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This Is How The Instagram Algorithm Works (2023)

Published November 4, 2019

Understanding the Instagram Algorithm

If you are an internet marketer, an influencer, or any other sort of digital entrepreneur who relies on Instagram for sales, traffic, or just exposure, then you are surely aware of the new Instagram algorithm.

One of the biggest things you can do to ensure your success while you use Instagram is to promote your website, products, services, or whatever you may be offering to your followers is to understand their algorithm. Studying up and knowing how this algorithm works is one way to make Instagram work for you, instead of against you. We also published a guide to Instagram Analytics (click here).

You may think that finding success on Instagram is all a matter of chance, that maybe someone is sure to see your posts out of all the millions of folks who visit the social behemoth daily. The fact is, however, that you need to be proactive in learning how the platform works, so you can make it work in your favour.

Instagram algorithm

Instagram’s Super-Secret Sauce: the Omnipresent Algorithm

You hear people talking about the algorithms all the time; whether they are referring to Instagram, Google, Facebook, or even Twitter. All of these platforms have specific ways that they function, and the algorithms are just the core part of how these systems work.

Instagram’s own algorithm went into place last year, which isn’t much of a surprise, given that the parent company of the photo-sharing giant is none other than Facebook, the other biggest social media platform on the planet.

Instagram has said that its new algorithm is in place to prioritize the type of content that each individual user might be most likely to enjoy. This means everything that is in your Instagram feed is tailored to your tastes, and the same goes for your fellow Instagrammers. Instagram and its algorithm learn how you use the platform, and customize your Instagram experience accordingly.

This means that no two Instagram users are going to have the exact same users’ feeds. No two people are going to follow the exact same people and have the exact same interests. Because of this, no two people will have the exact same feed on Instagram. It really is that simple.

This is a huge leap forward from Instagram’s old system, which was pretty much just images posted by people you follow in chronological order. Sounds pretty similar to Facebook’s old setup, doesn’t it?

Now, the two are happily different, but just ever so slightly. While the Facebook news feed hasn’t changed that much lately, Instagram has radically overhauled how the system works, even going as far as to eliminate public-facing likes in the last few months. This is to ensure that posts are being judged for their content, and not their engagement rate numbers.

This is something that is actually looked very highly on by lesser-known content creators, as these folks aren’t getting likes or follows from the content they’re posting because they are not showing up in Instagram’s Discover feed.

The Discover feed is another huge part of the Instagram algorithm. Depending on your tastes and the type of stuff Instagram thinks you are likely to enjoy seeing or watching, your content on the Discover tab will vary. This is where you can find people who you may enjoy but who you don’t currently follow, and this is where all folks who want to make it big on Instagram should aim to land if they really want to explode on the social network.

How Does This Work For Online Businesses and Entrepreneurs? 

If you run an online business trying to sell some of your products, or if you are a webmaster looking to gain more traffic to your website, or any number of things, then Instagram can be a great place for you to start.

Using Instagram, you can basically take advantage of the fact that millions of people are searching for content every single day. Instagram has over a billion unique users and millions that are frequenting the site or application on a daily basis. This gives you millions of potential customers to market to.

How does the Instagram algorithm come into play here, you might be asking? Well, that’s rather simple.

You see, as a digital marketer, entrepreneur, site owner, or content creator, you already hold the keys to being successful on Instagram or any other social media platform. As someone who should be creating content, you should know your ideal target audience.

If you don’t know your ideal audience, think about it for just a second.

  • What does your ideal customer look like? 

Visualize your ideal customer in your mind. What might they look like? What do you see in your mind’s eye?

  • What might your ideal customer be interested in? 

This is one of the biggest questions you can ask yourself when it comes to thinking about your ideal customer. Getting into the minds of your customers is how you can market to them effectively.

Do they like video games? Certain types of movies or sports?

Whatever they may be interested in, this type of data can give you a gold mine when it comes to marketing and advertising to potential customers.

Why are these things important? You are surely wondering just what all of this has to do with anything. Well, the short answer is, this stuff has something to do with everything!

Just think about it. If you have really stepped into the shoes of your ideal customer and taken the time to understand their potential mindset, you will understand very quickly why it is so important to get into the minds of your potential customers.

It’s becoming pretty apparent, isn’t it?

In order to maximize your profits and make the most money you can online, you need to market to people who are already looking for what you’re selling. That sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Well, not really. You see, when you really start to think about it, you’ll be able to see how clear the science behind it is. Millions of people come to social media platforms like Instagram to enjoy themselves and connect with content creators that they identify with. Many people online also engage with their favourite brands, musicians, actors, inventors, and so many more folks.

So, if you have all of these potential customers already on this one platform, then it would make the most sense to utilize that platform and go where the customers are, right? This is why social media marketing, and Instagram marketing, in particular, is so effective. It is because all of these potential customers are already on the platform looking for what you have to sell!

Your next question may be something along the lines of: Well, how do I take advantage of this algorithm and market directly to these potential customers on Instagram?

That is a good question, and we’ve got the answers just for you!

Hacking the Algorithm: Finding Your Tribe

As an internet marketer, in your marketing strategy, you may be trying all kinds of different things to get your products in front of people, just hoping someone makes a sale. While this can sometimes work, it is not a very proactive approach.

Instagram already has a set of tools built right in for internet marketers and entrepreneurs to take advantage of. It is called the Instagram Ads section, and it is loaded with tools to help you get your content in front of people who would be most interested in seeing it.

These are paid ads and might be the easy way out for when it comes to getting people to check out your page, visit your website, or make a sale of your product.

You need to find your tribe, your group of people who are most likely to be on board with what you’re trying to do. Your tribe is your ideal audience, your ideal customers, the people who will be most likely to pull out their wallet when they see something new from you. If you can connect with your tribe, then you will achieve one of the biggest steps to solidifying the online footprint for your business.

Finding your tribe, and turning them into followers on Instagram is one of the best ways to make sure they can see what you’re up to and engage with you when you post new content. If you need new followers in a hurry to make your page look more legitimate, you can net them in a few different ways. You could go with paid ads, you could try organic methods, or you could even buy Instagram followers. Many companies like Buzzoid provide Instagram follower services if that is the way you choose to go.

The main issue with buying followers in this situation is that those followers would be for looks only, and wouldn’t reflect any actual engagement that you’re going to try to get. This is where some tried and true methods come in.

If you are looking to get a ton of legit results quickly, then your best bet is going to be to go with Instagram Ads. This way, you can specify your ideal audience, choose to boost a post or create a new one that you’d like to turn into an advertisement, and select how long you’d like to run your ad. You’ll be able to set a budget and more here, too.

Paid ads don’t really count as hacking the algorithms, but it does count as being a great way to get people seeing your stuff quickly, so it counts, right? Anything to help you get more followers and get your brand in front of more people!

The thing with paid ads is, well, they cost money. If you don’t have a lot of extra money to throw around for advertising, you’re going to have to get a little creative to make sure your stuff is seen by the people who need to see it.

This is where all of that hacking the algorithms talk comes in, and don’t worry…there are simple and free ways to find your tribe if you’re not able to do paid advertising. When you do it this way, you are building something from the ground up and being proactive. By playing the Instagram algorithm in your favour, you are going to see all of the ins and outs of building your tribe from nothing.

Getting Top Placement on Instagram 

One of your biggest goals as an internet marketer or digital entrepreneur should be to get your stuff in front of as many pairs of eyeballs as possible. This can sound like quite the daunting task, and you may find yourself glancing at the Discover tab or Explore page on Instagram in envy, wondering how all of these other people were able to make it with relative ease.

It’s not always easy, though. There are all kinds of ways you can approach this problem, and the number of ways it can be approached is what makes it a little more difficult. There is no one size fits all approach to making a splash on Instagram. One of the biggest things you can do for yourself here (besides the obvious “have great content” step) is to try anything you can and see what sticks.

Here are some of the best things you can do to try to get yourself placed in the top on Instagram:

  • Find the top content for your niche

One of the first things you should be doing is finding the top-performing content for your niche. Are you a bakery owner? You should be looking and seeing what other bakery owners are doing to net themselves engagement on the platform. Are they posting video content? User-generated content? What do their Instagram posts look like?

Find the competition, identify the biggest and most popular Instagram hashtags for your niche, and look for trends (things like tutorial posts, content posts, etc.). You can do these things manually or you can use third-party analytics tools for Instagram reporting.

  • Find peak times for engagement

You will want to identify the time that the fanbase for your niche is most active on Instagram. Check out when they post the most, when the hashtags you identified are used, and more. You can also use third party analytics reporting tools to find the most active peak times for your niche.

When you have identified the times of the day or week when your potential customers are most active, schedule posts. This will help you be noticed by more folks, and frequent posts at peak times may help increase the engagement on your page.

  • Make exciting posts that will create engagement

At the end of the day, no matter how much tracking and analyzing you do, no matter how many charts and reporting tools you have, if your page doesn’t put out good, original content, no one is going to like it.

Instagram is a platform that is driven by photos and content that catches eyeballs. You don’t want your stuff to be something that people just gloss over. Make sure your content is something that will catch eyeballs so that people will remember the name of your brand, share your posts with their friends, become followers, and hopefully, later down the line, be converted into customers.

There is no better feeling than seeing a follower become a customer.

These are just a few of the ways you can game Instagram’s algorithm to make sure people are seeing (and hopefully interacting with) your posts. If you can understand your niche and your market, identify the most popular hashtags and trending events that your niche is known for, and then create memorable content, it shouldn’t take long before you start seeing results on Instagram.

The Importance of Engagement on Instagram

Let’s face it, we all trust something a little more when we see that thousands, if not millions, of other humans trust it too, right?

Engagement on all social media, not just Instagram, is a big way that people judge posts, pages, or promoted products. If someone tried to sell you a brand new product right now, would you be interested in it if no one on the planet had paid for it before? What if it was something that millions of people all around the planet were raving about and purchasing? Would you be a little more inclined to trust it then?

This is how it works with social media, especially on Instagram. If you are a brand new page with barely any posts and no followers, then people are going to trust your page a little bit less than they would if you had thousands (or millions) of likes and followers. It is the same concept. We trust that which other people trust. This is simply human nature.

Are you posting pictures of your new product and you just don’t have any engagement on your posts? Well, you could try running paid ads to solve this problem, but that won’t solve the problem for every post you try to make.

The trick to having every post you make get seen by people all over the world, in your niche, is to make sure what you’re posting is something unique. If you are just now setting up your Instagram page (whether business or personal), don’t try and sell something right off the bat. Instead of coming at people swinging with products in hand as a new Instagram profile, just start posting unique content!

If you post a lot of unique content with the right hashtags, people will start sitting up and taking notice. Start early, posting things that people will enjoy (find memes for your niche, everyone loves memes!), and eventually, you will organically grow your list of followers. When you have a ton of followers that you have nabbed organically, that get excited when you post something new, these are the people that are going to be more likely to buy something you promote.

If people trust your page, they may trust the products you believe in. These people that are following you now, and taking out their wallets when they see you promoting something you like, these people are your tribe!

In order to build and grow your tribe, you need to engage with them. It will never matter what social network you’re marketing on. Whether you’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any of the other social media platforms, if you don’t engage with your followers, you are ultimately steering a sinking ship.

When it comes to the algorithm, Instagram is going to put content that it thinks a user will like most at the top of the news feed. It gathers this data from all of the other actions users take on the platform. If a post has a ton of likes and comments from an Instagram account that has a lot of followers, then the algorithm is going to determine that this is an account that is posting high-quality stuff. It is going to determine that this is an account that is posting content that people want to see (you can buy Instagram likes from Buzzoid).

Because of that, those accounts and those posts are going to show up higher on the feeds of people who might be interested in it. This is how things go viral, and this is how things get popular. This is also how posts and accounts get their big moments of fame in the Discover tab, so work hard, and maybe you’ll see your own posts there someday!

When you see the organic likes and follower counts climbing up on their own, you know that it is a result of great content generation and brilliant organic marketing. Now, this is how you make the Instagram algorithm work for you.

Unlike personal accounts, business accounts on Instagram can view important Instagram insights such as the total reach of their Instagram stories, Instagram live stats, engagement activity on recent posts, and so on.

Consistent Posting Could Be the Key to Success for You

By now you already know that posting great, original content to Instagram is one of the best ways to get yourself noticed by users on the platform. If you are racking up engagement and showing Instagram that you’re a quality account, the algorithm is going to sit up and take notice.

You should also keep in mind that along with posting quality content, you should also be posting pretty consistently. This is to keep your content fresh on the minds and on the eyes of users. The more often you post, the more often people will see and engage with your content. That’s what that pesky old algorithm likes to see.

You want to carve out a little bit of time a week to post some content to your social media accounts. This is so you can stay consistent, so make sure you have a dedicated social media person taking care of things for you, or you can take care of it yourself if you have the time.

There are even third-party tools you can use that can help you streamline your posting times and frequency. You can create and schedule posts, making them go out on whatever date and time you choose. This can be a great way to set it and forget it at the beginning of the week.

If you do it this way, though, make sure you come back and reply to some comments if you have gotten any. Replying to comments, following back new followers, and returning engagement with your followers is one way to make sure they stay connected to your brand. Everyone likes a brand that they feel is personal, so try to be that brand. That will resonate with people more than almost anything else.

Your Brand is Your Key

Your brand is what personifies your product or service. It’s what connects people with you. You want your brand to be memorable, something that will stick out to people. Make sure you have a catchy name that really matches with your niche. You can also ensure you have an eye-catching logo that is sure to remain in someone’s head long after looking at it for the first time.

Making your brand stick out is one of the most important things you can do for it. Keep it consistent across all your social media platforms, as well. If you have a logo on your website or on your Facebook page, make sure it is the same on all of your other platforms. You want people to be able to find your brand on any platform, all over the internet.

This is doubly true on Instagram. Making your brand consistent and memorable is something that is going to keep your followers engaging with your posts and content. If you are noticing that your posts are being liked, commented on, and just engaged with in general, then that is a good sign that your posts are going to continue to show for people.

Instagram likes to see profiles with a lot of engagement, so make sure you do everything you can to stay engaged with your followers so that they can be informed of every new post! After all, your tribe is going to want to stay up to date with you.

Make the Algorithm Play in Your Favor

Now, you know a little about the Instagram algorithm, how it works, and how you can use it to boost your online business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marketer, an influencer, or just a content creator trying to make cool stuff.

You’re going to need engagement to keep your Instagram presence up, and there is no better way to do this than to understand the Instagram algorithm and how you can make it work for you, and not the other way around. With all of this in mind, you’re ready to go hack the algorithm for yourself!

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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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