Instagram reveals how its algorithm works

Instagram did social media marketers a solid this week: it revealed how its home page algorithm works. This happened at a press event at the company's San Francisco office, and was largely attended by industry journalists.  

This is the first time we've seen Instagram explain its algorithm in-depth. This information finally demystifies how posts appear in front of users when they load the app. Further, it gives us marketers insight on how to better optimize our posts, but reassures us that we only have so much control.  

In this article, we'll discuss what Instagram revealed at its press event. Let's dive in!

How the Instagram algorithm works

 Instagram's press event
Image via TechCrunch

In the presentation, the Instagram team explained that its home screen algorithm takes six factors into account when sorting content for users. These actions are based solely on your interaction and past actions in the Instagram app.

The three primary factors are: 

  1. Interest: Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post and ranks posts accordingly. It looks at how you've interacted with past video and photo posts and utilizes its ever-changing image recognition tools to display content that's visually similar to past posts. 
  2. Recency: The algorithm looks at how recently the post was shared and prioritizes recent posts.
  3. Relationship: Instagram looks at how close you are to people who've recently posted content. Content from those whose photos you often like and comment on are prioritized over people you're distanced from. 

Additionally, Instagram's algorithm takes three secondary factors into account when sorting content on your home screen. These are: 

  • Frequency: Put simply: the algorithm looks at often you open Instagram. The algorithm tries to show you the best posts since your last visit.
  • Following: If you follow a lot of people, you will see less content from one specific person.
  • Usage: Instagram looks at how long you usually use the app. It'll show you the best highlights during short sessions, and deep cuts during long browse-a-thons. 

TechCrunch notes that Instagram took time during its presentation to clear up myths surrounding the platform too. These myths haven't been confirmed and were seemingly discussed off the record. Regardless, they're import to know. 

Via TechCrunch

  • Instagram is not at this time considering an option to see the old reverse chronological feed because it doesn’t want to add more complexity (users might forget what feed they’re set to), but it is listening to users who dislike the algorithm.
  • Instagram does not hide posts in the feed, and you’ll see everything posted by everyone you follow if you keep scrolling.
  • Feed ranking does not favor the photo or video format universally, but people’s feeds are tuned based on what kind of content they engage with, so if you never stop to watch videos you might see fewer of them.
  • Instagram’s feed doesn’t favor users who use Stories, Live, or other special features of the app.
  • Instagram doesn’t downrank users for posting too frequently or for other specific behaviors, but it might swap in other content in between someone’s if they rapid-fire separate posts.
  • Instagram doesn’t give extra feed presence to personal accounts or business accounts, so switching won’t help your reach.
  • Shadowbanning is not a real thing, and Instagram says it doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions.

Keep these myth-busts in mind when creating and promoting content for your brand's Instagram account. These clear up a lot of urban legends that marketers have subscribed to for years.

Bottom line

The main takeaway from Instagram's press event is that marketers and influencers have little influence over the algorithm. Instead of worrying about optimization, you (as a marketer) should focus on creating great and engaging content that your followers want to see.

And after all, when your followers like and comment on your high quality posts, the algorithm will favor your posts over the competition.

What do you think? 

What do you think about how Instagram sorts content on the home page? Is it fair, or should marketers have more abilities to better optimize content? Let us know on Twitter.

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