The Instagram algorithm remains mysterious for many of the platform’s users. So 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 2023.
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.
Understanding Instagram’s ranking system
Instagram Feed, Explore, Stories, and Reels 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 Feed content
The ranking algorithm for your IG feed follows a step-by-step process. It begins by defining the content to rank by considering recent posts from accounts you follow and posts from accounts you may find interesting.
Personalization is key here. IG takes into account factors like your interactions, preferences, and even format preferences such as photos. These factors, referred to as “signals,” encompass various aspects like post timing, device usage, and engagement habits.
Some of the main signals IG uses to rank your Feed include:
- Your activity: Posts you’ve liked, shared, saved, or commented on help IG understand what else you might be interested in.
- Post info: IG considers how popular a post is, i.e., how quickly the content racks up engagements.
- Info about the poster: By examining the poster, IG can get a feel for how interesting you might find that person.
- Your interaction history: IG looks at your comment history to gauge your interest in seeing posts from a particular account.
How Instagram ranks Stories
The Stories you see are from accounts you’ve followed, as well as ads. IG excludes ads from its ranking system and shows you feeds based on input signals like:
- Viewing history: Accounts you view more often move to the front of the queue.
- Engagement history: IG prioritizes users whose Stories you send a DM or like to.
- Closeness: IG looks at your relationship with the poster and how likely it is that you are actual friends or family.
How Instagram ranks Explore
Explore is meant to help you discover content from accounts you don’t follow. To curate photos and videos for you, IG examines your past engagements and arranges groups of content based on how interested it thinks you’ll be in each one.
The most important signals include:
- Post info: IG is mostly looking for post popularity, i.e., how quickly others are engaging with it. According to Instagram, this signal matters much more in Explore than in your Feed.
- Your Explore activity: If you’ve interacted with Explore content in the past, IG will serve you content similar to what you already engaged with.
- Your history of interacting with the poster: The goal is to show you content from folks you’ve never heard of. However, if you’ve engaged with them in the past, IG recognizes you might want similar authors.
- Info about the poster: If a lot of people have engaged with the poster within a few weeks, IG prioritizes them for Explore content.
How Instagram ranks Reels
Like Explore, Reels aims to show you content you’re unfamiliar with. IG surveys users to determine which reels are the most entertaining, as well as looking at several signals, including:
- Your activity: IG looks at which reels you’ve saved, liked, reshared, and/or commented on.
- Your interactions with the poster: If you’ve interacted with the person who posted, the algorithm determines you’re probably interested in what they share.
- Info about the reel: These signals include content within the video, like the audio track or visuals.
- Info about the poster: The number of followers and engagement rates plays a role in determining which content the algorithm deems compelling.
What’s new on Instagram in 2023?
Image via Meta
Millions of creators worldwide can now leverage broadcast channels to engage with their followers at scale and in real-time. With broadcast channels, creators can post text, video, voice memos, and polls to help deepen their relationships with fans. However, it’s worth noting that while creators have multiple content options, followers can only respond with simple reactions.
“Quiet mode” is a recent feature that allows users to temporarily limit notifications and minimize interruptions from the app. When enabled, quiet mode silences push notifications and restricts the appearance of certain in-app notifications. The feature aims to help people reduce distractions, maintain focus, and promote a healthier relationship with the platform.
Image via Meta
Notes are short posts (60 characters maximum) that only use text and emojis. They appear above the user’s profile photo at the top of your inbox. Note replies appear in your DM inbox and are a great way to connect casually and spontaneously.
Collaborative collections are a shared space where you and your friends can save and view IG posts. Simply click the save icon to prompt Instagram to give you the option of adding a post to a collaborative collection.
Instagram is also testing a new feature that will allow users to share posts and stories to a dedicated, shared profile they create with friends. Content shared to a Group Profile only goes to group members rather than followers and appears on the Group Profile rather than your own.
Image via Meta
If you love BeReal, you might as well give Instagram’s Candid feature a try. It’s pretty much the exact same concept. You can even leverage IG’s “Dual” camera feature, which allows you to take front- and back-facing videos with your phone’s camera.
New options for IG ads
IG has upgraded its ad experience. Here’s what’s new:
Instagram has rebranded branded content ads as partnership ads. The new name comes with two important updates.
- You can now partner on ads made with multiple content types.
- Partners you shared branded content or branded content permission ads with in the past can boost all content you tag or mention them in—not just content with the paid partnership label.
Image via Meta
Anyone with a professional Instagram account can now set reminders for upcoming events like performances, premiers, or sporting events. You can even add reminders to a branded content post or one with shoppable tags. Just make sure you set the reminder at least one hour and, at most, three months before your event.
Ads in search results
Instagram is also testing ads in search results to help businesses connect with their target audience more effectively during the search process. Ads will appear in the feed that people can scroll when they tap into a post from search results. Expect more information on this in the coming months.
Additional Reels features
Image via Meta
Who doesn’t need some fresh content ideas? Now you can get inspired by the latest trends on the IG platform with a look at the top songs and hashtags on Reels. You can also see how many times an audio clip has been used and save it for yourself to make content with later.
Editing reels just got a lot easier. Now you can access video clips, audio, stickers, and text from a single dashboard, streamlining the process of timing and aligning the elements of your Reel content.
To help creators better understand how their content is performing, IG recently released two new metrics: total and average watch time. It’s also easier to see your insights while viewing reels directly.
Instagram Gifts has expanded into new markets, enabling more creators to collect donations from fans who appreciate their work. Those creators can now also see which followers have sent gifts so they can give them a shoutout.
Reel templates let you use the same music and timing as another reel while replacing the visual content with your own. However, the reel you choose must have music and at least three clips.
New video posts shared as Reels
IG recently announced that all video posts under 15 minutes will be shared as reels. This means you can access Reels’ creative editing tools and the feature’s immersive, full-screen experience.
Tips for improving your reach on Instagram
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.
Keep in mind: Your reels must be 90 seconds or less to be recommended to others.
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 complement 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.
Optimize for search.
Many people have taken their Google searches over to social media to take advantage of a more engaging content format and user community. To get your content discovered on social media, you can apply many of the same SEO practices to your content that you would to optimize on Google.
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.
Keep in mind that more hashtags are not always better. Using 10+ hashtags might work well for someone with under 1,000 followers, but you should cut back as your audience grows.
With features like Close Friends, Favorites, and Following, IG users have more ways to customize their user experience than ever. Encourage your audience to add you to their Favorites so your content appears higher in their feeds.
Check your Account Status.
Check out your Account Status to see if your account and content are eligible to be recommended to non-followers. If not, check out the Community Guidelines or Recommendation Guidelines to ensure you comply. From there, you can edit or delete any content that might be holding you back.
Keep your content fresh.
Instagram rewards original content, so try to avoid reposts if getting discovered is your goal. If you want to work off someone else’s content as inspiration, you can use the Remix tool to put your own spin on the original post.
Encourage meaningful conversations.
Generating audience engagement is always a priority for brands on social media. But brands should think bigger in 2023 than simple likes and comments on posts and stories and consider encouraging meaningful conversations from their followers. This could mean discussing what fans want 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.
“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 meaningful cause to your brand and your influencers will most likely resonate deeply with your audiences too.
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.
Key takeaway: Use all the tools at your disposal to work the Instagram algorithm in 2023.
To be successful on Instagram in 2023, you’ll need to use every tool at your disposal to encourage engagement and get audiences excited about your products and services. By taking advantage of Instagram’s constant upgrades and incorporating them into your influencer marketing strategy, you can extend your reach to a whole new crop of eager consumers and maximize brand affinity with their existing ones.