Instagram algorithms 2021

5 July 2021

In June the social network’s developers published the first article covering algorithm details. We decided to gather all information available on posts and Stories ranking on Instagram. It may help you grow your blog more efficiently.


What is the Instagram algorithm & why is it important?

The Instagram algorithm is a system managing news feed updates, Stories, Reels, and “Search & Explore” suggestions demonstrated to the users. Before 2016 posts were always shown in simple reverse chronological order, from the latest down to the oldest. It was rather convenient for content creators: to ensure guaranteed views, they could upload new pictures taking advantage of peak times for user activity. However, it wasn’t the best solution for the Instagram platform and the users.

The average Instagram user follows the accounts of their friends, celebrities, and accounts posting nice pictures. The more followers, the more noticeable the difference between engaging and likable content and house cat snapshots by a colleague is. Introducing algorithms let Instagram automatically shape all user feeds — the top place is for posts published by the accounts the users like the most.

When the algorithm first appeared, that outraged content creators. In practice, the new method of Instagram impressions favored those who could afford expensive visual content. There is also a danger that lookalike photos and videos will eventually turn off the users – so visual content creators have to be not just technically sophisticated but inventive as well. That is the reason why visual “fashion styles” or trends ripple through Instagram now and again, and bloggers imitate each other. They all crave relevance.

It must be said that the Instagram situation in Russia has some local twists The network is used for sharing visual content almost everywhere — while thoughts and ideas go to Twitter or personal blogs. The Russian segment, however, is full of posts with massive captions below pics and videos. Western analysts recommend keeping captions at or under 150 characters, but Russian bloggers often go over 2200 characters and even continue the topic in other messages. We are not going to discuss such posts here – they deserve a separate analysis.

Does everyone need to care about the algorithm? Of course not. If you keep an account only to exchange life events with friends, your followers will see all the updates. In fact, one of the distinguishing traits of Instagram is that new posts from users with mutual followers are shown first. On the other hand, if you develop a personal brand or your account is supposed to help promote your business, understanding the algorithm can help to attract more organic followers. Let us consider dos and don’ts to make an account popular.

Exploiting the Instagram algorithm to attract followers

To apply a marketing strategy on Instagram, you need to understand the social network hidden mechanics, or you will have to buy promotion campaigns forever. Instagram, for its part, is good with the popularity of any account, no matter the post subject and the original blog entry date. If you or your SMM specialists have an in-depth understanding of the target audience and can produce engaging content, you will succeed even provided high competition. Let’s have a look at the keys to the Instagram algorithm one by one.

Best time to post

For business accounts, there is a way to analyze the target audience — the Statistics feature. Study the data for a few weeks to learn at what time your audience most willingly interacts with your publications. An Onlypult account can provide you with more insights. Having accurate data on every post efficiency, creating content resonating with audience opinions will become easier.

 


Why is it important? The algorithm continuously analyzes the audience response (“signals”, as developers call them) to the posted feed items. The network first shows a new post to the most active part of followers. If their reaction is average or better, the rest of the followers will see it, too. Therefore, getting the post seen by the loyalists in the audience is a way to improve overall reach.

Post frequency

The algorithm lives on the statistics and nothing but the statistics. Let’s suppose that you publish 5 posts a week — and only 1 post the following week. Overall, the number of interactions with the account will decrease about 5 times per week. That will alert the algorithm, indicating that interest in your account might have fallen. On the other hand, regular posts maintaining a certain level of interaction will keep the audience’s interest relatively stable in the future.

Interaction analysis

The main algorithm innovation in 2021 lies in decreased importance of likes in analysis. Driving up likes has long stopped being an effective promotion tool: the platform notices such manipulations. According to the official release, the following five signals matter the most to the algorithm:

  • Post view time;
  • Comments;
  • Likes;
  • Adding to Saved;
  • Clicking on the account profile.

The more reactions users give to images and videos, the more similar content will be directed to their feed. The algorithm takes into account the frequency of visiting the network as well. If a user opens the Instagram app for the first time in two weeks, they will discover posts from different accounts in the feed.

As a content creator, you have two jobs to juggle: monitor consumers’ interaction with different content and maintain.

Audience engagement

One simple trick that works is to call on the audience to react to a publication. That is what captions can do best. Ask your followers if they like your posts or if they want to have the same experience as in your videos. Besides, you can ask how the users are feeling today. This kind of conversation is helpful not just to win over the algorithm but also to build a friendly relation with the followers.


Hashtags

Use relevant hashtags to characterize a new post to the algorithm. The best number to use is 5 or 10 (max. 30). Hashtags can be put in both the caption and the post text. The most popular hashtags, however, are unlikely to improve your reach if the account is new. It is recommended to use niche hashtags related to a certain blog, location, or activity. For instance, try #diving (420K posts) instead of #sea (25M posts). That may bring your post to Interesting suggestions (Search & Explore) or hashtag subscriptions.

Hashtags are connected to one of the greatest fears of beginner bloggers (traceable ones) – the “shadow ban.” Officially, Instagram has not confirmed or disclaimed this variety of hidden censorship. Ask your followers if they like your posts or if they want to have the same experience as in your videos. Besides, you can ask how the users are feeling today. This kind of conversation is helpful not just to win over the algorithm but also to build a friendly relation with the followers.

The Instagram Community manual defines the content types forbidden to be uploaded. However, many bloggers claim that automated censorship is also in play, putting down certain undesirable content. If it’s true, it’s understandable: Instagram does not want to turn into Snapchat, where anything can be found except long-standing lucrative advertisers.

Supposedly, the “shadow ban” is used to prevent a post with certain hashtags from being shown. For instance, you may be a model experimenting with nude posing. You abide by the rules, but some of your posts go only as far as your circle of followers. The algorithm has not exactly blocked the post while having no justification — to do so, yet it has marked your content as explicit.

The vast majority of content creators will never run into the “shadow ban”. But if the reach of some posts looks suspiciously low — check whether the post is displayed by hashtags or not. The algorithm operates within minutes. If when clicking on the hashtag you don’t see the post in the Recent tab, it’s better to delete the post and not publish anything of this kind in the future.

Using Stories potential

Stories are a valuable promotion tool for multiple reasons. First, Stories are located in the upper corner of the screen and draw users’ attention, whether they like it or not. Second, in 2019 more than 500 million users were daily watching Stories. Such vanishing publications are a nice way to improve your reach.

The third reason is that you can repost user-generated content (UGC) in Stories. That encourages followers to mention your account in their publications more frequently, spreading your blog fame.

The fourth reason is that you can repost your new publications in Stories. To do so, click on the paper plane below the post and select “Add post to your Story.” You can increase the reach thanks to the users who prefer to watch Stories rather than scroll the feed by doing so.

When ranking Stories, Instagram generally follows the same rules as with the feed. It highlights the content more regularly reacted to. It is indifferent to the Stories being original or reposted, so we suggest making a repost to Stories when uploading a new photo or video.

Video uploads

The algorithm cares about the number of video content views, so you’d better create yourself worthy video content! You can upload short flicks (up to 60 seconds) shown in the feed entirely; longer clips will appear on IGTV, with a preview in the feed.


IGTV clips are also shown in the “Search & Explore” tab. A preview takes up more screen space than regular posts and helps to interest people in the content.

Quick comment response

Since the algorithm keeps track of commenting rates, you need to keep an eye on the updates, especially if the followers leave questions. On the one hand, your answer will also count as a comment; on the other hand, you can motivate the followers to continue the discussion. One small remark may start an avalanche of a trend, which the algorithm will pick up.

Promotion on Instagram has always been and will be a pretty complex business. When it comes to this social network, one has to compete for audience attention not only with other companies but also with completely unrelated bloggers. Still, if you keep producing unique posts and play smart by the algorithm’s rules, you will take on more and more followers with lower advertising budgets.