Digital strategy

The 4 easy-to-understand ways that Instagram decides how well your content does

If you’re anything like me, you arrive at this point in the year filled with grand plans and new ambitions! It’s to do with that ingrained-from-childhood-September-is-back-to-school, a time for refocus, new learning, plans and achievements.

And with learning in mind, one of the things my team and I have been focusing on this week is understanding even more about how the current Instagram algorithm is actually working.

Until last year, back in the good old days, content appeared on Instagram in reverse chronological order. This is how Instagram had been since it launched.

If you logged on, you saw the most recently published stuff from the people you followed with the latest posts first, no matter who they were from or how interesting they might actually be to you. But as so many of us now follow more and more people, and we sometimes follow people whose content we’re not that fussed about, Instagram had to question whether reverse chronological content displays were really giving the best user experience. 

Now, according to Instagram themselves, their algorithm update means that we now all ‘see the moments we care about first.’

As we create content and manage a number of client Instagram accounts, we need to understand why exactly some of our posts do better than other (this is given that all our client posts are quite naturally brilliant…..).

So here are the 4 easy-to-understand ways that Instagram decides how well your posts do

  1. HOW QUICKLY PEOPLE ENGAGE – We can understand that posts with high engagement (likes, comments, shares, views, etc.) rank higher on your Instagram feed and it’s also about quick and early engagement too. Why? Because when a post not only receives lots of likes and comments, but receives them quickly, the Instagram algorithm assumes that this post is high quality and very engaging, and will therefore assume other users will find it engaging too. So to get your content to spread, you want people to engage and you want them to engage fast. This quick reaction on your content tells Instagram ‘yup, we’ve got a goddun here, push it up the feed.’
  2. HOW LONG PEOPLE SPEND VIEWING YOUR POST – The Instagram algorithm uses the amount of time spent viewing a post as a key factor in determining how much to boost your post. As the person posting, you will never know how long people spend viewing your content. But what you do know is that people spend longer on moving content than photos. So this is why videos, boomerangs, slideshow posts and good engaging captions are key because these will all increase the time your followers spend on your post. One thing we’ve noticed too is that faster (and this is anecdotal based on our own experience as an agency) is that fast moving content does better than slow moving content, suggesting the fastness catches eyes and keeps people focused on it. 
  3. REGULAR ENGAGEMENT – Have you noticed how if you always like a close friend’s content, and then you log back into Instagram after a few days off it, you’ll see that friend’s content EVEN if they last posted days ago? This is because Instagram shows you more of the accounts you regularly engage with. So when you get engagement on your content, these engagers are the people who will see more of your content next time. This means if users haven’t been on Instagram for a while, Instagram will backdate posts they believe are relevant to them, to show them what they’ve missed. The good news is that this means your posts have a longer lifespan – at least to those who engage with your content – which means more people will be able to see your posts over a longer amount of time.
  4. RELATIONSHIPS MATTER – Stepping up from point 3, you see more posts from those that you have a relationship with, and Instagram determine this by the fact you like and comment on their posts. So the more you can get people to comment on your posts, ie by asking your followers a question, the more Instagram will determine you have a relationship and show these people your content. One of the factors Instagram have said themselves determines who they show whose content to is: the likeliness you’ll be interested in the content. If someone comments on your content, then it is seen as being more likely they will be interested in future content. So build relationships and encourage comments and conversation.

And there are other factors at play too, such as the time of day of the post, the day you post on and the type of content (photo/slideshow or video) and probably about 1000 more….

What does make us laugh though is the fact that sometimes some posts do better than others and you can never actually precisely figure out why. Or you have high hopes for a post because it’s great moving content, the caption is encouraging comments, you know what time of day you’re going to post it, you’re certain it will get a quick response and then it doesn’t do (quite) as well as you’d thought it would. 

With this in mind, one thing I always talk and think about, for both Facebook and Instagram, is to focus on building your own little world and growing things out from there rather than focusing on the whole of Instagram and the potential of who might see your posts. That’s where the real conversation and relationship building, just like out in the real world, matter so much. Perhaps that’s the easiest thing to understand of all.