Instagram Algorithms Uncovered

Did you know that in the UK it’s illegal to be drunk in a pub or to shout “taxi” to hail a black cab? Thankfully, being unaware of or ignoring such bizarre rules doesn’t stop you from succeeding in ordinary life. However, on Instagram, things are different. Understanding the rules is critical to success. Without a solid grasp of how Instagram’s algorithms work, you will struggle to succeed.

Moreover, AI in social media is fast changing how the platforms work, meaning the Instagram algorithms are constantly evolving. This constant evolution makes the platform increasingly difficult to understand. While it is possible to grow on Instagram without a thorough understanding of the algorithms, such success is usually due to luck. Therefore, acquiring a solid grasp of these algorithms can significantly enhance your ability to strategically navigate the platform, boosting your chances of sustained growth and success.

However, it’s worth noting that the Instagram algorithms can differ depending on the part of the platform you are on. For instance, Instagram can be divided into three core components: Reels, Explore, and Feed. Each of these components has its own algorithm that determines if and when your content is shown. Since Instagram Reels are the most significant factor in growing on the platform, the primary focus of this article will be on Reels.

A short story: Why Instagram algorithms are important

Have you ever wondered why you keep getting shown the same type of content over again and again? It’s not luck. It’s the Instagram algorithms at play.

In truth, this is the same for any online platform. The algorithms use AI to understand what you are interested in and show you more. To prove the point, we decided to run an experiment. What would happen if we actively searched for right-wing US political content?

Since our usual content includes sports, health, and self-development, we rarely see political posts. The posts we do receive are generally non-controversial—unless you get worked up about average 5k running times. Surprisingly many people do!

So, after actively searching for and engaging with right-wing political content over a period of a week, we started to receive more. We no longer had to search for it; it started appearing in our feed without us asking for it.

Moreover, the more we watched, the deeper and darker the content became. It went from standard Republican views calling for less taxes to extreme right-wing content. The Instagram algorithms had us. Thankfully, despite the persuasive nature of the blonde pig-tail-wearing US teenager, who called for all high school students to be armed, we managed to pull ourselves out. It was a dark place.

So, what did we learn? Firstly, Instagram algorithms are designed to push users deeper into specific niches. It’s crucial to understand how these algorithms work. By understanding them, you can ensure your content gets noticed. Secondly, keep guns away from kids. Have you seen the tantrums they throw on TikTok? We definitely don’t want them armed.

Can I use AI to hack the Instagram algorithms?

The AI zealots will have you believing AI can do everything including creating viral content by analysing the Instagram algorithms. Yet, it can’t. Not yet. To prove our point, we asked ChatGPT to give us its best joke:

Why did the scarecrow become a successful neurosurgeon?

Because he was outstanding in his field and had a lot of brains!

I think it’s safe to say Michael McIntyre won’t be losing any sleep over this AI comedian. We appreciate this is a rather facetious example. After all, it has nothing to do with Instagram. However, it illustrates that AI still has its limitations and remains within the early phases of its development.

Yet, when it comes to Instagram algorithms, there are many tools and experts that claim they use AI to reverse engineer them. However, the Instagram algorithms are so complex, that it’s unlikely anyone including Mark Zuckerberg, truly understands them.

The reason for this is because large enterprise software isn’t built by a single developer. Instead, there will be hundreds if not thousands of Meta engineers working on specific elements of the Instagram algorithms. For anyone who has played the children’s game Chinese Whispers, you will know how difficult it is for a single message to be transmitted across 5 people in the same room. So, forget doing that across hundreds of software engineers sitting across the world.

Moreover, the Instagram algorithms are not open source. Consequently, the best any AI tool can do is guess what the algorithms may be. Yet, most AI Instagram tools won’t even do that. From our experience, AI tools don’t even use AI and instead provide you with fake followers.

So, the question is what are the likely ranking factors that Instagram algorithms use?              

The random nature of Instagram algorithms

It’s important to note that Instagram algorithms also have an element of randomness to them. This is because humans are a central element of how they work. For instance, imagine you spend hours creating a great Reel about how zone 2 running can impact your Vo2 Max. After looking through the algorithm ranking factors below, you are convinced it’s going to go viral.

However, it fails. There can be several reasons for this. From the content creator’s perspective, they may have failed to understand how to increase Instagram engagement, Instagram views or get more fans. Moreover, their social media strategy may not have accounted for how Instagram works. It’s critical to understand all of these elements alongside gaining an appreciation of how the Instagram algorithms work.

Yet, even then there is randomness to the Instagram algorithms as well. Perhaps your content goes live at the same time as other content from bigger accounts in your niche. Alternatively, the first few people to see your content may skip past because they are having one of those days where their running performance is down. This randomness can only be countered by dusting yourself off and releasing another piece of content. It’s important to keep going and testing and learning. Moreover, this randomness is another reason why no AI tools can hack Instagrams algorithms.

Unveiling the Instagram algorithms: What gets you views, engagement and followers on Reels

We spent three years deep-diving into Instagram. During that time, we learned what gets engagement, views and followers. We achieved this through testing and learning with different types of accounts and content.

To really ensure we understood what works, we refused to create accounts related to Instagram marketing. This was because we know many people struggle on the platform and so often engage with “experts” who claim they can give them an easy solution. So, since we are a marketing agency for health brands we decided to create an account focused on running.

Below we have outlined the key ranking factors Instagram uses. However, these are our best guess based on our three years’ worth of research. Nobody can really ever give you an exact outline of what the Instagram algorithms are.

Moreover, wherever possible we have provided an overview of how to meet the algorithm requirements. Yet, these recommendations are high level so it’s imperative you also deep dive into understanding how you can increase Instagram engagement and views.

Personalisation

  1. Niche interests: Perhaps the most important Instagram algorithm to understand and master. This algorithm looks at the types of content people typically look at and engage with. The more predictable they are the more likely they will be shown content in that niche. However, there is a difference between an Instagram niche and an industry niche. So, you will need to spend time finding the right niche for you. If this fails, it doesn’t matter how good your content is because you won’t get any reach or views.
  2. Relationship between a user and the creator: The Instagram algorithms are designed to understand the relationships between an Instagram profile and a specific content creator. For example, if they follow the creator, frequently interact with their content or have previously engaged with it.
  3. Engagement from Influencers: The more engagement you receive from big accounts, the more likely Instagram will see your content as being important.
  4. Profile visits: Some people like to spy on others by frequently viewing profiles without following the account. The more they do this the more likely the algorithms on Instagram will show them content from that account.

 Engagement

  • Number of likes: Build a strong voice and brand. If your content is focused on being funny do more of it.
  • The number of comments: Use headlines to trigger an emotion and build relationships by following and commenting on other accounts.
  • Number of shares: Use surprising facts or humour in your niche.
  • The ratio of positive engagement (likes, positive comments) to negative engagement (negative comments): Whilst the Instagram algorithms also value negative reactions, the more positivity you get the better. Try to manage negativity by responding to comments in a positive fashion.
  • Diversity of engagement: The more you understand how to get Instagram views the better. This can drive content to non-followers, sending positive signals. The more non-followers that engage with you, the more likely you are to go viral.
  • Engagement longevity: These are accounts that engage with you on an ongoing basis. Try to build some core relationships on the platform.
  • Engagement Velocity: Rapid engagement shortly after posting boosts visibility by the Instagram algorithms. This is something you can’t really control.

Time

  1. Total watch time: The Instagram algorithms value the time you help keep people on the platform. So, try to use suspense. For instance, “Only 1% of people can run a mile in this time…”
  2. Completion rate: This is the percentage of viewers who watch a Reel in its entirety. Keeping videos shorter rather than the maximum of 90 seconds can help especially at the beginning of your Instagram journey when you are not a known brand.
  3. Rewatch rate: The percentage of viewers who rewatch a Reel can influence the algorithms on Instagram. The more times this happens the better. We have seen this change in recent times. Previously one rewatch appeared to send content viral. Yet now it’s increased to twice. So, focus on keeping people engaged via your captions or needing to see the Reel again due to a surprising insight.
  4. Average watch time of the first few seconds: Initial engagement is critical for the algorithms on Instagram. It helps drive engagement as well. So, make sure you have an engaging start to the Reel.
  5. Average and total watch time for Reels from the same creator: The Instagram algorithms reward accounts that keep people on the platform. So, if you create lots of content that keeps people viewing, the total number will likely influence your views and engagement on specific posts.
  6. Time spent on the platform: Instagram wants to keep people on their platforms for as long as possible. Therefore, the amount of time a content creator spends on the platform can influence the reach they get on their Reels.

  1. Age of the Reel: Newer Reels are given a short window to get engagement. After all, the Instagram algorithms want new content to be created to keep people engaged. So, make sure you regularly post.
  2. Trending topic relevance score: Instagram understands when certain topics or content types are trending. So, make sure you keep up to date with what they are in your niche
  3. Music: Instagram is a great source for music. So, look out for and use music that is trending. This increases the chances of your content being shown to people in your niche who have enjoyed content using that sound.
  4. Social signals: It’s unclear how much of a ranking factor this is, but it’s likely the platform also monitors social mentions and discussions around a Reel that occur outside of the platform.
  5. Spike detection: If engagement rapidly increases on a Reel within a short period, it sends positive signals to the Instagram algorithms.
  6. Keywords: If your Reel uses keywords that are trending elsewhere on the platform, its likely you will receive a boost. Consider looking at what’s happening in your niche and creating content around that.

Creator Quality

  • Follower net growth: The Instagram algorithms are likely to prioritise accounts that are growing in terms of followers. It’s a positive signal more people want to see your content.
  • Posting consistency: The algorithms value consistency. So, make sure you identify and set a posting frequency. You can also look at specific times of the day in which to post.

Relevancy

  • Content Matching: Instagram tries to show users content similar to what they’ve engaged with previously. So, if you have content that works, do something similar.
  • Hashtags: Trending hashtags are often too big or too generic. However, niche yet popular hashtags can help content reach a broader audience. If the hashtags are clearly defined, the Instagram algorithms are likely to show your content to people who have engaged with those hashtags previously.
  • Reel information. The Instagram algorithm’s not only look at content themes but also how they are made when determining who to show the content to. For instance, if a user often engages with Reels that are 20-25 seconds, they are more likely to be shown videos of that length.
  • Content clarity: The more time you spend creating content for a very specific niche, the more likely the algorithms on Instagram will understand what your content is about and who it should be shared with.

The Instagram algorithms may penalise you if you don’t do things properly

The Instagram algorithms may penalise your account if you don’t follow best practices. On one side of the coin, the use of AI and automation can flag Instagram algorithms, potentially leading to reduced visibility or even account suspension. The key things to avoid include:

  • AI automation tools
  • Spamming your users with untrustworthy, meaningless content
  • Not following Instagrams community guidelines and sharing content that may alarm or distress others

However, not all penalties have to be so severe. Yet, they too need to be avoided because they can stop you from achieving your goals of gaining more influence on the platform. These penalties mean your content doesn’t get views or engagement, ultimately leading to frustration and failure.

Therefore, it’s important you also avoid confusing the Instagram algorithms. This typically occurs when you fail to understand your niche well enough and end up creating content that is too generic to grow.

It is important to analyse Instagrams Algorithms to stay on top of the development

How can I track the algorithms on Instagram?

Since Instagram doesn’t tell the world what its algorithms are, there is no set way of measuring how well you are performing against each of the ranking factors. Yet, there are some great insights that Instagram provides that can help you gain a better picture. For instance, the number of plays and replays can provide you with a picture of how many repeat views you are receiving. However, these metrics are constantly changing so it’s important to understand the most important insights and how they are going to change going forward.

Moreover, whilst the Instagram platform offers some useful insights, you can also consider using third-party tools. Many of these tools not only help you analyse your account but that of others. This can be a powerful way of understanding how your competitors are winning or failing against the Instagram algorithms.

The Instagram algorithms are always evolving

The only thing certain about the Instagram algorithms is that they are constantly changing. Every time a change is made, content creators race to understand it and how they can exploit it. This leaves Instagram in a constant state of evolution. Rather than loopholes being exploited and poor content flooding the platform, Instagram wants new fresh content to emerge that keeps people on the platform for longer.

Moreover, with increased competition from TikTok, Instagram needs to find ways to keep people engaged. This could lead us to believe quality content is the key to mastering the algorithms. After all, that’s the constant message pushed by the majority of Instagram experts.

However, it’s not so simple. What constitutes quality content can differ depending on who you ask. Furthermore, even if you spent 10 hours creating a beautiful Reel, it’s not guaranteed to succeed. This is because the algorithms need to be understood.

The Instagram algorithms are just a set of equations. It’s maths. But maths doesn’t really understand art. This is why frustration can often occur when trying to grow on the platform.

The only way to understand these algorithms is to spend time on the platform learning and testing. It’s easy to get pulled into the world of quick hacks and solutions and look for AI tools that can do everything for you. However, they don’t exist.

Instead, spend your time thinking about each of these Instagram algorithm factors and try to understand how you can tailor your content to them. This is unlike when you were at school, to become an artist you need to be a mathematician first.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *