Top 5 hacks to beat the Instagram algorithm

In 2016, Instagram first announced that users’ feeds would prioritise “the moments you care about,” ending the reverse-chronological order and favouring a curated one. This week Instagram's CEO shared that there isn't one overarching, algorithm but "a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes." Is your brand staying on the ball with Instagram algorithm changes?

The network has described the Instagram algorithm ranking signals as:

Interest: Your likely interest in content based on engagement with similar topics.

Timeliness: More recent posts are prioritised over older ones.

Relationship: Content from accounts you’ve interacted with more is prioritised.

Frequency: How often you use Instagram factors into what the top posts in your Feed will be.

Following: How many people you follow affects what you see–you may see less content from any single account if you follow a lot of accounts.

Usage: Spending more time on the app scrolling through your Instagram feed means you’ll see more or even everything the algorithm has to offer you at the moment.

So… how can you outsmart this increasingly tricky algorithm?

1. Step up your photo quality

According to Instagram themselves, ranking higher in your followers’ feeds goes hand in hand with posting “great content.” Well yeah, duh… except what are they defining as “good content” exactly? Not very specific there, Instagram!

However, there’s no denying that the most-liked and shared content on Instagram is usually visually striking. Mesmerising colours. Stunning landscapes. The sort of stuff that gets people to stop in their tracks and drop a ‘like.’ If you’re already creating epic content, you’re ahead of the curve. And if not, you may want to think about producing some professional visuals from time to time.

2. Create more video content

Ok… so Instagram didn't explicitly say that video is prioritised over photos. But don’t let that trick you into thinking that they’re treated the same!

Remember what we just said about eye-catching content? Given that videos autoplay in your audience’s Feed, there’s no better way to grab someone’s attention when they’re scrolling on by. If Instagram gauges interest by time spent looking at each post, you want followers to spend as long as possible engaging with your profile. Videos require people to stop and look. It really is that simple! Spend time optimising the first 2 seconds to really grab that attention early on.

Instagram’s platform continues to add and back new(ish) video features like Reels and IGTV. These content types can also appear in both the main Feed and in their own Tabs on account pages, meaning Instagram is effectively doubling the ability of audiences to find video content.

3. Harness the power of your hashtags

As we’ve explained, the more eyes on your posts, the better. Hashtags can help attract those eyes in a matter of seconds, as Mosseri confirmed again this week! Including hashtags as part of your content strategy ensures that your posts are essentially searchable. A combination of branded, product, and community hashtags are the perfect blend to encourage engagement.

If you’re afraid of going in too hard on the hashtags, don’t be. Using even up to the maximum 30 hashtags can be effective for getting the reach you want. However, make sure they’re highly relevant and don’t look spammy.

4. Keep publishing Stories

Supposedly, Stories do not have any sort of influence on the Instagram algorithm. So why are we recommending them? For starters, they’re a hugely popular content type that’s highly effective for marketing. Stories are placed at the top of user’s Feeds regardless of other ways the algorithm might be arranging your content, so you can consistently be top-of-mind and within reach of your audience.

This doesn’t mean you want to post Stories over traditional feed posts, though.  Rather than choose between Stories and regular posts, your mentality should be “Why not both?” Stories provide an authentic, speedy way to engage your audience that people obviously love. They also push your brand’s account to quite literally the front and centre of your followers’ feeds.

In short, Stories will consistently keep your profile popping up. This spells good news for engagement as you post Stories that encourage followers to check out your content.

5. Go live more often

Similar to Stories, Live video doesn’t have any specific bearing on the Instagram algorithm.

However, Instagram Live does generate notifications to followers by putting itself at the top of your audience’s Stories feeds too. The beauty of live video is that audiences are more interested in the spontaneous element than the production value and expect something intuitive and straightforward.

Just like brands should experiment with video formats, live video is also something to try out. Throughout 2020 and the lockdowns that followed, live video exploded as a way to keep in touch through brand Q&A’s, digital events and announcements. Be sure you’re testing out live video and increasing your comfort level with the format; first movers and early adopters are usually rewarded on social media!