instagram algorithm can determine how interested a user will be in a post by how much they engage with similar posts. Use hashtags to help the algorithm find interested followers.

Relationship to Accounts

Instagram can determine how close you are with another user based on how many times they interact with your content and tag you. The more you interact, the higher your relationship rank.

Recent Posts

Newer content is often more relevant to users and to the algorithm, which is why posting daily is so important. More recent posts will appear at the top of a user’s feed on their home page.

App Frequency

Users who check Instagram often are more likely to see new posts more frequently. Businesses that use paid ads to gain new leads will receive additional impressions from these users.

Follower Amount

Profiles who follow many users won’t see everyone’s content, so Instagram prioritizes the best content out of the pool. “Best” content is typically high in engagement or is boosted with an ad.

Time Spent

After a week, Instagram can figure out how long your typical sessions are, which will determine what kind of posts you see. If users only stay for a minute, “best” content shows up more often.

Keep all of these factors in mind while tackling the algorithm, as they’ll help you make content. However, app frequency, time spent, and follower amount won’t help most businesses improve organic reach because these behaviors can’t be manipulated by you or your content.

How to Conquer the Instagram Algorithm in 2021

To tackle the algorithm successfully, be sure you use a tool that monitors and tracks Instagram analytics. With the metrics outlined in your analytics, you can adjust your marketing approach on the fly if a marketing project, image template, or post schedule isn’t working.

1. Have a Consistent Posting Schedule

The average company posts 1.56 posts to their feed every day, but small businesses can ease into it. When starting, it’s better to focus your attention on quality, not quantity, and above all else, keep that posting schedule, no matter what it is! Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, suggests you build your way up to posting at least 2 Stories and 2 feed posts per day.

2. Change up Your Content

Your users are going to get bored quickly with your content if they notice a lack of innovation. Dopamine is a fickle thing. As you engage in the same activity, the amount you receive decreases, which will affect your customers’ purchasing choices and patience. Instead of posting the same 10 selfies, add a photo, a geolocation tag, or story stickers and buttons.

3. Post Carousels

While it’s true that Instagram doesn’t specifically prioritize carousels, Hootsuite determined that these posts pull in 1.4x the reach and 3x the engagement as image or video posts. To leverage this feature, you’ll need to post at least 5 similar, swipe-worthy images that are attractive to the algorithm. If the images aren’t related to each other, you may capture the wrong users.

4. Don’t Use Shortcuts or Bots

It’s very tempting to use bots or shortcuts to increase your follower count, but these methods only work in the short term. Brands and your real fans will notice something is up when the comments look similar or your engagement doesn’t match with your follower count. Focus on your relationships with fans, being authentic, and storytelling to organically increase likes!

5. Try Out Every New Feature

Take advantage of everything that Instagram has to offer at all times, or you’ll miss out on a significant amount of engagement. Instagram allows you to post on the feed, use carousel posts, Instagram stories, IGTV, video, and reels. Posting that much content everyday sounds unrealistic, but if you can hire a team or dedicate yourself to the algorithm, it’s worth it.

6. Post When Your Audience is Online

Most people spend 30 minutes per day browsing Instagram, so you need to time your content to post right before or during their social media scrolling sessions. Finding the best time to post means looking at your analytics and audience behavior, but you also have to include when users are generally on the website. If your audience is active at 3 am, break all other rules!

7. Interact With Your Followers

Bond with your audience, and you’ll capture the algorithm’s attention. Audiences love authenticity, transparency, and accessibility; they want to get to know you. Specific products and services are more likely to attract certain demographics, which amounts to your ideal customer. Learn what your avatar buyer looks like, and you’ll quickly pull in hundreds of comments.

8. Automate Analytic Reporting

A scaling business is a busy business, so why put effort into something when a computer can do it for you? Instagram analytics tools, like Creator Studio, can provide a hands-off investigative experience that tells you which hashtags are performing well, what posts receive the most engagement, and more. Check your data monthly and adjust based on its findings.

9. Use Relevant Hashtags

Hashtags are very important to the Instagram algorithm. With hashtags, businesses can help users pull relevant search results, compel followers to act, and assist the algorithm in finding similar content. With that in mind, you still need to use hashtags properly. Don’t just use #selfie on every post; research in your niche to find hashtags that describe your product or post.

10. Spot Paying Attention to Myths

There’s a lot of debate on whether or not shadowbanning, reach caps, and profile preferences are real. As far as we know, shadowbanning, which involves Instagram hiding your account, isn’t a thing. Instagram doesn’t cap your reach either. Creator profiles, business, and verified accounts all have access to analytics, but no profile type relieves special algorithm privileges.