The Instagram algorithm filters and ranks posts according to various criteria. It is he who decides the ranking of each publication in each news feed of Instagram users.
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Understanding how the Instagram algorithm works is therefore used to create content with a high audience and high engagement. And conversely, a successful post that receives high engagement sees its ranking improve in the news feeds of Instagram users.
How the Instagram algorithm works
Instagram feed ranking factors
Three main factors determine what users see from an account or brand in their Instagram feed:
1 – Interest
Instagram predicts the level of interest of each user based on their past behavior. Thus, the social network is more likely to show a post about swimsuits to a user who has already interacted with content featuring swimsuits, rather than to a person who has not. The past behavior of followers therefore plays a part in the visibility of a publication.
Posts that appeal to the user appear in their activity feed. These can be created by knowledge, but not only. This could be someone the user does not yet know. To choose the publications, Instagram analyzes all the actions (likes, comments, shares, backups, etc.) to determine the content that appeals to the user in order to offer him more.
2 – Recency
The date the post was published affects how well it ranks in users’ News Feed. The most recent content is valued more by the Instagram algorithm than posts that are several weeks old. In addition, to optimize his visibility, the user must publish content at the best times, depending on the hours when his audience is active. For this, he must analyze the statistics of his account in the dedicated tab.
3 – Relations
Instagram prioritizes posts from people who matter most to the user, such as their closest connections and other accounts they like. To take into account the user’s interests, Instagram analyzes its engagement markers. For example, one of his relations has published several pieces of content and he leaves him a comment each time. The Instagram algorithm will understand that this account is important to the user. Indeed, people who have already interacted with comments, tags or even likes in the past with an account will have a better chance of seeing new content from this account appear at the top of their news feed. It is therefore important to call on your community to like, save, share its content, send a private message, start a conversation in the comments, etc.
In addition to these key factors, there are two additional signals that influence rankings:
4 – Time and frequency
A user who logs in regularly will not see the same posts as an ultra-logged in member. Indeed, Instagram tries to show its visitors the best posts since their last visit. A user who visits their Instagram account frequently will have a rather chronological news feed, while a user who logs in infrequently will have a news feed based on their interests. Instagram usage time also plays a role in the selection of posts.
5 – Number of subscriptions
If a user is following few accounts, the post selection for the accounts they are following will be high. On the other hand, if a user follows a high number of accounts, their selection of posts will be drastic. The Instagram algorithm actually tries to expose the contents of different pages to diversify the news feed of its members. Publishing many posts on the same day from the same account therefore amounts to taking the risk of diluting the total SMO power of all of this content. This is another reason that drives social media managers to publish on a regular basis, rather than one-off and massive.
Ranking of Instagram Feed and Stories
Instagram highlights content that has been recently published by people around the user for the Feed and Stories. To determine their order of appearance, Instagram takes into account several elements, called “signals”, ranked in order of importance.
- The elements on the publication: the number of interactions generated such as likes, comments, recordings, time of publication, duration for a video, location.
- Elements about the person who posted the content: the number of interactions recorded during the previous weeks.
- User activity: the number of posts he liked.
- His interaction history: comments exchanged on publications.
Instagram then judges the likelihood of your interaction with the content. Interactions that are taken into account are spending several seconds on the post, commenting, liking, saving the content, and tapping on the profile picture. Thus, the higher the probability, the more Instagram will highlight the content in the Feed or Story.
Explore tab ranking
The “Explore” tab highlights account content that the user does not know, but which are likely to please him. The Instagram algorithm classifies the publications on the “Explore” tab with more or less the same criteria as in the Feed. The content that appears in front of the user’s eyes is the content that is most likely to interest them. For this, Instagram observes the old posts with which it has interacted, therefore likes, comments or recordings. Instagram then ranks those posts based on the likelihood of the user interacting with the post (likes, saves, and shares).
Instagram also analyzes other signals ranked in order of importance.
- The elements concerning the publication such as the popularity of a post according to its number of interactions generated the fastest after its uploading.
- User interaction history such as interactions that have been performed with the profile in question.
- Activity such as user reactions to old Explorer posts.
- Items about who posted the content such as interaction rate over the past few weeks.
The ranking of the Reels is similar to the ranking of the Explorer. The contents of the Reels are made for entertainment. Instagram questions its visitors and analyzes the feedback in order to better select entertaining content, not to mention small creators. Instagram also takes into account the likelihood of a user watching an entire Reel, leaving a like or comment, and viewing the source of that Reel’s audio.
Instagram analyzes the most important signals in order of appearance of the Reels.
- User activity such as Reels that he liked and interacted with.
- His history of interactions such as the reactions exchanged with the author of the Reel.
- Items on the Reel such as analyzing the audio track and understanding the content.
- Items about the person who posted the content such as popularity.
Optimization of Instagram posts
1 – Engagement analysis
The engagement obtained on a publication makes the Instagram algorithm understand the relevance that this content represents.
The engagement rate systematically takes into account the number of comments and the number of likes.
Analyzing the commitment inherent in a brand’s publications therefore makes it possible to become aware of those that work and those that do not, and thus improve future publications.
Here are 3 methods to calculate the engagement rate:
- Engagement rate by impressions
This calculation method is interested in the number of followers who commented or liked what they saw. The only problem with this calculation is that you need to have access to a professional account in order to see publication statistics. To calculate this engagement rate per impressions, just divide the total number of likes and comments by the total number of impressions, and multiply that by 100 to get a percentage result. It would look like this: (Likes + Comments) / Impressions x 100 = Engagement rate per impressions.
- Engagement rate by subscribers
To calculate the engagement rate with the number of subscribers, the community manager must use the same formula. However, this time, he should not divide the number of likes and comments by the number of impressions, but by the number of subscribers. This option is better than the previous one for those who want to compare themselves with their competitors. Indeed, all the data (number of subscribers, likes and comments) is most of the time available. The calculation: (Likes + Comments) / Followers x 100 = Engagement rate per subscriber.
- Saved messages
Registered items become part of collections. Having a post registered by a follower is usually a good sign of their engagement. Yet, many social media managers still don’t use this metric in their follower engagement calculation. The number of these backups can be determined to analyze the engagement rate. However, it is impossible to know the total number of posts (including those of your competitors) recorded by a target follower.
2 – Content optimization
Instagram relies heavily on the image, but also on the editorial. In order to obtain an increasing number of engagements, to preserve a unique brand image and to retain the audience of an account, it is necessary to prepare a publication charter which serves as a common thread for the social media strategy on Instagram.
The graphic charter defines the style of image to be used: natural or remastered photos, photographs of models, illustrations or even cartoons. It is also possible to use stickers to further personalize each published image.
The idea is to find an “atmosphere” which serves as a signature for each image publication. It also defines the tools that can be used to create these visuals. Depending on needs and budgets, it can be the open source software Krita, Canva, Photoshop, GIMP, or even Lightroom.
The informational and / or incentive content must be governed by this same publication charter. Should a piece of text include the image? What storytelling techniques to use? What degree of closeness to instill with the follower? Should we add CTAs at the end of the text to encourage subscribers to interact with the publication?
The publication charter also determines how to use stories, which allow a brand to be seen by subscribers, even if its classic publications do not meet the various criteria of the Instagram feed ranking algorithm.
3 – Other ways to get a big commitment
To obtain even more evidence of engagement and thus be better valued by the Instagram algorithm, the company must think about recycling its old posts, especially those which were successful and which can still be considered as topical. . Tools like Mavsocial, for example, integrate post recycling functionality.
Content planning, on the other hand, allows you to prepare posts well in advance, take the time to write them carefully and ensure that they will be published at the right time, i.e. when their persona is most likely to be connected.
Last recommendation for optimizing publications by meeting the expectations of the Instagram algorithm: use hashtags intelligently. Because they are powerful weapons for creating viral content.
To go further, download this free report and define your strategy on Instagram in 2021.