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How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work? Short Guide for 2023

Published August 11, 2023

With so many everyday changes and updates, it has become challenging to determine how most social media platforms function. That is especially true for Instagram, whose algorithm might seem entirely arbitrary and unpredictable at first glance.

However, with the right tips, cracking the algorithm and making the app work for you is indeed possible. Read on to find out how Instagram’s algorithm functions and how you can maximize your brand’s exposure on the platform to reach a broader audience.

Defining the Instagram Algorithm(s)

Contrary to widespread belief, Instagram does not have a single, all-encompassing algorithm. Instead, it employs several algorithms, processes, and classifiers that determine what each user sees on their feed.

The app started developing these algorithms in 2016 and continued to improve them in every subsequent update. Nowadays, different complex algorithm rules are in place for Stories, Reels, and overall feeds.

Still, there are some generalizations that all of these algorithms share, and they can be condensed into three essential categories.

1. Who Shares the Content

Since Instagram monitors your activity on the platform closely, your feed will mostly be filled with posts from people whose content you usually interact with. In other words, the more you like, save, or comment on a certain user’s posts, Reels, or Stories, the more frequently they will appear on your feed.

2. What Type of Content You Interact With

For sponsored ads, you will mostly get content connected to niches you’re interested in. So, if you’re into makeup and skincare, you’ll see lots of posts from related accounts and brands. The same is true for every other interest you may have.

3. How Often You’re on the App

Finally, Instagram also takes into consideration how often you scroll through the app. For example, if you only enter it once a day, the app will prioritize posts that you absolutely need to see and keep the less relevant content way down your feed.

How the Separate Algorithms Work

With the general information on algorithms out of the way, we’ll delve a bit deeper into separate classifiers for different post types.

The Feed Posts Algorithm

Your feed posts mainly depend on recency and your usual activity. Thus, your feed will be full of just-posted pics and videos. In addition, you’ll see recent posts from accounts you usually interact with that you might have missed.

When there are no such posts, Instagram will recommend content based on your usual activity. This way, the platform strives to present relevant and engaging content to each user.

The Stories Algorithm

Out of all the algorithms that Instagram uses, the Stories algorithm depends on recency the least. Namely, you will usually first see Stories from people you interact with the most, including those whose posts you like and comment on.

Moreover, the algorithm also depends on whose profiles you visit and who you DM on the app. Therefore, recency comes last out of all the factors. This fact makes sense seeing that stories are only available for 24 hours, so every single one you see is recent anyway.

The Reels Algorithm

As for Reels, your feed will be filled with videos Instagram deems relevant to your overall taste and interests. To determine that, the app will take into account which reels you like and comment on and which ones you watch multiple times.

Also, your feed will depend on the type of Reels you skip or mark as ‘not interested.’ In other words, Instagram will keep track of the users and topics you dislike and try to show you fewer similar Reels.

Making the Most Out of Instagram

Now that you know how each individual algorithm works,  it’s time to discuss how to make them work for you. Since they are all based on different parameters, it’s not surprising that thriving on each one demands a different approach.

For feed posts, consistency is key. The more frequently you post, the more engagement you will get, as the algorithm always puts recency first. However, it’s important not to put quantity over quality. In other words, it’s better to post a high-quality ad just once or twice than to spam your followers with subpar content that won’t impress them at all.

Regarding Stories, matters are slightly different. According to Instagram’s guide for creators, a good way to give your Story more visibility is to use trending filters and effects. In addition, it is wise to post as frequently as possible to catch your followers’ eye more often.

And finally, if you want to reach your audience with Reels, it’s essential to utilize popular sounds and filters. In addition, try to stay on top of popular culture, memes, and other trending content that you can use to make your Reels more appealing.

To maximize your Reels’ impact, it is also wise to share them as feed posts. Furthermore, make sure not to post low-quality or blurry videos, as the algorithm usually doesn’t prioritize them.

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Written By:
Jessica is a writer who specializes in social media, marketing, and digital strategy. She is a graduate of Antioch College and earned her MBA at Boston College’s Carroll Graduate School of Management, specializing in STEM Management. Her work has been published in numerous academic journals and mainstream publications. She lives in New England with her husband, two children, and three dogs.
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