The BEST breakdown of the Instagram algorithm I've ever read.
Instead of trying to beat the algorithm learn how to leverage it to your advantage.
Like you, I, too, am a newsletter reader. I probably subscribe to over 20 different newsletters. Newsletters are a much better way to get the exact information you are looking for delivered to your inbox rather than spending hours on end surfing the internet for an answer. I’m sure this is one of the reasons you subscribe to The Private Influencer, right? Awesome!
Link in Bio is a bi-weekly newsletter where you can find the author’s point of view on various social media features and interviews with social media managers who get it right. Below an excerpt from an interview with Sebastian Speier, former Design Lead at Instagram. One of his tasks was working on the design of the home screen, which is the key to the algorithm. Below are direct quotes (italicized) from the interview, and I’ve added follow-up tips and commentary!
Let’s first talk about the home screen. Here is how Speier defines it.
Home is the main surface where the algorithm really comes into play—I would describe it as a set of rules for how we delivered the most relevant content to the people who are consuming it. Our mission on Home was to connect you to the people and things that you love (and follow).
So we all knew that the home screen was designed to show us things we absolutely love to see. No surprise here. But the way he describes the algorithm is a different story.
The algorithm they are referring to a few different things that are coming together: Ranking and Features.
The ranking is how Instagram decides what you will see next. Feed and Stories both rank things a bit different—Feed, where you see Posts, is mostly going to show you interests and brands first, and posts from accounts you follow that are getting a lot of engagement within your communities and circles. Stories are mostly going to show you things from your close friends. Instagram tries really hard to rate relationships between you and all of your friends, and the strongest relationships are ones it knows you want to watch the most. It uses a number of different signals to build these ratings—whether you both follow each other, whether you DM each other, whether you like each other’s posts, etc. The stronger that bond, the more likely it is that you’ll see their stories first.
“I knew it” is the comment I said to myself when I first read about the ranking. I’ve always said you have two kinds of followers — feed likers/commenters and story watchers. In a previous post, I talk about why sending direct messages is a huge bonus to the algorithm. Even something like responding to someone’s IG story will help boost your visibility.
Features are tools on Instagram that are designed to benefit you and your audience, as well as increasing creative product quality and consumption. The question sticker doesn’t just get way more people to reply to the original story; it also gives the creator an excuse to repost those answers and produce way more content than they would before.
This is a new one. I knew some of the stickers were beneficial to use, but that was when there was a way to look at everyone who used that sticker in the stories. After IG switched up how much public information can be shared using various elements (locations, stickers, tags, etc.) due to the election, it’s never been the same.
One beneficial thing is to take advantage of the interactive stickers — questions, polls, slider, etc. This is a good way to get your audience to interact with your IG story.
Ideas💡: Ask your audience this or that questions. Post a question and ask for a response or recommendation. Take a quick poll and discover what people are into or what they want to see from you. Did you launch a new product? Ask your audience about it? The ideas are limitless on using the interactive stickers on IG stories.
Next, Speier talks about how to leverage the new features Instagram adds to increase engagement and reach.
New features are designed to net you more engagement. Some examples of this: Posting your posts to your stories doesn’t “reward” your post with a higher position on people’s feeds. You’ll see increased engagement because sharing that post in your story will drive more people back to it to engage with it.
You’ve noticed this; people sharing an in-feed post to their IG stories. It’s because they want to make sure their content gets to all of their followers. I do not recommend you do this for all of your posts because it gets stale but pick and choose content that you want to double share (feed + IG stories).
I also like to create similar (but with different imagery) content for the IG stories. That way, the message gets across, but the content is visually different. Satisfying my story watchers.
Sending more DMs doesn’t “make the algorithm like you more,” it just means the people you are DMing are more likely to visit your profile and engage with your other content (posts, stories, highlights, etc.).
We already talked about this one! But get in the DMS! GET IN THE DMS!!!
Posting more Reels means you are taking up more space on a new surface with a new audience, and that new audience is more likely to visit your profile from the Reels section and engage with your other content.
This is no secret that Reels increases your engagement. So this should be a best practice. Sharing/creating a reel does not mean you need to mashup multiple videos together with floating text. Your Reel can be one video (up to 30 seconds) with music playing in the background or you using your voice to tell your community something. You can also use stills [images] in your Reels. Turn your regular photos into a creative video-sharing project.
Carousels give followers multiple chances to interact with your work: Posting multiple images to a carousel (a.k.a. slideshow) squeezes more content into a smaller area. If someone scrolls past your carousel without interacting, the next time they refresh their feed, the algorithm will bump the carousel back up to the top with the next image displaying first, giving you a free second chance at securing their eyes.
Carousels do wonders for engagement, but I had NO IDEA this is how it contributes. It makes complete sense when I swipe past a carousel and do not engage with it that it will show up again but displaying the next image. Whoever created that code is genius.
If you are not posting carousels, you need to consider breaking up your content into multiple images. Instead of posting a lengthy caption, put the caption in a carousel post and summarize the post in the caption. Use carousels to keep up with the aesthetics of your profile; the following images include user-generated content or something that might not immediately caption your audience's attention. Carousels are a good way to introduce new content to your audience without making it the first thing they see.
Speier wraps up his interview by talking about what creators should be focused on.
Creators should be focusing on what resonates with their [community], not how to appear at the top of more people’s feeds.
Build a community, not an audience. There’s a big difference between the two. An audience consists of watchers; a community engages.
Every time you share IG stories, consider what you want your audience to do with it. If I want people to watch all of my stories, consider how much time it takes for them to consume everything currently displaying in that story bubble. I know that when I open someone’s story and it has 60 dots across the top, I am immediately uninterested, or I feel like I don’t have time to watch it all, so I’ll probably skip it. Keep your stories authentic, and don’t worry about being too professional or polished.
I completely relate to the tiny dots across the top of someone’s stories. It can be overwhelming and time-consuming for a viewer to sit and watch (perhaps listen) to 10 minutes of content. If you want someone to see it, you’ve got to make it accessible. Burying a bomb AF message 3-minutes into an IG story that is still broadcasting what you did yesterday will not convert very well.
A best practice is to hold space for your followers to catch up to you. You can easily tell if people are becoming disinterested if the view count on your stories dramatically decreases as you click through. My rule of thumb is to share no more than 10 stories at a time, twice a day MAX. And this is still pushing it.
Some days will call for more story sharing than others. Maybe you are doing a behind-the-scenes day, sharing a peek into your content creation, planning, day-to-day, etc. Regardless, be cautious that your message will land because you have overshared.
And there is such a thing called under sharing. One story is not going to tell your community much, nor will it help you get engagement. You need at least 3-5 story shares to tell a great story and have it convert into the engagement you are seeking. Remember, you can use user-generated content to tell a story in your IG stories. Everything doesn't have to be created from scratch.
Speier wraps up his interview by saying:
In my opinion, a healthier way to engage with social media is not to seek likes and validation and to instead realize that what you actually want is stronger ties to your community and your audience. Think about how to build those connections.
Unsure how to build community and interact on Instagram? Check out my step-by-step plan on how to interact with over 100 insta accounts in less than three hours per week. Doing this practice a few times a week will guarantee an engagement boost!
Happy Building Friend!