Understanding the Instagram Algorithm: A Marketer’s Take

Adam Mosseri, the CEO of Instagram, recently revealed how the Instagram algorithm works. In an attempt to dispel Instagram algorithm myths, he provides insight into how this social platform ranks content, offering businesses a clearer picture of how to improve visibility and increase engagement.

This blog post aims to shed light on the recent ranking reveal to help ensure that you are well-equipped to enhance your Instagram content strategy.

Jacqueline Foster
Demand Generation Marketing, Lever.co

We can count on them to bring new ideas to the table consistently

Master Instagram Strategy

The Ranking Factors of Instagram’s Algorithm: Your Feed

The first thing Mosseri says is: “We want to do a better job of explaining how Instagram works. There are a lot of misconceptions out there and we recognize we can do more to help people, especially creators understand what we do.” 

So they’re opening up and being transparent about how the ranking works across Instagram and some new features they’ve built. The first thing we’ll look at is under this section called “How We Rank Feed.”

Your Feed is basically your personalized home page that makes it easy to catch up with friends, family and your interests.

Understanding Instagram’s algorithm is all about understanding the factors it considers while ranking content. So the most important signals in Feed are (from most to least important):

IG feed algorithm

Takeaway: The emphasis on personalization is a reminder that brands should focus on creating high-quality content that encourages engagement (likes, shares, comments). And when they talk about the signals such as how quickly people are liking, commenting, sharing and saving a post – velocity matters.

Posts that receive high engagement will be deemed more interesting to the user and be prioritized. Understanding user activity and preferences is also crucial, for example, if a significant portion of a brand’s audience prefers photos over videos, then that’s the format they should focus on.

To rank Feed we use things like your activity and interactions with posts, information about the post location tag, and the person who posted.

The Impact of Engagement on the Instagram Algorithm

Overall, when it comes to your Feed, they’re pretty much saying that if the people who are following you want to see your content (or you want them to see your content), there needs to be good engagement from them on a consistent basis. If they don’t see it, they’re less likely to see your stuff in their feed. Which makes sense.

For instance, I just started playing tennis a few months ago. So now when I look at my Feed, it’s mostly filled up with tennis posts. There was a period of time where I was looking at puppies, like these chocolate toy poodles (because, you know, they’re cute), and that’s pretty much all I was seeing in my Feed:

IG chocolate toy poodles

But now my interest has moved to tennis, and when I start engaging with tennis posts, voila, that’s what shows up for me.

So as a content creator, you must encourage consistent engagement from your followers.

The Instagram algorithm engagement determines the visibility of content in the follower’s feed. Consequently, posts with high engagement are more likely to appear at the top of your followers’ feeds, further contributing to the Instagram ranking algorithm.

You may also like: 8 Tips for Running Instagram Clothing Ads that Convert

How the Instagram Algorithm Works with Stories

Moving on to the next section “How We Rank Stories,” we see that Instagram doesn’t just rank Feed posts, but also your Instagram Stories

Here, they look at several signals such as:

IG stories algorithm

Takeaway: Similar to the Feed, engagement and viewing history play a crucial role. Brands should aim to create stories that viewers will want to watch until the end and possibly engage with, like sending a message or replying to a question.

The algorithm prioritizes stories from accounts you frequently interact with, whether by viewing or engaging (such as sending a like or a DM). This engagement history, combined with the closeness of the relationship, significantly influences what appears at the top of your Stories feed.

To rank Stories we use things like which stories you’ve viewed or engaged with in the past.

I didn’t even know that Instagram ranked Stories (I thought they just showed you the Stories of all your friends), but this makes a lot of sense. I often see that the people who view my IG posts most regularly are the ones I talk to all the time, people I’m DMing.

And this also makes sense about how people are able to follow 2,000+ people on Instagram and yet still get the content that they need from their Feed, as well as from Stories. I think if they’re in a certain group, they matter as well, just because you’re putting more effort into that relationship

I would imagine that a signal from a DM is much stronger than a like, for example, so I’m sure they’re scoring or tiering these engagement signals. So close friends matter, just because you’re putting more effort into that relationship. There’s more consistency. 

Master Instagram Strategy

Instagram’s Explore Page Algorithm

Let’s look at the “How We Rank Explore” section now. 

The Instagram Explore page algorithm helps you discover content from accounts you don’t yet follow. It prioritizes posts that garner quick and extensive engagement, which is why it’s such a great tool for businesses to reach potential new followers.

The key signals Instagram looks at are:

IG explore algorithm

Takeaway: The Explore page is a great opportunity for brands to reach potential new followers. For this, they should strive to create posts that quickly receive high engagement. So if you want to go viral, you’ve got to hit virality quickly. I’d say the first hour matters quite a bit. 

If a user interacts with a post in Explore, the algorithm may show them more of that brand’s content. Therefore, it’s important to attract and captivate new audiences.

To rank Explore we use things like information about the post, your past activity in Explore, and information about the person who posted.

Related Content: 14 Instagram Trends You Can’t Ignore in 2023

Understanding the Instagram Algorithm Through Reels

In the “How We Rank Reels” section, it says that the most important signals are:

IG reels algorithm

Takeaway: The Reels algorithm values entertainment and whether a Reel is “worth people’s time.” Brands should focus on creating highly entertaining, fun content that people are likely to watch all the way through and possibly share. The information about the Reel and the person who posted also matters, indicating that marketers should carefully consider the audio track, visuals and overall quality of their Reels.

The ranking algorithm for Instagram Reels operates similarly to the Instagram Explore page algorithm. Virality and velocity are vital, with the first hour of posting being crucial for reach and engagement.

To rank Reels we use things like your activity, information about the reel, and the person who posted.

The Instagram Algorithm and Influencers

Influencers can significantly impact an Instagram algorithm change, especially if the engagement comes from a wide array of users. 

So we’ve done a lot of experiments with Instagram’s algorithm. And one thing that’s in their algorithm that they may not be talking about here, and we’ll find out soon enough, is if you just have your friends constantly engage and save and comment and like, it doesn’t do as well. Not compared to if a ton of random people just started doing that. 

We find that when posts are seen by a lot of random people and they’re liked and saved and shared, etc., it really starts spreading much more, especially with Reels. We even did tests where people DM those Reels to other people. Those do really well.

I have a friend who has grown his Instagram from about 3,000 followers to around a hundred thousand. He’s got a Reel with an influencer and it’s his Reels that are popping off. And I think that’s what’s leading to pretty exponential growth. 

In other words:

The engagement pods that work decently well on Twitter and LinkedIn don’t work really well on Instagram

Engagement pods are groups that systematically like and comment on each other’s posts to boost engagement.

Related Content: 18 Reasons Why Your Instagram Posts Fail (And What to Do About It)

The Myth of Gaming the Instagram Algorithm

Now that Instagram has revealed their algorithm, more people are trying to do this. I think this is going to be a more common trend with transparency and all these networks are going to start showcasing their algorithm. 

But I think users are going to have a misconception, like “I know their algorithm so now I can game them.” While understanding the Instagram algorithm is beneficial, just remember that gaming the algorithm is not that easy. 

Here’s why:

  • Dynamic Nature of the Algorithm: Instagram’s algorithm is not static. It is continually changing and adapting based on user behavior and platform updates. What worked yesterday might not work today.
  • Personalization: The Instagram algorithm is personalized to individual users based on their interactions and behaviors on the platform. This means what works for one user may not necessarily work for another.
  • Quality over Quantity: The algorithm favors high-quality, engaging content over spammy or irrelevant content. Simply posting a lot or using a lot of hashtags is not enough. Your content needs to be engaging and relevant to your audience.
  • Engagement Is Key: Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes content that receives a lot of engagement (likes, comments, shares, saves) quickly after it’s posted. It’s not enough to just have a lot of followers; those followers need to engage with your content.
  • Authenticity Is Rewarded: The algorithm can detect and penalize behaviors that seem inauthentic, like using bots to automate likes and comments, or participating in “engagement pods” where groups of users agree to engage with each other’s content.
  • Instagram’s Commitment to Fairness: Instagram has made efforts to ensure fairness and prevent manipulation of their algorithm. Therefore, attempting to game the system may result in penalties, including reduced visibility, shadowbanning, or even account suspension.

The best way to “game” the Instagram algorithm is to understand how it works and use that understanding to create genuine, high-quality, engaging content that resonates with your audience. This strategy may not provide instant results, but it’s the most sustainable and effective in the long run.

Related Content: Best Instagram Marketing Agency: Top 5 Choices for 2023

Conclusion: Adapt to the Instagram Algorithm

Instagram’s decision to employ multiple algorithms, classifiers and processes can mean more work for marketers but also an opportunity for a more targeted approach. It’s about understanding user behavior on different parts of the app and tailoring the content accordingly.

For example, brands should create engaging and interactive content for Stories where people typically look for closer connections, while Reels should be more entertainment-oriented.

By understanding and adapting to the Instagram algorithm, you’ll be well on your way to enhancing your business presence on the platform, debunking Instagram algorithm myths, and successfully navigating any Instagram algorithm update.

If you’re ready to level up your business, Single Grain’s social media ads experts can help!👇

Master Instagram Strategy

Write for us

Think you’ve got a fresh perspective that will challenge our readers to become better marketers? We’re always looking for authors who can deliver quality articles and blog posts. Thousands of your peers will read your work, and you will level up in the process.

Contribute to our blog