Understanding Instagram's new algorithm is key to successfully utilizing the platform to optimize your content and marketing efforts.
This past June, Instagram hit a milestone that no marketer or business should ignore: 1 billion people are officially signed up on the platform. Just as staggeringly, half of them log in every day.
What's more, the photo- and video-sharing social network's architects seem increasingly aware of the platform's potential usefulness to advertisers. Instagram recently unveiled a new algorithm determining what individual users see in their feed, and more than the previous algorithm, it's favorable to brands hoping to get their message out to potential customers. Allow me to help you understand how – so you can quickly make full use of it.
3 feed factors
The first important lesson to grasp about the current algorithm is that three factors have an outsize impact on what a given Instagram user sees first as they scroll through their personalized feed:
- Recency. This one's simple: The algorithm favors new posts over older posts.
- Relationship. The feed also prioritizes posts from accounts that a given user often likes, comments on or is tagged in.
- Interest. This is the most complicated aspect of the algorithm, because it relies on machine learning to determine what kind of content a user likes to see. This goes a few steps beyond relationship. Even if a user doesn't "like" a video, if they watch it three times, Instagram will offer up more videos like it. If another user looks at a lot of car pictures in the search tab, the algorithm will start favoring car pictures (even if the user never follows, likes or comments on those pictures). The algorithm is now intelligent enough to determine when a car is pictured, even when it isn't tagged or described as such.
The new algorithm factor listed here to which marketers and brands should be paying the most attention is recency. The previous algorithm relied heavily on tracking engagement, pushing recency to a lower-priority factor. But now, a brand can strategically post at times when its users are most likely to be on the app. Instagram's native analytics even inform you of the times when a given post racks up the most views. To say this is a valuable update is an understatement.
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Making Instagram work for you
Marketers and brand managers should remember that, while this algorithm is absolutely more brand-friendly than the previous one, the key to effective branding on Instagram continues to be creating high-quality content that works well in Instagram's own context, as I always reiterate when I consult with clients. What exactly should that look like?
- Encourage users to engage. Ask a question (even if the answer is one word), prompt viewers to tag someone else, or just invite them to post an emoji. Remember that comments are still very important for the algorithm. One pro tip I haven't heard many others give is to use the poll feature inside of stories. If a follower completes the poll (which is quick, easy and fun), that counts as engagement in the algorithm's eyes.
- Incorporate video. Although the algorithm doesn't technically favor videos over photos, the simple fact is that most users look at videos longer than they do photos, thus boosting engagement from the algorithm's perspective.
- Post while your users are on the app. Study Instagram's analytics and try posting at different times during the day to determine when is best for your brand and engagement.
- Leverage emojis – as long as they fit with your branding. Emojis are the prime example of native language on Instagram. They make you sound like you're speaking the platform's language.
- Use #hashtags. You'll gain new organic followers who are searching for your targeted terms.
- Think up creative contests. "First 100 to comment win a free service." "Tag your best friend in this post and enter to win a sweepstakes." Contests work well on Instagram and help you to gamify the experience.
If it's not already clear that Instragram is a platform with relevance to nearly every brand and marketer, this new version of the platform's algorithm will drive the point home. Of course, those brand managers with the most thorough understanding of the algorithm's ins and outs stand to gain the most, so get out there and implement these tips while you're still ahead of the pack.