How to Conquer the Instagram Algorithm

Editor's note: This piece was originally published in March 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness. 

Ever wonder why you see certain accounts more on your Instagram feed than others? For much of digital marketing, like SEO and social media, algorithms play a huge role in determining who gets shown what. You have to give your chosen platform what it wants, while still being authentic, in order to be successful. Unfortunately, posting consistently and using location tags and hashtags isn’t the secret sauce of success. Sorry for those of you who have been told differently. Utilizing these can help you, but it doesn’t guarantee success by any means.

All social media platforms are constantly evolving and changing the way they determine what accounts to show. When these algorithms change, your current marketing strategy must be adjusted, because it loses its effectiveness the minute that change happens. NEVER set it and forget it. That’s how companies that were once flourishing vanish!

opening instagram

Is Instagram still popular?

With the constant creation of new social media platforms, more and more companies today are beginning to understand the importance social media plays in their marketing strategy. (Read more about demystifying social media here.) As far as Instagram goes, from lead generation, to brand awareness, to customer service, its use is crucial in gaining and retaining customers. And it doesn’t seem to be losing its popularity anytime soon.

Let’s get down to what you’re here for.

How does Instagram's new algorithm work?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of some new changes or maybe you’ve been asking yourself, “Why am I suddenly getting less likes on Instagram?” Answer: The algorithm.

Understanding Instagram's Algorithm

Instagram is a shining example of how you can take a free platform and use it to your advantage! There are obviously many different ways to post on Instagram, whether it be a story, a feed, a reel, etc. But there is a “game” that you have to play in order to be successful.

Let’s break down that game and how the type of content you would post on the platform can help you learn how to beat the Instagram algorithm!

For the Feed

Instagram is in charge of the order that posts appear on a feed. It chooses what it classifies as the “best” posts, pushing them towards the top of user feeds, giving them the most visibility. There are a few factors that determine rank, and with the right implementation can help you upgrade your Instagram strategy.

1. Relationship: If a user has interacted and engaged with your content previously, Instagram is more likely to show them your future content. This makes the need for a loyal, engaged audience HUGE!

2. Interactions: The platform tracks user history and what kinds of posts and accounts they interact with. If they have interacted with accounts that post content similar to yours, then you are more likely to be pushed to the top.

3. Relevancy: When you click “Publish” on a post, the algorithm jumps into overdrive to give your content a relevancy score. Why is this important? If you are deemed more “relevant,” then more people will see your post.

attract likes on Instagram like a magnet

But that’s not all… you should also pay attention to these attributes that you have no control over.

1. Time: If users are on the app for a minimal amount of time or if they don’t really even use the app, and you aren’t in their group of “favorites” that get shown in the top spots, your posts will rarely be seen.

2. Followers: If someone follows lots of accounts, you’re in a larger pool of competition for those top spots.

For the Story

The stories that appear first on the Instagram home screen are from the accounts that users engage with the most. Think of your best friend, or a celebrity, whose page you constantly check. These are the stories you would see first. This is the case for every account.

You want to be the account that appears first, so more people see your Stories when they go up. You don’t want to get lost in the crowd. By creating continual opportunities for engagement, you are boosting the chances of you becoming a “favorite” in your audience’s feed, thus getting more exposure for your content.

For Reels and IGTV

Let’s start with the basics.

let's get started minions

What are reels on Instagram?

The creation of Reels was Instagram’s response to the global success of TikTok. Reels are short, fifteen second videos posted on the platform that can include audio and various effects to entertain viewers. This can be a powerful way to increase your followers, especially since 72% of consumers would rather learn about a product or service by way of video. These videos can be shared on your feed as well, but also show up on the Explore page, doubling your chance of exposure.

Additionally, when posting video to Instagram you'll have to upload it as a reel and are limited to 90 seconds. You have the ability to add music, text, hashtags, and effects to your video in the builder like you do with stories.

What happened to IGTV?

Great question! IGTV used to be home to longer videos (up to an hour) that, instead of appearing like a post, would take up the entire phone screen and appear on the Explore page.

The long format of videos on IGTV didn't gain the popularity it needed to survive in the ever-changing social media landscape. With the arrival of TikTok and then Reels, Instagram rebranded IGTV to Instagram TV with its own separate app, but this too suffered to gain traction. Instagram users gravitate more to the short-form content, images and videos, both of which should play a significant role in your soical media strategy.

The algorithm for video content mirrors the one used to determine post placement on a user’s feed. People who interact with you see your posts or reels more often. To increase your visibility here, post your Reel to your feed first and utilize relevant location tags and hashtags. The more exposure you can get, the more the algorithm will work in your favor.

So how do I succeed on Instagram?

The best advice I can give you is to place importance on actually building relationships, not just growing your reach. A more loyal audience will translate into more exposure, because it gets you a top spot in their feed on a more consistent basis. The more they see you and interact with you, the more you will be shown to others. If your content is not engaging, or you aren’t interacting with your followers, your growth won't be as fast as you want it to be and you can kiss that spot goodbye.

be successful by engaging people

Find out when your followers are most active and post then.

It makes sense that you want to post when the majority of your followers are online, because more people will see it. Getting a ton of engagement when the post is first published plays into convincing Instagram that your post is “good-quality” and relevant, or something your followers want to see.​

when you post matters

What is the best time to post on Instagram?

To properly identify when your followers are most active, you’ll go through trial and error. Find data about this in your profile under the analytics or insights tab. This is available to all Business accounts in the app itself and is the best place to start. (Your account does have to be set up as a business account for you to get access to this. If you didn’t set it up that way, it is a quick switch in your settings.) Here, you’ll see a section dedicated to showing you when your followers are online. This can be viewed by days or by hours. Take time to do a little bit of research here and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at your increased engagement rate.

Use hashtags to reach even more active users.

A question we get asked a lot is, “Do hashtags actually work?”Absolutely! The proof is in the pudding. Research shows that a post that uses at least one hashtag averages 13% more engagement than the posts that don’t.


Hashtags can increase your reach by ensuring your page appears in relevant searches. Don’t be fooled. You can’t just pick a bunch of random hashtags and throw them up with your post. You have to do the research to find the hashtags that your target audience is searching for and interacting with. This can lead to profile visits, clicks to your website, and even new followers.

Don't get spammy with your hashtags. Keep them relevant to your content and your audience!

Take the time to comment on posts from other accounts and answer comments as soon as you can.

It’s important to interact with accounts that use the same hashtags as you - that’s how you build a “relationship” with your target audience and gain followers! They can return the favor, increasing your engagement rate even more.

comment on posts to boost engagement

You can gain new followers and engagement by interacting with other users on their posts to start creating connections. You can do this by liking, saving and leaving comments on their content. This can be on posts from potential customers, influencers, or other businesses. If you’re going to do this, make sure to be genuine and add some kind of value with your response. People can tell when comments are “spam-like” and don’t really contribute anything of value.

You create a relationship this way and show other users that you genuinely care about what you’re putting out and what people are saying to or about you. You're an active part of the Instagram community, not just posting to "sell something."

Ask for engagement on your Stories.

Encourage engagement, even when it comes to Stories! Stories can also be seen as more personal and authentic, since these only last 24-hours and typically give insight into something. They allow you to speak to your followers and get their attention, creating more of a friendship. This is crucial because Instagram Stories don’t get scrutinized by the same algorithm as posts in a feed do. Once your followers feel like they have a connection with you, they feel more inclined to interact with your content.

There are a few different ways that you can use Instagram stories to get more engagement from your followers.

1. Add a hashtag to your stories so users can click on it and be taken to a “library” of all of the content that uses your chosen hashtag.

2. Location tags can also be crucial in helping your story appear in front of an even larger audience. If you add this feature to your story when posting, your content will show up in local searches.

3. Use interactive stickers, which can include a slider, polls, and questions. This can be helpful in market research, allowing you to find out more about your audience, their likes, dislikes, what they’re looking for, etc.

Post used content to your Stories.

Using previous posts is a great way to show new followers your past content and things that might be important for them to know (like products, hours, and vital information). This is also a good way to stay top of mind with your current followers and remind them of who you are and what you do.

This approach can be such a time-saver, but, be warned, it is a double edged sword. You might save a lot of time, but you can’t rely on doing this very often. If your followers consistently see the same posts and content, they will lose interest and begin unfollowing you. You’ll lose that connection that you worked so hard to build.

share your posts on your story

Repurposing doesn’t have to be limited to your own content though. You can also share other users’ posts to your stories! Tap the direct message button (the arrow) on a post and you can click “Add Post to Story.” Once you click this, you can apply various effects, tags or even resize it for a better aesthetic.

Use direct messages to your advantage.

Direct messages can be geared more towards customer service. Now, more than ever, users are reaching out to businesses on Instagram to ask questions and give any suggestions that they might have. This one-on-one messaging allows you, as a business, to cultivate relationships with your audience.

Additionally, you can use direct messaging for outreach and inbound marketing. You can do this by reaching out to potential customers or influencers directly. But be sure you are always authentic and genuine when you do, as most people know when something is generic.

Utilize influencers and social ads.

If you’re struggling to gain traction and grow with your organic reach, the fastest way to kick start growing your audience is to throw money behind your social strategy. Two options are Instagram advertising and influencer marketing. If done correctly, both of these options can create a burst of momentum that can help accelerate better organic results for your account. If you would like to dive into this deeper as well as learn about some useful tools read this excellent article by MobileMonkey on how to make your Instagram advertising more effective.

The ads will cost you time and money, but it’s a smart investment if you’re having trouble gaining traction or you just want to amplify your efforts. You might be asking, “Well, how much do Instagram ads cost?”

utilize social ads

There isn’t a “one size fits all” answer for that, because your Instagram ads cost will be dependent on more than ten different factors.

In 2022, however, the average CPC (cost-per-click) for Instagram ads ranged from $0.20 – $2.00. Don’t let that scare you! Instagram ads are known for having the highest engagement rate out of all the digital ad placements. Just make sure you set a lifetime budget so you know exactly how much you’re going to spend and you are in constant control.

And if you want to learn a little more about influencer marketing and how it works, check out our blog, “What is Influencer Marketing and How Does it Work?”

Pay attention to the numbers.

Like I mentioned at the start of this, social media marketing isn’t a “set it and forget it” endeavor. You have to constantly keep a handle on what is working for you, and what isn’t. There is a learning curve, but the moment you can identify what needs to change and make that change, you begin moving further in the direction of growth.

learn your analytics

But how can I do that? Analytics.

Can you get analytics on Instagram? Absolutely. Your best course of action should be defined by your data. If you’re in the Instagram app itself, managing a business account, you can open the “Insights” section to find detailed metrics about your page’s performance. Don’t just look at follower count! I know that is the general go-to, but you’ll be able to tell so much more by looking at your profile views, reach, and website visits. Keep all of these analytics in mind as you continuously make changes and update your social media marketing strategy.

For a more comprehensive view, open the Meta Business Suite for a combined look at your Facebook and Instagram Insights. Here you can better understand your audience on each platform and how to adjust your individual strategies.

The Instagram algorithm will constantly change and evolve, but the need to create connections won't.

I know all of this information can be overwhelming and seem impossible to conquer. If you truly want to succeed on Instagram, it’s not enough to just publish content regularly. At the root of becoming successful is relationship building and creating high-quality content. These two aspects are how you grow and stand out.

relationship is key

Take a “people first” approach. Always. 

And don’t get too comfortable. When talking about algorithms, you have to be aware that changes are always right around the corner. As long as you stay flexible and ready for the next shift, you can handle anything Instagram throws at you and conquer the Instagram algorithm.

And if you need help in your conquest, contact us today and chat with one of our social media specialists!

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