In today’s digital age, Instagram has become an indispensable platform for businesses and individuals alike. But with the ever-evolving Instagram algorithm, staying ahead of the curve is vital to ensure your content gets the exposure it deserves. And we’ll help you and your brand out with this PopStar Blog article.
Why Understanding the Instagram Algorithm Matters
For social media marketers, the temptation to focus solely on creating great content can be strong. After all, isn’t quality content the key to success? While that’s true to an extent, ignoring the Instagram algorithm can mean missed opportunities. To define “great content” in the Instagram world, we need to align our strategies with the algorithm’s preferences.
The Instagram algorithm relies on various ranking signals to determine which content should be prioritized. These signals include the popularity of your content and how frequently other accounts engage with yours. Understanding these signals is crucial because content favored by the algorithm is more likely to appear in users’ feeds and even land on the coveted Explore tab.
So, what are these essential ranking signals for the Instagram algorithm? In the past, marketers had to rely on an explanation published in June 2021. However, in May 2023, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri shed light on the current workings of the algorithm. Importantly, Instagram no longer employs a single, unified algorithm; each surface (Explore, Reels, etc.) now uses a distinct set of ranking signals. This means you need to grasp how each surface functions to optimize effectively. Let’s explore these surfaces one by one.
Understanding the Instagram Algorithm: Surface by Surface
How Instagram Ranks Stories
Stories on Instagram aim to engage users and reinforce connections with people and brands they already follow. Instagram prioritizes stories that are likely to make users tap to view, send a reply, or react with an emoji. To predict user engagement, the platform considers:
- Your history of viewing an account’s stories.
- Your engagement history with an account’s stories.
- Your interactions with the account’s other content, including feed posts and reels.
- The strength of your connection with the account, based on DMs and other touchpoints.
- For brands aiming to rank higher in Stories, analyzing your Instagram insights is key. Identify the stories with the highest reach and engagement and pinpoint what made them successful. Interactive stickers and exclusive content can work wonders in creating deeper connections with your most loyal followers.
How Instagram Ranks Feed Content
The Instagram feed combines content from accounts you follow and those the platform thinks you’ll like. When ranking feed content, Instagram considers your past activity to gauge your likelihood of engaging with a post. It also factors in your propensity to tap to view an account’s profile or spend time viewing a post.
As the feed includes content from both familiar and unfamiliar accounts, it looks at both popularity and relationship ranking signals. These signals include:
- Your past feed activity and preferred content formats.
- Information about the post, such as its popularity and engagement.
- Information about the account posting it, like their recent activity and engagement.
- Your interactions with the account, including DMs and engagement with their posts, reels, or stories.
- Users can also influence which accounts appear at the top of their feed by adding them to their favorites list. Encouraging followers to do so can boost your visibility. Additionally, you can review post insights to identify top-performing content and capitalize on trending topics.
How Instagram Ranks Reels
The Reels feed primarily showcases content from accounts you don’t follow but might enjoy. Reels aim to entertain users with popular content. When ranking reels, Instagram considers:
- Your past interactions with similar content.
- The type of reels you usually engage with.
- Your typical watch time for reels.
- Your likelihood of visiting a reel’s audio page and creating your own short-form videos.
- Given that Reels emphasizes content from unfamiliar accounts, the algorithm prioritizes past interactions with the account and your viewing and engagement history. Brands can excel in the Reels tab by analyzing insights to determine which reels drove the most plays. Focus on creating reels that captivate viewers until the end.
How Instagram Ranks Explore
Explore takes the concept of suggested content to the next level. It predominantly displays content from accounts you don’t follow but are likely to engage with. To rank content in Explore, the algorithm assesses your likelihood of liking, saving, or sharing a post based on your past activity.
As Explore is engineered for discovery, it places a significant emphasis on popularity and topics. Key ranking signals include:
- Post-level data, including engagement metrics.
- Your previous interactions in Explore.
- Your past interactions with the account, even though Explore often features new-to-you accounts.
- Account-level data, such as recent engagement levels.
- Brands can make their mark on Explore by identifying their top-performing content and tracing how users found it. Pay close attention to the “From Explore” indicator in your insights to reverse-engineer successful content.
Using the Instagram Algorithm to Your Advantage: 4 PopStar Tips
Now that you have a grasp of how the Instagram algorithm operates across its various surfaces, it’s time to put that knowledge into action. Here are four tips to help you harness the algorithm for social media success:
1. Experiment With Content Formats and Topics
Avoid falling into the trap of seeing the Instagram algorithm as a one-time code to crack. Over time, formulaic content can become less engaging to your audience, leading to lower engagement rates. Since the algorithm heavily values engagement, it’s essential to prioritize experimentation. Test new content formats and leverage Instagram’s in-app creative tools. Experiment with different topics and angles to keep your audience engaged and attract new followers.
2. Collaborate With Creators and Brands
Ranking for the Explore tab can be challenging, especially for smaller accounts. A proven strategy to expand your reach is to collaborate with creators and other brands. By partnering with accounts whose audiences share similarities with yours, you can introduce your brand to new potential followers without resorting to paid ads. Collaborative content can be tagged or mentioned in captions, but using Instagram’s Collab feature can significantly boost reach, as it displays content in both collaborators’ feeds.
3. Create Original Content
While repurposing older or stock content is acceptable, it’s essential to publish original content on Instagram. Identifying original content isn’t always straightforward, but you can use native tools like templates and remixes to create unique visuals or audio. This ensures that your content stands out and resonates with your audience.
4. Review Your Account Status
If you notice a sudden drop in reach or engagement, it could be due to content violations of Instagram’s Community Guidelines. Instagram may restrict your account’s visibility if you violate these guidelines. To check your account status, navigate to Settings and Privacy in your account menu and tap on Account Status. If you find any restrictions, review your content to ensure it complies with Instagram’s guidelines.
Final PopStar Tip
In the ever-evolving landscape of social media, understanding and optimizing for the Instagram algorithm is paramount to success. By following the guidelines outlined in this PopStar Blog article, you can grasp how the algorithm works in 2023 and create content that activates the right ranking signals. With experimentation, collaboration, originality, and vigilant account status reviews, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the Instagram algorithm and achieving social media greatness. Start implementing these strategies today and watch your Instagram presence soar.
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