Cracking the Code on Instagram’s Algorithm

Remember the days where your Instagram feed was chronological and you didn’t see random ads pop up? Me too. Instagram’s algorithm is constantly changing but before we dive into how it’s structured it’s important to understand why these changes are made.

In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion. It doesn’t seem like that long ago but considering that the internet had been around for a few decades, this is a long time. In 2018, Instagram is worth well over $100 Billion. This was a genius acquisition on Facebook’s end but the alliance has turned Instagram into a business and not just a social media platform.

Instagram is a perfect company for Facebook to buy because it expands the opportunity for Facebook to get a lot more money. I will say, I don’t know if Instagram would be as big as it is if it weren’t for the buyout. Facebook realized that less people are opening up accounts and more people are gravitating towards photosharing and video content. This has set the stage for an entire industry that wasn’t present before. In 2012, influencer marketing and digital marketing weren’t discussed at all. Brands didn’t care to be on social media because they didn’t see the value. But as we all know, social media has become a staple in our culture and how we shop today. I think apart of the credit goes to Amazon and retailers expanding their e-commerce.

Technology adapts and often sets the tone of our society. This has pros and cons but that’s another post for another day. With all the data companies collect they develop platforms that are intuitive. Based off a few searches and keywords, a company knows what you like, what you don’t like, what size you are, age, demographic, etc. All of that information is already out there. I don’t say that to scare you, it’s the truth. What happens next is that the algorithm, which is the intelligence behind the technology, takes what it knows about you and presents you with information and results you’d like. That way you don’t spend so much time searching through things you don’t like and it makes the entire experience easier for you.

The idea around this arm of artificial intelligence is to make the experience for the consumer easier, convenient and catered to uniquely you. Since you don’t have the chance to connect with a person at a store when you shop the technology tries to do it for you. Facebook and Instagram’s algorithm follow a similar model but certain metrics aren’t weighted the same.

Instagram is working in a similar way. Based on what content you like. A lot goes into it.

  • When the photo was posted
  • Who posted it – how close they are to you
  • What photos you engage with (like, comment, share, etc)
  • Location
  • How many followers you have
  • How many people you’re following
  • What type of post it is (carousel, video, photo, story)
  • How long you’re on Instagram
  • How often you use it

And so much more that we may not know.

From a creator side (the one posting the content) a lot goes into why your posts get the engagement it does.

  • How many likes the post received
  • How many comments
  • Time you posted
  • Geolocation
  • Video vs picture vs carousel
  • Who’s tagged in
  • Type of photo
  • Your follower to following ratio
  • Comment word count
  • Caption word count
  • Hashtag usage
  • How much engagement you received after a certain time the photo was posted

The list goes on. As a creator, I deal with the frustrations of my content not getting the engagement I’d like to see. Some photos do better than others and there are strategic ways to improve how often people engage with you. There are ways to test this and see what works best for you. If you’re a business account, you can even see what days and times your audience engages with your content. Test out different times when you post or even poll your IG audience what times they like to see your content. I recently did a poll on my stories asking you all when you’d like for me to post my blog posts. At first, it was afternoon but the evening votes kept growing. So I adapted. You have to think about your audience or the person you are trying to reach and figure out when would they most likely see their content. Is it in the morning when they are just waking up? Is it in the evening when they have more time? Or is it in the middle of the day? It also depends on the type of post. I know this sounds overwhelming and ambiguous but do not get discouraged. Try out small steps to make the experience for your audience the best it can be.

All company’s want to make money. Instagram is a very great place to do it too because think about it, most US brands are on Instagram. They have budgets to pay for the Facebook ads that you see pop up and you can now shop directly from Instagram. That creates a new opportunity for brands and businesses to get access to a market they didn’t know they had. The more time people spend on the platform the more money it generates because of the ads.


Instagram recently started purging spam accounts from their platform because it promotes inorganic growth. The company aims to keep the accounts authentic and real so millions of accounts were shut down. Third party applications that do mass followings and unfollowings also aren’t allowed to integrate with Instagram’s platform.

But…

It’s annoying as ever because you’re not seeing the content you want to see sometimes and there’s really no way around it other than being strategic on how you engage with the content. Instagram doesn’t hide any content from you. Eventually, you’ll get to it if you keep scrolling but that’s another strategy they use to have you stay on their app. On average how much time do you think people spend on Instagram? In 2017, Forbes estimated about 6 hours per week on social media. Personally, I think that’s increased. It’s kind of embarrassing but last week, I spent 13 hours on Instagram. I’m ashamed. Most of it is because I do post content frequently but I need to cut back.

From a creator perspective, it’s even more annoying because engagement on posts may be a stream of revenue for you and if your feed isn’t being engaged with you might not be making money. Social media has created a job for people. I know for me and my brand/business social media is so crucial. I help people build better brands for themselves and their companies. When the algorithm changes, we adapt to it. But we don’t always know the ins and outs as to why Instagram decided to make those changes. I think it would be so cool to be able to look at that data and work with a team to figure out ways to improve the user and business experience. To be able to sit in that room with Instagram to talk about the strategy of it would be a dream job for me. I love this digital space and digital world. It has its dark side like any industry but because this is an area where we don’t know too much about and there is so much that goes into it, I naturally am so curious about how it all works and why it works this way.

Instagram can be a really toxic environment. When it’s a part of your job, sometimes you feel like you can’t step away but I do it often to bring myself back to reality. It’s so easy to get lost in the ratios and the numbers and likes. It can be discouraging but you have to ask yourself: can you be successful if it weren’t for social media? Does your brand exist without these platforms? Is your purpose the same? Sometimes we could all use a reality check in order to bring ourselves back to why we started in the first place. Social media is a tool and it can be a business but keep using it as that tool to leverage your personal brand, business, or company. If you need any support whatsoever, you can schedule sometime with me and I’d love to chat with you.

Use social media as the tool it is and find ways to be strategic. Message me on instagram @techytk or linkedIn to chat about leveraging your social media strategy.

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