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Everything You Need to Know to Leverage Instagram’s Algorithm

Small talk

September 30, 2018

Want your business to appear at the top of every Instagram user’s feed?

What sounds like a terrible sales pitch is actually more realistic than you might think.

Getting your Instagram marketing efforts in front of the right people at the right time is all about conquering the platform’s algorithm.

And thankfully, Instagram’s algorithm isn’t like the black box of Google’s.

In fact, since announcing the introduction of the Instagram algorithm in 2016, it’s been a pretty transparent feature.

Then, we got a real look under the hood of the new Instagram algorithm in 2018.

At a press conference, Instagram reps discussed in depth the factors that are measured by the algorithm.

Instagram algorithm - scroll Feed
Image source: https://founderu.selz.com 

So, what does the new Instagram algorithm mean for you in 2018?

Well, if you want to advertise on Instagram in the most effective an efficient way possible, you need to understand the mechanics of the platform.

That’s why we’re investigating the most important ranking factors of Instagram’s algorithm.

We’ll also look at Instagram marketing tips you can integrate into your strategy that leverage the algorithm’s functionality.

By incorporating the algorithm into your Instagram marketing, it ensures your brand message appears to more of the right people at the right time.

And it’s probably already clear, but that’s the key to more engagement, conversions, and revenue.

Instagram algorithm - timing
Image source: https://blog.bufferapp.com

The New Instagram Algorithm Ranking Factors in 2018

Before Instagram introduced their algorithm in 2016, posts were organized only in chronological order.

As a result, people were missing out on 70% of posts that would’ve been important or relevant to them.

After the new Instagram algorithm, users were now seeing 90% of their valued posts, and spending more time on the app.

While Instagram calls these 90% of posts “friends and family” content, this can actually include posts from brands users engage with frequently.

The point is, “friends and family” posts are determined by certain factors within the Instagram algorithm.

Let’s look at those now.

Instagram algorithm - interest

Interest: How Much Will a User Care About Your Post

Your Instagram marketing content should align with your target audiences’ interests.

But how do you know if users are interested in what you’re posting?

The Instagram algorithm determines if users are interested in a post based on a few things.

One way is if they’ve engaged with content similar to yours in the past.

This could be a genre, a specific topic, etc.

In the example above, the user engages frequently with food-related content.

As a result, New York Magazine’s food section, Grubstreet, appears higher up in their feed.

Even if your Instagram posts don’t earn as many likes as others, it can still achieve higher visibility in the Feed based on user interest.

It’s one of the reasons why the Instagram algorithm is so valuable to understand: You can still have a successful Instagram marketing strategy without a huge user following.

Instagram algorithm - recency
Image source: https://sproutsocial.com/

Recency: Timing Still Matters 

The Instagram algorithm assumes content from a few minutes ago will be of more interest to a user than a post from a week ago.

As a result, the platform will usually show more recent posts.

In fact, it was announced that recency was integrated directly into the new Instagram algorithm in 2018.

So, make sure when you advertise on Instagram at the best times possible.

By following the standardized Instagram marketing best practices while A/B testing for your own audience, you can discover the time for posting that works best for your business.

Instagram algorithm - relationship
Image source: https://www.manageflitter.com/

Relationship: Engagement Proves Closeness

The Instagram algorithm determines how close you are to another user based on engagement.

It’s a two-way street, however.

This means that you liking and commenting on one account matters just as much as that account reciprocating the engagement.

When you regularly interact with another account – and they interact with you – this signals a closeness in relationship.

As a result, the Instagram algorithm rewards this by increasing the visibility of these “best friend” accounts in your Feed.

For brands advertising on Instagram, this means that engaging back with followers is just as important as them interacting with you.

Consistently engage with your audience.

Additionally, optimize your Instagram marketing strategy over time by seeing which posts garner more engagement.

Then, you can craft more content similar to this and ensure the cycle of engagement continues.

Instagram algorithm - home

Additional 3 Instagram Algorithm Factors to Consider

Along with the three primary signals involved in the Instagram algorithm, there are a few secondary factors.

They are as follows:

  • Frequency: How often you open the app determines the posts you see. Open it less often, and posts from a few days ago may appear. Click in multiple times a day, though, and minutes-old posts may appear.
  • Following: The more accounts you follow, the fewer the frequency of posts from the same account appearing in your Feed. When you follow fewer people, the Instagram algorithm is choosing from a smaller selection. Therefore, more than one post from the same account is likely to appear.
  • Usage: How long you spend browsing on the app is also a factor. When you’re on Instagram for shorter bursts, your Feed will only show the most relevant content. If you like to browse for longer, the algorithm shows you a catalog of content with wider breadth and variety so you’re more likely linger.   

Instagram Algorithm Marketing Tips

So now that you know what factors are involved in the new Instagram algorithm for 2018, how can you leverage it in your marketing strategy?

There are a few Instagram marketing tips to keep in mind for making the most of this feature.

Instagram algorithm - Stories DAUs
Image source: http://www.businessofapps.com

Enhance Engagement and Interest Using Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are one of the most effective ways to advertise on Instagram.

They boast 300 million daily active users.

And 1 in 5 Stories posted by a business gets a direct message from a user.

With such high potential for engagement, Instagram Stories can be a great way to earn likes and comments from followers.

Also, as your audience views your Story, it signals to the Instagram algorithm that you’re interested in the account.

You can enhance the level of interaction even further by including features like polls or contests directly within your Story.

Instagram algorithm - Food52

Food52 includes a CTA in their story that directs users to their website.

You can use an Instagram marketing strategy like theirs to drive web traffic.

Additionally, including these interactive elements ensures the instagram algorithm favors your content when users engage with your posts.

Promote Back-and-Forth Conversation in Your Captions

As noted above, the new Instagram algorithm in 2018 doesn’t just reward one-way engagement.

Instead, you need to incorporate reciprocal interaction into your Instagram marketing strategy.

When a user comments on your post, be sure to follow up and continue the dialogue.

Similarly, call out a branded hashtag users can use in their photos.

You’re able to track when they use it, and then decide how to engage (e.g. comment, regram).

This signals to the Instagram algorithm that there’s interest and a relationship between your brand and your followers.

Instagram algorithm - Food52 #2

Food52 again is excellent example of this Instagram marketing strategy.

They call out a branded hashtag (#f52familystyle) in their caption.

They then describe what using the hashtag means and why followers should use it.

Promoting this two-way street of engagement benefits your brand when it comes to leveraging the Instagram algorithm.

Use Instagram Ads to Get the Word Out

If you have a time-sensitive event or promotion you’re looking to advertise on Instagram, sometimes waiting for the algorithm to work its magic on your post just won’t do.

In cases like these, boosting your Instagram posts can come in handy.

By either partnering with an Instagram advertising agency or launching Instagram ads on your own, this is a useful strategy for immediate results.

Instagram algorithm - Eataly

Sponsored ads don’t rely on the Instagram algorithm to appear in News Feeds.

For an event like Eataly’s Fall Food & Wine Fest, they needed to get the word out immediately to audiences before the October 5 deadline.

There’s still the matter of selecting the right audience to display your Instagram ads to.

However, this Instagram marketing strategy lets you work outside of the platform’s algorithmic limitations.

Keep in mind, though, that you’ll want to integrate an organic Instagram marketing strategy even if you’re using Sponsored ads.

Doing so will not only save you money, but also ensure your brand appears – at the right time – in Feeds to more users than just your ads.

Make the Instagram Algorithm Your Ally

The new Instagram algorithm can be your key to earning your best ROI in 2018 – and beyond.

Understanding how to leverage it in your Instagram marketing strategy can earn you greater engagement, conversions, and sales.

When you combine your organic Instagram marketing with boosted ads, you can take full advantage of the platform.

And integrating the Instagram algorithm into your strategy is the best way to maximize the success of the organic side.

Keep these Instagram marketing tips in mind as you launch and optimize your campaign.

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