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How to Tackle the Game of Instagram’s Algorithm

By Ashley Carr

If you have recently noticed a significant decrease in likes, comments, or overall engagement on your Instagram account, you are not alone.

Instagram’s algorithm, similar to how Google factors your organic search ranking in the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) is always changing and by the time it feels like we’ve finally gotten the hang of the old algorithm, our friends at Instagram headquarters throw us another curve ball.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. We’re going to walk through how you can beat the Instagram algorithm.

Winning the Game of Instagram

For a moment, let’s think of Instagram as a game (i.e. Uno, Crazy 8’s, or even Monopoly) each change in the algorithm is a new set of rules–we are playing the same game, but the rules are just slightly different. If you want to win the game, which likely means more engagement, more likes, more growth in your business, then you have to know how to strategically play within the confines of the algorithm’s rules.

I know that at times it feels like it is impossible to catch up, but don’t worry, the wizards at the Pinckney Marketing headquarters have you covered. Let’s dive into how to tame the algorithm, but first things first. How does the algorithm even work

Essentially, your Instagram is personalized to you

We all know that our Instagram feeds are based on whom we follow, but now our feed is also based on what we like–literally and figuratively. According to Instagram’s product lead, Instagram relies on machine learning*.

*Machine learning is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building. It is a branch of artificial intelligence based on the idea that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention.

So even if you follow the exact same people as someone else, your feed will be different because it is personalized based on how you interact with the accounts that you follow. For example: if you like Kim Kardashian’s Instagram posts and posts about her and her family, you will see similar posts near the top of your feed because you’re engaging often with her content. 

Whereas, your friends or family or may follow Kardashian but do not engage with her content, will not see her posts at the top of their feed because they are not interacting with her content in the same pattern that you are.

Ultimately, Instagram’s algorithm has one main goal and that is to predict and then show what content (photo’s and video’s) is the most important to you using the following factors: interest, timeliness, and relationship but what does this mean for your account? Keep reading for a few helpful tips and actionable items. 

The Key Three: Interaction, engagement, and relationship

It all starts when you post a picture or video. 

Instagram immediately measures how quickly the image is engaged with. Instagram will then compare your posts engagement to the engagement of other posts that you have shared at similar days and times. By doing so, Instagram is able to measure the quality of your post’s engagement. If your post is attracting a significant amount of engagement, Instagram will boost it by showing it to a larger percentage of your audience. If your post continues to attract engagement, Instagram will continue to show your post at the top of your audience’s news feed.

As a result, your post will reach more people and ultimately will receive more reach. However, if you post does not initially receive a lot of engagement (for example, you post at 3:00am and your audience is asleep and won’t see it until around 8:00am) your post will get pushed further down your audiences timeline and it is unlikely that they will see it or engage with it.

To say that Instagram favors interactions with your followers is an understatement! Making sure that you engage with your followers, particularly in the comment section is imperative to the success of your account. Reply to your follower’s comments in a timely manner and don’t forget to interact with similar accounts to attract a wider audience to your own.

Additional tips for Interaction, engagement, and relationship:

  • Put a call to action in each of your posts and challenge your audience to respond in the comments section of you post! Get creative and have fun! For example, instruct your audience to check out your latest blog post and link to the post, ask a genuine question, encourage them to tag a friend, or offer an incentive for engagement.
  • Post quality images and make sure the first few sentences of your Instagram caption count. It is no secret that most people have the attention span of a Goldfish so make sure you capture your audience’s attention right off the bat and don’t let it go! 
  • Post videos, carousel images, and post often. People can’t engage with a boring and lifeless account!
  • Make Instagram stories that entice your followers to “swipe up.” Better yet, poll your audience and ask them questions! Get your followers involved in your account and create a relationship with them. 

Be Authentic

It may be tempting to pay for comments, but don’t! Not only is the Instagram platform intelligent enough to distinguish between genuine comments and likes, but more importantly, so are your followers! 

If you want to grow a strong and loyal audience, it is imperative that you only post authentic content and grow your likes and comments organically. Furthermore, keep your audience in mind when you are creating, posting, and engaging. 

Know your audience and consider them. Create posts that your audience will get value from. Audiences who feel connected to connect are more likely to engage!

Additional tips for authenticity:

  • Research, research, research. Dig into your audience. Start asking yourself questions like: What does my audience value? What do they want to see more of? What do they absolutely hate? What other accounts are they interacting with on the web?). 
  • Switch to a business account to enable the Instagram analytics feature that will provide insights as to which of your posts are most popular. This is a pretty good indicator as to what your audience enjoys interacting with and what type of content you should be replicating.
  • Only share posts that align with your overall brand goals and authentic voice! 
  • Again, avoid buying followers, comments, or engagement.

Be Timely

Although many in the industry believe that the bittersweet days of Instagram’s chronological order are long gone and never coming back, it seems that Instagram headquarters heard and noted the public’s outrage (everyone is begging for the chronological to come back) and is placing more emphasis on the timeliness of the post. 

So even though your feed is no longer chronological, it is still the Algorithm’s goal to show you new and relevant posts. Your timeline, for the most part, will show you the newest posts (not July 4th pictures on Labor Day). 

This is important when you are strategically planning and deciding what time and what day of the week you want to post.

Additional tips for timeliness:

  • Here we are at research again…I can’t stress this enough–do your research and know exactly when your followers and audience are most likely to be on Instagram.
  • Post when the largest chunk of your audience is on Instagram (i.e. morning, afternoon, only on Wednesdays? This information is imperative!). If needed, download an application that gives you a friendly heads up that your followers are active (try When to Post or Squarelovin).

Okay friends, there you have it! Now go out and tackle the Instagram algorithm and if you need more help with your social media strategy, be sure to check out our Social Media Handbook!

Happy Instagramin’!