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 2024.
Table of Contents
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 2024?
Improved Reels analytics
Instagram has added new metrics for Reels, like total watch time and average watch time. These metrics offer deeper insights into content performance, helping creators fine-tune their strategies.
Expanded gifts features
Image via Instagram
Gifts on instagram have been extended to creators in more markets, enabling them to receive virtual gifts from their fans as a form of support. This feature not only allows creators to earn money but also strengthens the creator-fan relationship.
Location tags for Notes
Instagram Notes are brief, text-based updates that users can share with their followers or a selected group of friends, appearing at the top of the direct messages (DM) screen.
These notes have a 60-character limit and disappear after 24 hours.
Instagram is currently testing location tags for Notes, which could be beneficial as it allows users to share location-specific thoughts or information, making their notes more relevant and engaging to followers in that area. This can be particularly useful for local businesses, event promotions, or simply connecting with others in the same vicinity.
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. This is also a great way to showcase multiple images in a single post while capitalizing on favoritism from IG’s algorithm.
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 2024 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 2024.
To be successful on Instagram in 2024, 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.