A shroud of mystery surrounds the Instagram algorithm for many of the platform’s users. But what does “the Instagram algorithm” even mean, really? And how much control does IG actually have over what we see on our feeds?
This blog explores the Instagram algorithm (or algorithms), how they’ve evolved, what’s new to the platform, and how you can use all of it to develop a rock-solid social media strategy in 2022.
What is the Instagram algorithm?
Instagram does not have one overarching “algorithm” that dictates what people see or don’t see on the app. The platform has multiple algorithms and processes that each serve a unique purpose depending on the type of content being viewed and created.
“We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that.”
— Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram
You might remember the chronological news feed design Instagram featured when it launched in 2010. But as more users joined, Instagram realized scrollers were missing as much as 70% of all posts in their feed. As a result, the platform introduced ranked feeds in 2016 to ensure users only saw content that interested them.
Instagram Feed, Explore, and Reels each use a specific algorithm tailored to each user’s experience. Most users like to see what their friends are up to in Stories, for example, so Instagram prioritizes those close connections. On the other hand, Instagram crafts the Explore tab to show more unfamiliar content.
How Instagram ranks Feeds and Stories
Users want most of the content in their Story and Feed to come from people they know in real life, and Instagram prioritizes that content for them as such.
The Feeds and Stories algorithm works in three parts:
- Instagram pulls all recent posts shared by people you follow.
- Instagram analyzes thousands of different “signals” about the posts (people who posted, what time they posted, how often you like their posts, etc.). The most important signals include:
- Post information: Popularity and specific content information like content format, post time, etc.
- Poster information: Instagram looks at how often you interact with the poster to determine your interest in their content.
- Your activity: Determines where your interests lie.
- Interaction history: Instagram looks at whether or not you comment on someone’s posts to determine how interested you are in their content.
- Instagram predicts how likely you are to interact with posts. These predictions come from time spent on a particular post, commenting on it, liking it, saving it, or tapping on the profile picture.
How Instagram ranks Explore
The Explore tab takes a similar approach to Feeds and Stories, even though all its content comes from accounts you don’t follow.
The first thing Instagram looks at to curate content for your Explore tab is posts you’ve interacted with in the past. For example, if you regularly interact with your favorite bakery’s account, Instagram looks at other users who interact with it, too. Then they look at the other similar accounts those users interact with and show you any content they think you might be unaware of.
Then, Instagram looks at how likely you are to engage with that content. To determine that, the algorithm analyzes:
- How many other people like, share, comment, and save the post
- Your engagement history with the poster
- What kind of Explore posts you’ve interacted with in the past
- How many times people have engaged with the poster in the past few weeks
How Instagram ranks Reels
Reels operates similarly to Explore, but instead of focusing on discovery, Reels focuses on entertainment. It also emphasizes creators with smaller followings.
To rank Reels, Instagram looks at how likely you are to watch a video to the end, like it, or say it was entertaining on a survey prompt. The platform also tracks how often people navigate to the audio page to determine who might have been inspired to create a Reel of their own.
Other relevant signals include:
- Which reels you’ve recently engaged with
- Interaction history with a particular poster
- Information about the reel
- Popularity of the poster
What’s new on Instagram in 2022?
Link stickers permanently replaced Instagram’s “swipe-up” feature in August 2021. Instagram link stickers are tappable icons available for Instagram Stories that lead to external websites. These links play a critical role in driving leads, conversions, and social commerce transactions.
Swipe-ups were only available to verified users or those with more than 10,000 followers, but link stickers are open to all Instagram users, regardless of follower count. Audiences can also reply to IG Stories containing link stickers—a feature that was unavailable on swipe-ups.
Did you know? In 2020, 47% of marketers said swipe-up IG Stories were their preferred influencer marketing format within Instagram. The next most popular was an in-feed image, with 14.9% of marketers calling it their preferred format.
This development means your brand can now leverage affiliate links with every type of influencer without worrying about follower count. Link stickers also make it easier to determine influencer/campaign success by helping to track revenue and website traffic attribution.
Instagram post collabs allow you to co-author content with another user. That content then appears on both profiles, essentially combining the reach and engagement of your two accounts.
In 2021, roughly 70% of social media influencers listed brand collaborations as their top revenue stream. This makes Instagram’s new collab feature a perfect tool for influencer marketers. The feature allows both parties to reach new audiences, boosts engagement, and helps each audience to discover new content. And because users can see when two users collab, it provides transparency to followers when a creator is working with a brand rather than posting about it organically.
Emphasis on Reels
Instagram introduced Reels in 2020 as a short-form video competitor to TikTok. In 2021, the platform expanded maximum Reel lengths from 30 seconds to one minute. Instagram has also added plenty of new editing features, including music, voiceover, doodles, text, effects, stickers, and even a self-timer.
Instagram is also testing a new tool called “Montage” that allows users to convert their Stories into short-form Reel content. The platform is evolving to promote original content creation and even reportedly pays TikTok stars to post exclusively on Reels. Instagram predicts a win-win situation for the potential new feature as it allows creators to cross-promote their short-form content while pulling big-name social media stars away from the competition.
Instagram launched its in-app shopping experience in 2020 to help struggling retailers at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform introduced in-shop ads in 2021 to “make it easier for people to discover and shop from brands when they’re already in the mood to shop.”
The in-shop ads appear as tiles on the Instagram Shop tab home page. Clicking takes shoppers to the “product details” page to learn more about the item, view more images, and browse other products from the seller.
What’s coming to Instagram in 2022?
New Feed options
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri announced in January that the platform is testing some changes to users’ feeds. The potential new layout would allow people to switch between three different views on the home screen.
The options include:
- Home: This is the current Instagram setting in which the platform creates feeds based on the content it thinks will interest each user the most.
- Favorites: The content in this section comes from a list of accounts chosen by the user and appears on the feed in chronological order.
- Following: This is a chronological stream of accounts a user follows and a setting Mosseri promised late last year would make a return.
There is currently no timeline for when Instagram will roll out its three-feed option, but it’s definitely something to watch in 2022.
Testing Feed Changes 👀
We’re starting to test the ability to switch between three different views on your home screen (two of which would give you the option to see posts in chronological order):
We hope to launch these soon. More to come. ✌🏼 pic.twitter.com/9zvB85aPSp
— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) January 5, 2022
Instagram is currently testing a subscription service with a handful of creators. Those creators can use the service to set a monthly price of their choice for premium content and unlock a “subscribe” button on their profile.
After subscribing, users can gain access to:
- Exclusive subscriber live streams allowing for deeper engagement
- Subscriber Stories available to only a creator’s most engaged followers
- Subscriber badges so creators can easily identify their top fans
“With Instagram Subscriptions, creators can develop deeper connections with their most engaged followers and grow their recurring monthly income by giving subscribers access to exclusive content and benefits—all within the same platform where they interact with them already.”
— Instagram Business Team
5 ways to work the Instagram algorithm in 2022
1. Post more Reels
Brands should consider upping their short-form video game in light of Instagram’s emphasis on promoting more quality Reel content. Posting Reels consistently is your best bet to getting your content prioritized by the platform, increasing your reach and engagement.
Because Instagram is putting so much more emphasis on Reels, some creators have begun to post static images on their page as short video clips. In the example below, the user experience remains the same as looking at a normal still image, but Instagram counts the post as a video.
Be sure to invite your audience to participate in the content to drive extra engagement. Reels are a great avenue for Q&A content or capitalizing on the latest viral trend. Also, consider leaving a call to action in your Reels where viewers can seek more information or ask questions about your brand or product.
2. Use relevant hashtags
Using relevant hashtags is still one of the most effective ways to increase your reach on Instagram posts. Websites like Hashtagify, RiteTag, and Iconosquare are solid resources to help find which popular hashtags might work best for your brand.
One common misconception is that more hashtags always means more reach. While Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags on a post, it’s not always wise to max out on every post. The optimal number of hashtags to use depends on your following size. Use the following chart below to get a better idea of how many hashtags might work best for your content.
3. Encourage meaningful conversations
Generating audience engagement is always a priority for brands on social media. But brands should think bigger in 2022 than simple likes and comments on posts and stories and consider encouraging meaningful conversations from their followers. This could mean discussing what fans would like to see more or less of from your brand. But it could also mean discovering the real issues that matter to your audience and taking a stand on them as well.
“A strong ethical stance features highly as a key consumer desire for the industry. This is particularly popular among younger generations of consumers, with 39.2% of 16-24-year-olds agreeing they’d like to see more of an ethical stance from influencers in the future.”
Also, consider a conversation with your influencer team about what matters most to them. More than 50% of consumers ages 16-34 agree social media influencers should use their platforms to discuss activism and current events. A campaign centered around a cause that’s meaningful to your brand and your influencers will most likely resonate deeply with your audiences too.
4. Collaborate with other brands
Two is always stronger than one. If you’re already partnering with creators, take it a step further by partnering with brands that compliment your product. For example, a computer monitor brand might see positive results partnering with a company that makes gaming chairs. Both audiences likely have similar interests, and a single post can reach both groups simultaneously. Plus, because the collab feature is still so new, Instagram favors posts making the most out of the new tool.
5. Tell your brand story
Consumers—especially young consumers—want to know if there is a story behind the products they buy. Make a Reel to show where and how you source your ingredients or craft different products. You can also go live to answer questions in real-time or post stories to reveal facts and snippets about your brand. Instagram now allows product tagging across all formats, so no matter what you’re posting, you always have a chance to show what you have to offer.
To be successful in 2022, brands need to use every tool at their disposal to encourage engagement and get audiences excited about their products and services. By taking advantage of Instagram‘s constant upgrades and incorporating them into their influencer marketing strategy, brands can extend their reach to a whole new crop of eager consumers and maximize brand affinity with their existing ones.