Here’s What You Need To Know About The Instagram Algorithm

It looks like we won’t have to keep scratching our heads, Instagram recently released a blog post that details how their algorithm works.

Personally, I’ve been confused about the Instagram algorithm for quite some time now. As we’ve noticed, no one makes more changes to their social media platform than Facebook and its younger sister Instagram. Before you have a chance to understand the current Instagram algorithm, they’ve already introduced a new algorithm filled with changes. I just don’t know how anyone can keep up. One week your numbers are up, the next week they are down and the only explanation you can provide is that the constant algorithmic changes make it hard to see steady growth. 

Adam Mosseri, the Head of Instagram wrote a blog post aimed at clearing up misconceptions about the platform. These are the questions the post aimed to answer: 

  1. How does Instagram decide what shows up for me first?
  2. Why do some of my posts get more views than others?
  3. How does Instagram decide what to show me in Explore?

The Infamous Algorithm

Let’s start with the algorithm. Instagram’s algorithm is like that kid everyone hears different things about, but no one knows what’s true and what’s not. Everything you hear sounds scary, so when you finally meet the person you have chills because you are expecting the worst. Well, take a seat for this one because Mosseri says that there isn’t just ONE algorithm, there are many algorithms, classifiers, and processes that each have their own purpose. 

That’s just great. We all thought we were fighting one algorithm when we’re really fighting with many. Mosseri continues by saying that Instagram’s tremendous growth from 2010 to 2016 caused this introduction of different algorithms. People were missing 70% of their posts so they introduced a Feed that ranked posts based on what you cared about most.

Feed, Reels, Explore… they all have their own algorithm based on how users interact with it. 

How Feed and Stories Content Are Ranked

Feed and stories are for content people want to see from their closest friends and family. 

You should see all recent posts shared by people you follow with the exception of ads. Next, Instagram picks up on “signals”. Signals include general information about the post such as how popular a post is, when it was posted, how long it is (video), and location (if applicable).

Instagram will also look at information about the person who uploaded the post. They will check to see how often you’ve interacted with their content in the past. This is why you typically see the people you interact with at the top of your feed and stories. 

Next, they will look at your activity on the platform. By looking at your activity, Instagram has a better understanding of your overall interests. Finally, they check your history of interaction with the person who posted the content so they can get a sense of how likely you are to interact with their content in the future.

With this information, they make predictions about how likely you are to interact with a post. The higher you rank in categories of likeability, shareability, and willingness to save the post, the more likely you are to see that specific post.

So, people have to interact with your content in order for it to be more visible organically. 

*It’s important to note that Instagram can also prevent your content from being seen by many if you have a tendency to post content that violates their Community Guidelines and represents misinformation.*

How Explore Page Content is Ranked

Now, Explore is a little different. The explore page was designed for discoverability. You get a personally curated set of recommendations of photos and videos that you are likely to interact with. Similar to Feed/Story rankings, the first step is to define a set of posts to rank. This algorithm takes a look at posts you’ve liked and commented on in the past and shows you similar content. For example, my explore page is covered in quotes. Why? Because when I get on Instagram, I mainly interact with pages that post a lot of quotes. Some of the content I see on my explore page are not quotes, but they are similar to quotes because this algorithm also shows similar content you are likely to enjoy. After gathering the posts, they are layered based on the 4 signals we previously discussed, in order of importance they are: information about the post, your history of interacting with the person who posted, your activity, and information about the person who posted.

How Reels Are Ranked

Because of its similarity to TikTok, Reels seemed the easiest to understand. The rumor about Reels was that you just had to post more of them to get seen by many. Is it true?

Let’s see what Mosseri said. 

Mosseri says that the algorithm for Reels is similar to the Explore Page algorithm. Reels are designed to entertain, so Instagram surveys people and asks their opinion on the Reel, they use this feedback to get a better understanding of what people find entertaining. They look at how likely you are to watch a reel all the way through, like it, and how likely you are to create your own Reel as a result of the one you saw. Their ranking signals are (in order of importance): your activity, your history of interacting with the person who posted, information about the reel, and information about the person who posted. 

Some Reels that may get lower rank are ones that have low-resolution or they are watermarked, or reels that focus on political issues. Did this information help you understand the platform better? This is the first of many blog posts Instagram will be releasing about the algorithm, so hopefully, we get more clarity as time goes on.  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and for more on Instagram read our other blogs.

Eric Woodson
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