Why the Instagram Algorithm Isn't Out to Get You

May 20, 2021

"Instagram algorithm" is the rave these days. And funnily enough, everyone on the platform thinks it works in a way that doesn't favor them. Since its inception 5 years ago, countless businesses and marketers have been searching for a way to beat or outsmart the code.

The truth is, the Instagram algorithm isn't out to get anyone. It's just a piece of change that we all know is constant not only with social media but generally in life.

More recently, influencers, businesses, and marketers have been complaining about how their reach is suffering from updates to the algorithm.

However, this was only due to the massive hit the platform had to take in the past few weeks. The Trump vs. Biden showdown, the introduction of Instagram Reels, and the app’s improved interface.

Here we look at the what and why of the algorithm. We'll first demystify some myths about the algorithm, and then present some tips to help you beat the case.

If you're doing everything right but your reach is still decreasing, other factors might be in play. Take some time to evaluate your content strategy, use of hashtags, consistency, user engagements, etc.

What is the Instagram algorithm and how does it work?

As stated by Instagram's @creators account, the algorithm aims to improve user engagement and content relevancy.

It uses machine learning, focusing on the time you post a piece of content, the relationship between you and a particular follower, and how interested the follower is in your niche and content type.

Not clear yet? Let's explain each point:

1. Timeliness

Despite the chronological ordering enacted in 2016, Instagram still considers the time you upload your content. The more recent the post, the higher it'll appear on your followers' feeds.

Essentially, timing doesn't matter but it still does. Find a content schedule that works for your audience and stick with it. Consistency is the name of the game.

2. Relationship

By relationship, we mean how engaged you are with your followers (and/or customers). Your content is more likely to be on top of a follower's feed when they share your posts and leave comments. DMs are equally important.

3. Interest

Instagram's traction is based on serving you content that is similar to the ones you showed interest in. The niche and type of content you've shared, liked, saved, or commented on.

Say you've saved a lot of cybersecurity videos, the algorithm will favor videos (over photos or carousel posts) about cybersecurity (over other topics).

The key takeaway—as a brand owner, marketer, or influencer—is to spend time creating highly engaging content. The more shares, saves, and likes; the better.

Contrary to widespread belief, the algorithm doesn’t consider content or account type. It makes no difference whether your content is sponsored or not.

What are some myths about the Instagram algorithm?

1. Business accounts see fewer reach

No, they don't. The social platform shows no preference for business, creator, or personal accounts. The first two only offer access to extra features like insights.

2. The Instagram algorithm is hiding my posts from my followers

No, it isn't. The scripting may seem a bit tricky but there's no limit on the number of followers that your posts reach.

3. The first 30-60 minutes is all that matters 

There's this myth that receiving high shares, saves, likes, and other engagement metrics in the first 30-60m will tip the algorithm in your favor. Instagram debunked this myth during a Q&A, but it's still good practice to engage with your audience immediately after publishing your content.

4. The algorithm shadowbans certain content and metrics

Unless you're violating Instagram community guidelines or using black-hat growth tactics, the algorithm isn't out to get you when it comes to shadowbanning. The AI only checks if your content is eligible for the community. Just keep creating quality content and avoid using banned hashtags.

5. Videos over photos

Instagram's ranking parameters do not include content type. Well, content types do play some roles (as explained in the Interest section above) but that's on a per-user basis. There are no favoring videos over photos on Instagram.

6. Hashtag placement 

This one gets contradicting views from IG marketing experts and SMM tools. Do posts perform better when hashtags are placed within your captions? Or does it work better when you make them the first comment?

If not the algorithm, then why is my reach down?

Lower reach often results from one of these:

  • Creating non-engaging or subpar content

  • Using banned hashtags 

  • Overusing the same hashtags 

  • Using widely popular hashtags 

  • Not engaging with followers through DMs and comments

How do I improve my Instagram reach in 2021?

1. Take Instagram Reels to the max

Whether we like it or not, Reels are the future of Instagram. They changed the entire app layout not only to improve user experience but also to push more videos to users.

What's more, these Reels are easy to create. Giving your reach a boost while satisfying the gods of Instagram.

Reels might take a little getting used to but once you get it, you'll put them over regular posts.

2. Create long-standing connections with your followers

A top priority on Instagram is to engage with your audience. Don't expect them to engage with your content if you don't engage with theirs.

Drop comments on their uploads, exchange DMs, respond to their Stories; things like these will help strengthen your relationship with your existing followers. With this comes more reach, which results in new followers.

So it's a win-win, especially when you aim to boost brand awareness for your business. Nurtured followers soon turn to customers/clients.

3. Don't be scared to go Live 

Instagram Live offers something no other feature does: push notifications. By alerting your followers as soon as you hit record, Live instantly puts your page in their mind. Plus, the recording is the first thing online users see in their Story feeds. 

That's why going Live is one of the surest ways to grab their attention. It improves your reach and strengthens customer relationships, so why shouldn't you give it a try?

4. Upload valuable content that followers want to engage with 

Never publish a piece of content until you're certain that it's designed for shares, saves, likes, comments, and profile clicks. In short, engagement is directly proportional to reach.

And it's obvious why the algorithm pushes more of your content to people who engaged with your previous content. The post could be comic, motivational, or plain relatable. Controversial posts also see great engagements and therefore reach.

Pro Tip: Instagrammers seem to share memes, Tweets, and text graphics are common forms of content that Instagrammers share. Education pieces like expert tips, how-to's, and tutorials (in the form of carousel posts or infographics) are mostly saved for future reference.

5. Reduce regular posts while increasing other forms

Posting to the main feed is great but other sections of the app typically perform better. By reducing main-feed posts, you'll have time to explore and capitalize on Reels, Live, IGTV, Stories, and so on. An increase in reach is almost certain with this change.

6. Leverage Instagram Stories with consistency

Stories might not have a direct influence on your reach, but they foster user engagement in pretty impressive ways. Stickers come to mind here, as they're a great way to interact with the audience. You can ask them questions or create polls—all to figure out what they want.

Evidently, it's easy to determine whether the Instagram algorithm is lowering your reach or not. And there are tips to optimize your page for greater reach and engagement.

As soon as you get your content and hashtags in check (and build strong, close relationships with your followers), you'll be reaching more followers and non-followers in no time.

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