Ever felt as if your engagement on Instagram is much lower than before? That it’s been much harder to get eyeballs on your posts?

Let’s examine the root of the problem: the IG algorithm.

In the past five years alone, marketing on social media has changed drastically. There has been a big shift in what content the platforms prioritized. It used to be that users could see posts from accounts they followed in chronological order. However, as the user base grew and people started following more and more accounts, it became almost impossible for users to view everything in a day.

Social media platforms started shifting away from arranging content by recency to mysterious “algorithms” that favour some posts over others, with the rest disappearing into the ether. Instagram is no exception. In fact, it’s known to be exceptionally finicky.

Instead of leaving it up to chance, here’re some tactics and tips to get on the good side of the IG algorithm in 2021.

Factors to Optimize for the IG Algorithm

The shift in orientation of IG’s algorithm can be traced back to 2016. Posts became prioritized by what users would care most about. Content from friends, family and interests became favoured above others. This change was echoed by Twitter as well, with them altering their algorithm to prioritize relevant, recent content in 2017.

User-Associated Factors

In 2018 and 2019, IG highlighted 6 key factors by which they ordered feed content for a user:

  1. User’s Interests — This is gleaned from the posts and accounts the user engaged with.
  2. Recency — The more current the post, the better.
  3. Relationship between user and creator — How close and how frequently the user interacts with the person who shared the content. If they have a history of liking, commenting, tagging, sharing content and dm-ing each other, the more likely their posts are to be featured on each other’s timelines.
  4. Frequency of Instagram usage of the user — The best posts since the user’s last visit are prioritized.
  5. Following — Quantity of accounts the user follows. The more variety, the less content from one specific account will be featured.
  6. Usage — How long the user spends on Instagram. If the user has a pattern of browsing IG extensively, Instagram will present them with more content. If they only use IG in short bursts, Instagram adjusts accordingly.

Brand/Business-Associated Factors

In 2020, an Instagram media expert was reported to have shared a few additional factors for brands/content creators to take note of, which are favoured by IG’s algorithm:

  1. Consistency is key — The algorithm favours fixed patterns. Schedule your posts to specific times and days of the week and stick to it.
  2. Reels creation — Currently, to promote Instagram’s latest feature, reels are being boosted by the algorithm. Be sure to jump on the opportunity to get added reach for your brand. Note: if you do not create reels, engagements for all your posts will be affected as well. The recommended number is 4-7 reels a week. One per day, if you will. Otherwise, try to create at least one per week.
  3. Originality of content — Since reels were developed to compete with TikToks, the algorithm will punish your content performance if it detects reposted TikTok content (or anything with a copyright logo). It would be best to create your videos directly on IG for maximum stats.
  4. How well brand/creator accounts are using all of Instagram features — Posts, reels, IG Live, IGTV, stories, interactive stickers, dms etc… try to utilize them all. This will place your account in a better position in the algorithm.

Considering the above, if your account goes on a hiatus or holiday even temporarily, it’ll be difficult to get the same engagement as before. We recommend using Facebook’s Creator Studio or third party post schedulers such as Hootsuite, Buffer, Canva to ensure consistent activity.

Things have become even more challenging in 2021, with rumours that post reach is now being restricted to only 10% of your followers. This % could be affected by:

  1. Promptness – How quick you are in engaging back with followers and comments.
  2. Post integrity — whether you’ve edited the caption or deleted and reposted your content. The more often a post gets altered and reposted, the more its reach gets limited.
  3. Hashtag usage — Repeated, excessive use of hashtags could be registered as spam and devalued. Try to keep them minimal and rotate between hashtags. 

While you as a marketer can’t affect the 6 user-associated factors, the 7 factors listed for brands/businesses is something to consider and optimize for.

Admittedly the content demands of Instagram is no small feat, especially when you’re juggling other platforms as well. Ultimately, wherever possible, make sure to prioritize prompt engagement with your audience, and dabble in all of Instagram’s features when you can.

Aside from factors on the user and advertiser’s end, another aspect the IG algorithm considers is the type of interactions your post gets as well.

Post-Associated Factors

Saves > Shares > Comments > Likes

Saves are now the new super likes. A save signals that users don’t just appreciate your content, they want to revisit it at a later date. They help to put your content into the explore tab and increase your organic reach. From now on, try optimizing and encouraging your audience to save your posts, rather than like them.

Aside from tweaking your call to action, refine your content as well. Value add such that people will save your posts. Quotes, tips, hacks, recipes, tutorials, and other types of in depth valuable information will work well.

Search Results * Updated

Besides these algorithm factors, there lies the nondescript ‘Search’ feature that well searches for results. How frustrated would you be if the results don’t match your search term? Which is why Instagram also employs these signals for a better user experience. These rank in order of importance, starting with the first point of contact.

  • Your text in Search. By far the most important signal, Instagram uses this and tries to match it with the database of relevant usernames, bios, captions, hashtags and places.
  • Your activity. Similar to the User-Associated factor above, this includes accounts followed, viewed posts, and the level of interactions with accounts. Results of accounts with prior higher activity are usually placed higher.
  • Information about the search results. When there are a lot of potential results, we also look at popularity signals. These include the number of clicks, likes, shares and follows for a particular account, hashtag or place.

Optimising for Search * Updated

Now you know how search results show, but should you optimise your search presence? Here are some best practices by Instagram to make sure you show up in Search

  • Use a fitting handle and profile name. Since results are matched by text. Using an Instagram handle that’s related to your content theme is tje best bet for showing up in relevant searches. If your friends or fans know you by an alias or nickname, include that in your username or profile.
  • Include relevant keywords and locations in your bio. Using the same principle, make sure your bio includes keywords about who you are and what your profile is about. For business accounts, sharing your location can make it easier for people to find you.
  • Use relevant keywords and hashtags in captions. The long For a post to be found in Search, put keywords and hashtags in the caption, not the comments.

Mastering Instagram’s Toolkit

As specified by the algorithm, it’s crucial to keep up with the latest developments and features for marketing success on Instagram. In our next article, we tackle the essential new features to master (e.g. Reels), how you can polish existing elements of your profile, and exciting new updates to come to bring your instagame to the next level.

Stay tuned!

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