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How Does Instagram’s Algorithm Work? 4 “Signals” That Determine Your Post’s Visibility

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Just like Google, social media platforms regularly update their algorithms. This is to optimize and personalize user experience by delivering content that are most relevant to their users. Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, cleared some misconceptions and explained Instagram’s algorithms (yes, it’s plural and you’ll understand why shortly) in his latest blog post.* This article will summarize Mosseri’s blogpost and what it means for Marketers’ Instagram strategy.

Instagram’s Algorithm: What is it and how does it work?

Mosseri started with a common misconception about the existence of “the Instagram Algorithm”. Instead of using a single, all-encompassing algorithm, Instagram collects “signals” from users, creators and available posts to determine what users see. Each part of the App (including Explore, Stories and Reels) has their own algorithm based on user preference. For instance, Instagram Feed and Stories will rank recent posts by people who are followed by the user, because users generally want to see posts from their friends and close ones. On the other hand, the algorithm of Explore is very different as people tend to use it to discover new things.

4 crucial “Signals” that determine your post’s visibility

Instagram collects thousands of “signals” to rank a user’s Feed and Stories, including the user’s interests and usage habits, information about the creator, information about the post, etc. Here are the 4 most crucial signals in order of importance:

(1) Information about the post – this includes basic information (such as when it was posted and video length) and the popularity of the post (as indicated by the number of likes, etc.)

(2) Information about the creator – Instagram uses information like how people have interacted with the creator in the past to determine if a user would be interested in his/her content

(3) The user’s activities – signals such as the number of posts the user liked will tell Instagram what kind of content the user might be interested in

(4) The user’s history of interacting with someone – Instagram predicts whether a user will be interested in a creator’s content by looking at his/her past interaction with the creator

These signals allow Instagram to predict how likely a user is to interact with a post; how likely the user is to read or like a post, comment and share the post, or to click into the creator’s profile. In short, the more likely the user will interact with a post, the higher its rank.

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Higher Engagement, Higher Rank

The rank of your post comes down to whether Instagram thinks that a user is likely to interact with your post. The quality and popularity of your post are without doubt major factors. But brand engagement (i.e. how, and whether, a user interacts with your content on Instagram) also plays an essential role in determining your post’s visibility. If you want to boost your audience’s brand engagement, consider the following strategies:

(1) Carousels have 3x engagement rate

Carousels have 1.4x reach and 3x engagement rate compared to other post types, according to a research by Hootsuite. Carousels prompt shares and saves as they deliver richer messages to your audience. You can include more information in a single post and showcase your products from multiple angles.

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(2) Try out different subjects and formats

Brands post once per day on average and it is important to ensure that there is a wide variety of contents to keep your audiences engaged. Create content with different topics and formats (single-image posts, Stories, IGTV…) and test which works the best. Certain types of content like how-to videos and giveaways tend to be popular.

(3) Don’t forget your audience are also content contributors

Instagram is a social platform, so brands should not treat it as a one-way communication channel. User generated content (UGC) is more relatable to the audience, so use it to boost your brand interactions. Share your customer’s post on your Story when s/he hashtags your brand. Also, encourage your audience to respond with interactive elements in Stories, such as polls and questions, and get a sense of which topics they are interested in.


*Mosseri also explained the algorithms of Explore and Reels. Click here to read the full blogpost.

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