How Instagram’s algorithm works is still a bit of a mystery for many Instagram users. But Instagram recently provided some answers to clear things up. And even if it seems trivial to some, being aware of the algorithm and understanding how it works is crucial. This is especially true if you want to achieve satisfying results from your marketing activities on Instagram.
To help you understand it all, we’ve gathered the 12 biggest myths about the Instagram algorithm.
1. Switching to a business account will decrease your reach
Switching to a business account will not affect your reach on Instagram. So if you’re considering switching from a personal to a business account, don’t worry. Even if you switch many times between a personal and business account, it won’t impact your reach. That’s because Instagram sees your activities and is aware of what you’re doing (e.g. some users switch back to a personal account when they experience lower reach results with a business account).
It’s worth mentioning here that one of the main advantages of a business account is having access to Instagram Insights (data about your key metrics and performance). Keep in mind, however, that if you decide to switch back from a business profile to a personal one, you will lose all your data in Instagram Insights. Once you decide to switch back to a business profile once more, data will start to gather again.
Conclusion: Business and personal accounts are treated equally and have the same value. Your reach won’t decrease solely because you switched to a business profile.
… is not really a thing in the way people think it is. More precisely, it was not created on purpose by Instagram. According to Instagram representatives, they allow five categories of content on Instagram, though not all of those categories can be recommended in the Explore section. These categories include:
- content that might hinder their ability to create a safe environment (mentions of violence, certain mental health topics, regulated substances, sexually suggestive content),
- sensitive and low-quality content about health and finance (mentions of cures, cosmetic procedures, misleading business models),
- content that is regularly complained about (clickbait, promoting contests/giveaways, engagement bait),
- low-quality content (repurposed content from another account, content from sites that have too many clicks from Instagram compared to other platforms, news without clear details about the author),
- and misleading content (content that was proven to be false by fact-checkers or encourages the use of fake documents).
Some users find issues with the first category, as there have been complaints over the years by various groups that feel that their content should not be in violation of their policies.
However, some activities may ban your account for some time, e.g. giving a massive amount of likes or following many accounts within a short time. But the aim of it is to get rid of spam and bots (or any other activities which look as such) and banning accounts which are using such practices.
Conclusion: Shadowbans don’t function in the ways that some users suspect them to. Some content might not be discoverable in the Explore page if it does not align with Instagram’s recommended content, and is this “punished” while other content is favoured. Additionally, some user activities may be banned.
3. Some functions are favoured
Instagram does tend to favour some of their newer features. We can definitely see this with Reels, as they are now popping up in our feed more and more. However, using certain functions like Reels doesn’t mean the overall performance (e.g. engagement) of your Instagram efforts will automatically be improved.
Does it mean we can now resign from using all those fancy functions and post only photos? Not really. There are two key reasons for publishing different types of content:
- People have various preferences when it comes to consuming content. Some people prefer videos or Instagram Stories, while others only enjoy photos. To reach all your followers (and gain new ones as well!) and to give them what they like and what they expect, your published content on Instagram should have some variety.
- What you publish is also important from your perspective. Why? As you likely know already, creating an interesting and high quality video is more time-consuming than posting (and even editing) a photo. You should always consider how much time you can spend on producing your Instagram content and adjust the time available to what is possible, keeping in mind the high quality of the final piece.
Conclusion: If there is a new feature on Instagram, it’s a good idea to at least try it out for some time because it could be favoured. However, taking advantage of new Instagram functions won’t guarantee that the Instagram algorithm will treat your content better than others.
4. Instagram is hiding user posts
For the past few months, many influencers (and their followers) were disappointed by the fact that their posts were not visible on follower feeds. But according to Instagram representatives, hiding user posts doesn’t happen. By scrolling your feed, you will, sooner or later, see every post. There is only one thing to remember – posts are no longer presented in chronological order. The Instagram algorithm decides the order you’ll see posts from the users you follow. This order is based on various factors, but we’ll discuss this further in the next point.
Just remember that for Instagram users, relationships with family and friends are considered more important than with other users, e.g. influencers or brands. So posts from family and friends are shown higher in the newsfeed.
Conclusion: Instagram is not hiding user posts in the newsfeed.
5. How the Instagram algorithm works is very simple
Well, not really. How the Instagram algorithm works, and shows posts to users, is related to many factors, e.g.:
- When the post was published: posts published recently will be shown higher in the feed than posts added e.g. few days ago.
- Our interests and preferences = the likelihood that specific post will be interesting to us. The algorithm estimates, based on our previous interactions, what we might be interested in. For example, if we (in general) like or comment on content related to fashion more than to architecture, posts about fashion will be ranked higher in our feed. The same thing happens with different formats of content. So if we watch more videos than photos, we’ll see videos higher in our feed. The algorithm works the same in the Explore Feed – in this case, it will suggest us more new content about fashion.
- Our relation with a specific profile: posts published by accounts with which we interact more (like, comment, tag each other, send DMs) will be ranked higher in the feed.
- Frequency of using the app: if you check Instagram a few times a day, you’ll automatically see recent posts each time. It’s different if we check it only few times a week – in this case each time you open the app, the algorithm will try to meet your needs by showing what it thinks are the most interesting posts, which may not be the most recent ones.
- How much time you spend on Instagram each time you use the app or how many accounts you follow.
It’s worth noting that the Instagram algorithm also knows whether a published photo was taken directly via the Instagram app or was added from the camera roll. It can also identify when the photo was taken, whether it’s published in real time (just after taking it) or after some amount of time (like with the popular #throwback). Of course, the algorithm prefers pictures published in real time. But, currently speaking, the majority of users focus on updating their Stories in real time and pay more time and attention to editing photos before publishing them on their profile. So don’t pay too much attention to this requirement.
Conclusion: Many factors have an effect on the order in which Instagram shows posts in user feeds.
6. The algorithm doesn’t know if our posts are interesting to Instagram users
This myth couldn’t be more wrong. Instagram knows what’s interesting and what’s not. How? It sees and analyses how long users are spending on content and whether they interact with it or not. The more you engage with Instagram users, the better it is for your overall Instagram performance. And it’s not only about active engagement in your posts (liking, commenting) but also e.g. spending time on our profile, scrolling through your posts, sending your posts via direct messages to other users, saving our posts, etc. Our next post, which will be released next week, is fully dedicated to better ways of engaging Instagram followers in 2018.
Another interesting fact is how the list of users who has seen your Stories is created. This is an issue that strikes many users. Contrary to what people believe, the list is not only based on how often we interact with each profile. According to Instagram, what matters most here is the amount of time other users spend on our profile and on consuming our content. It doesn’t have to be users, however, who interact with us and our content a lot (liking our posts, commenting etc). Those could be users who watch what we do without wanting us to know that they are interested in it.
Conclusion: Instagram, by analysing how much time users spend on the content we publish, determines if it will be attractive to other users or not.
7. Chronological order in the feed will come back
It’s not gonna happen. According to what Instagram stated recently, chronological order won’t come back, definitely not in the near future. Although there were rumours that it’ll be possible for users to switch between chronological order and the algorithm, Instagram denied this, saying that no work has been done to reintroduce chronological order.
Conclusion: The chronological order won’t come back to our feeds any time soon.
8. Top posts are the same for every Instagram user
This is another myth. Everything, even the best posts in the Explore Feed, is based on, and adjusted to, our preferences and interests. TOP9 posts are then not objective, because they relate to each user’s behaviour on Instagram. It’s all because of the fact that the work of the Instagram algorithm is based on machine learning and artificial intelligence, not on constant indicators.
The same relates to the Explore Page, where posts are presented according to our interests, preferences and previous searches. That means that each of us will have a completely different set of posts suggested in the Explore Page. For example, if you are consuming a lot of content about sport and travelling, you will see a lot of similar content in the Explore Page.
Conclusion: Best posts are based on each user’s preferences and interests.
9. Deleting your content doesn’t affect the work of the Instagram algorithm
We don’t recommend deleting any content published on your profile. Why? Instagram doesn’t like when something suddenly disappears, simply because it learns our behaviours. This is also why it’s so important to be regular in running your Instagram account. The algorithm is simply waiting for your next activity. It predicts that you’ll be active, and this regularity guarantees its stability. If the algorithm notices some unusual activity, too much activity in a short time, deleting content etc., you can expect worse results, such as a decline in reach and other metrics.
What if, for any reason, we no longer want to have a post on our profile but we already know that deleting them isn’t the best option? There is a special function for that and it’s called ‘archiving’. You’ll find this option under each post, next to the ‘delete’ option. Archiving is not only better for the algorithm but also enables us to come back to these posts and even re-archive them to your profile.
Conclusion: We strongly recommend not deleting any type of content on Instagram as it may have a very negative effect on the work of the Instagram algorithm. Always remember about the ‘archive’ option.
10. Buying likes and followers is a great way to improve your overall Instagram performance
It’s definitely not true and it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Although it seems to be obvious, for many users it still isn’t. If you are happily and enthusiastically buying likes or followers, you should stop. Instagram knows what you’re doing and it knows that you’re cheating – it detects such behaviours and lately has been particularly less than tolerant towards them. Why? The latest direction of the Instagram policy aims at minimising and getting rid of such activities (as well as using bots). So now you have to be very careful about that, more than you’ve ever been.
Buying likes and followers has one more drawback. They have almost no value, and any they have is only temporary and visible exclusively in numbers. In particular, bought followers don’t present any value when it comes to engagement (which we know is the most important metric recently), because most often those are only fake accounts. As such practices won’t have any positive effect on your Instagram presence, we wholeheartedly recommend avoiding them.
Conclusion: One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to buy likes or followers on Instagram.
11. Likes are the most valuable currency on Instagram that we should all fight for
A few years ago likes might have been quite a good way (and actually one of the few used) of measuring success on Instagram. In 2020, we should be leaning towards completely different metrics though.
Number of likes is a metric which is increasingly easy to manipulate (e.g. by buying likes), but we should remember also that Instagram is testing hiding likes under posts, and soon information about these may be not available publicly.
Likes are also not the best indicator of the engagement we have on our profiles. The more effective way of measuring it could be monitoring the following numbers:
- Link clicks in our bio (in the profile),
- Comments under posts,
- Replies to Instagram Stories,
- Clicks on the Swipe up link in Stories,
- Content views and profile views,
- Saved posts.
Conclusion: To measure the effectiveness of an Instagram profile, and marketing success, analyzing only the number of likes is not enough. Many different metrics should, and could, be a measure of success on the platform.
12. Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours, so there is no point to invest time to create them
There couldn’t be any more wrong statement in 2020. Stories are now even more likely to be viewed by users than the feed itself.
From the perspective of a brand, influencer or a creator, it’s actually worth to invest in Stories for several reasons:
- They’re more likely to have higher conversion, especially if you have the Swipe up option available (you will once you reach 10k followers),
- It’s easier to engage users, as there are many various stickers available, like poll, quiz, asking a question. By replying to Stories, it’s also much easier to send a DM (direct message), which helps to get us closer to other Instagram users,
- Stories are much more effective way to build a relationship with followers in general; they are not only more direct, but also give the feeling of being up to date,
- Even though Stories expire after 24 hours (they are no longer available to Instagram users after this time), it doesn’t mean they cannot be of value to users for longer. That’s why Highlights were created – it’s a place where we can save all the past Stories so that they are pinned to our profile for as long as we wish. It’s a great way to show who we are in more detail, what we do, what is our offer, or share anything which will be valuable or helpful to Instagram users.
- Stories, just like posts, can get to the Explore Page and so that they can also help to increase your reach (especially if you’d add proper hashtags or location).
We’ve also already discussed how Stories can help your business and how to use them in practice.
Conclusion: Instagram Stories are equally important as posts published on our profile. Year after year, their importance is even growing.
Reality vs living in harmony with the Instagram algorithm
We already know how the Instagram algorithm works, but how can we use this knowledge in practice and our everyday work? This is what our next article will be about! We’ll present the best practices and tips when it comes to running marketing on Instagram and living in harmony with its algorithm!