In 2016, Instagram migrated from a reverse-chronological feed to an algorithm-based feed for displaying content. This shift saw an immediate reduction in the reach of content. Many Instagram influencers felt as though their engagement and impressions were dwindling.
Yet even though Facebook has restricted content reach, you can still get exposure with the right strategy. This article will help you understand the critical elements of the algorithm and how you can use the algorithm to raise engagement on your Instagram account.
How does the Instagram algorithm work?
The Instagram algorithm, actually a collection of algorithms, classifications, and processes, analyzes thousands of data points, called ranking signals, based on a user’s browsing pattern. There are four ranking signals that the algorithm uses to rank content that is visible in your account. The four ranking signals are:
- Information about the post
- Information about you (the user who creates the post)
- Your audience’s activity
- Your audience’s history of interacting with you
These ranking signals, in turn, define:
- The ranking order of posts in your newsfeed
- The posts featured in the Explore tab
- The ranking order of content in Stories, Reels, and Instagram TV videos
The Instagram algorithm controls the reach of your organic content. Check out our full guide to learn how each of these ranking signals are broken down.
How can you beat the Instagram algorithm?
Naturally, you want to take advantage of these new insights to get more exposure on Instagram. Here are 10 places to start:
1. Build a Relationship & Set Expectations
The best way to beat the algorithm is by winning your audience’s hearts.
Whatever your Instagram KPIs are — awareness, conversions, emails, or follower count — success comes from creating content people like. What that content looks like will depend on your business.
Set aside some time to build a customer persona for your business. You should also research what other companies succeeding in your niche do and what content you created resonated with your audience.
Once you have done your research, decide on the type of content you want to create. Your goal is to make people visit your account regardless of if they see your content in their feed.
A surefire way to engage your audience is through user-generated content (UGC). UGC refers to any form of content created by users/customers and made accessible through social media or other permissioning methods. This content is already out there on social media or your customers’ camera rolls, you just have to find it. Start by looking at your biggest fans and brand mentions, or use a content collection and curation platform to automatically pull in this bank of media.
Delta Airlines reposts travel photos from its customers to inspire the brand account’s followers looking forward to visiting their dream destinations. This promotes conversation in the comments, and excites the brand’s followers; real people like them are being celebrated by the brand!
It doesn’t matter what changes are made to the Instagram algorithm because Delta’s audience will always seek out this type of content. You want to create that same relationship with your audience.
2. Post at the Right Time
The second easy thing you can do to optimize your reach is to post content when your audience is active. To figure out the best time to post, you need to review when people are most active on Instagram.
You can use analytics tools like Pixlee to analyze when your audience is most active on Instagram. You can then run tests to see which posting times generate the most engagement.
3. Identify Super Users
If you want to grow a following on Instagram, you should try your best to engage with super users. These are the people who like and comment on most of your content — your biggest fans. There are various ways you can go about this.
Ask these individuals if they want to join a community where they get access to exclusive content and engage with people who have similar interests. Most of the people who you message with such an offer won’t respond.
Some of them will, though.
By engaging and strengthening relationships with people who engage with your content, you will increase the chance they, and others like them, seek you out on Instagram. Moreover, your super users are more likely to react to that content.
Cosmetics brand Revel Nail seeks out its most passionate customers on Instagram, expresses their love for the user’s content, and asks permission to feature this UGC for brand purposes. This simple ask goes a long way in creating community, and the user even replies “honored!”
Few companies or users take the time to build a community and engage with their audience. Instead, they just post content. By taking the time to do something like this, you’ll stand out. That’s important on a platform like Instagram, where most people are trying to grow their audience by imitating other content creators.
Once you’ve generated that engagement, make sure to build on it.
Respond to feedback on your posts. The more you engage with your audience, the higher you will score with the Instagram algorithm.
4. Use Hashtags Correctly
Using relevant hashtags in each post increases the reach of your posts. Posts with hashtags receive more engagement than those without. You must use appropriate hashtags — don’t just dump a bunch in the caption and risk losing your audience by appearing scam-like.
Nulo Pet Food shares UGC from a happy customer and his furry friend, using both petcare and brand-related hashtags in the caption.
5. Use Platform-Friendly Images
Ranking higher in the followers’ feeds goes hand in hand with making “great content.” Though this may be subjective, the most loved and viewed content on Instagram is often visually striking or aesthetically-pleasing. Maintaining consistency with the rest of your profile is also important.
Take Milani Cosmetics’s Instagram feed, for example. Bright colors and shimmery undertones convey the brand’s style and also catch the eye of users scrolling through their feeds.
Remember that Instagram is a channel for aesthetics first, and selling second. The content you share should match that. Seamlessly integrate into your audience’s feed with relatable yet striking content that adds value to the user’s feed.
6. Add Value with Your Captions
Engagement is the most critical factor in the Instagram algorithm. You can help generate engagement by creating fun captions that intrigue your audience or ask them a question.
On Instagram, you should encourage interaction. Athletics apparel brand HYLETE always encourages engagement by resharing customer photos to celebrate the brand community, quoting the original post, and asking a question at the end of the caption.
Tag-a-friend or question-based captions, for example, are effective at getting people to engage. Conversations promote connectivity, which will help you build and grow your community.
7. Prioritize Videos (with Captions)
Videos are more likely to stop a user from scrolling past a post. If you’re looking to boost engagement and convey more information in a short amount of time, you should prioritize short-form video on Instagram.
Instagram Reels allow you to post videos with a maximum duration of 15 seconds. Those videos stay in your feed and in your Reels tab, so anyone can access them anytime.
Instagram Stories, on the other hand, can also run for as long as 15 seconds but they disappear after 24 hours. IGTV allows you to post much longer clips that also can be found under the TV tab on your profile.
There’s a lot you can do with videos. Videos, after all, are considered more dynamic than images because they can show movement. Kickass Workouts showcases its workout products in action alongside the brand’s apparel, allowing viewers to learn how each element is used in one simple post.
8. Host a Social Media Contest
There are other ways you can drive engagement apart from posting quality content. Hosting social media contests, for instance, can help.
Your contest doesn’t have to be complicated. You can, for example, post an interesting picture and ask people to comment on it. Or you can ask your fans to share a photo of them doing a certain activity, at a certain location, or interacting with your product (this also gives you some great UGC) in exchange for a feature or reward.
Gardening brand Breck’s frequently encourages users to share photos of their gardens in exchange for a gift card. This strategy celebrates customers, gives your brand authentic marketing material, and boosts engagement.Don’t worry. Your prize doesn’t have to be too expensive either. For smaller brands, simply a feature on your brand Instagram can incentivize people to participate in your contest. Other options include free samples and discounts.
9. Reply to DMs
Responding to direct messages is another excellent way to increase audience engagement. Your audience will only love you more when you take the time to respond to each of their messages one by one. They’ll end up being loyal to you, so you’ll have more people promoting your brand, including your Instagram account.
You don’t need to overthink things. If they pay you a compliment, a simple thank you will do. If they raise an issue about a product, thank them for taking the time to tell you, and then promise them you’ll take it up with management. Don’t forget to get back to them once something comes out of their complaint. If they say good morning, then just say good day as well.
People like to feel like they’re being heard. If you make them feel that way, trust me. They’ll return the favor big-time.
10. Invest in Influencer Marketing
There’s another way you can get your content in front of a massive audience: through influencers.
When you get influencers to post about you, you’ll automatically get their followers to know about you and your brand. Mind you, these can be millions of followers. That’s a lot of reach and possible engagement. However, micro-influencers can sometimes be less expensive ways to generate engagement, because they usually have more engaged and niche audiences.
You have to make sure, though, that the influencer you choose to work with has an audience whose interests align with your brand. If you choose the wrong influencer, it wouldn’t matter if your brand gained a lot of exposure. You’d have more viewers, yes, but those wouldn’t translate to sales. Influencer discovery is key to finding the right influencer partnership.
Just one post and mention from Instagram foodie Alexa Matthews (@eatingnyc) exposes Levain Bakery’s gooey cookies to over 300,000 food lovers! Check out how Levain leverages influencers in its geographical area.
Focusing on the four key Instagram metrics that influence your posts’ reach is your first step in gaming the algorithm. However, the best way to ensure your content is always seen is to create content your audience wants. Concentrate on establishing relationships with your audience and delivering high-quality and relevant content.
Baidhurya Mani is the founder of SellCoursesOnline.com. He regularly shares tips, tools and, strategies to help creators build a successful online courses business.