How does the Instagram algorithm work? In 2018, the Instagram algorithm has already seen a ton of new changes (and sparked a lot of confusion and frustration)!
This year, the Instagram algorithm seems to be making it even harder than ever for your posts to be seen.
And despite the backlash, there’s no sign of a return to the chronological feed, and there’s a whole new set of rules to play by.
So how do we keep up with all these Instagram algorithm changes?
In the following post, we cover everything you need to know about how the Instagram algorithm works in 2018, and how you can hack the algorithm to get your posts seen!
Update: You can now schedule Instagram posts directly to Instagram with our new Auto Publish feature — no push notifications required! Learn all about it below!
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work in 2018?
There’s no question about it, Instagram posts are no longer getting the amount of exposure they used to. Now, it’s estimated that only 10% of your audience is actually seeing your posts.
This can be extremely frustrating for users who aren’t seeing their friends and family’s posts, businesses hoping to reach new customers, and even worse for influencers whose business model depends on their followers seeing their content.
Here’s what we know about how the Instagram algorithm works in 2018:
The Instagram Algorithm Rewards Posts With High Engagement
Since the original shift from a chronological feed, we’ve known the Instagram algorithm is mainly based on engagement. This includes number of likes, comments, video views, saves, shared posts, DM’s and any other type of interactions a post gets.
When a post receives a ton of likes and comments, this signals the Instagram algorithm that your post is quality, engaging content that more people will want to see.
When Instagram first broke news of the new algorithm, they commented, “The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”
They claimed that the change was to improve user experience, prioritizing moments we care about the most.
Tip #1: Spend More Time Posting To Instagram Stories
A great way to connect with your followers is through Instagram Stories. In 2018, you can expect Instagram Stories to continue to dominate and become an essential part of your Instagram marketing strategy.
Instagram Stories has over 300 million daily active users, which is almost double that of Snapchat!
As the Instagram algorithm continues to change and impact users’ engagement, it’s no surprise more and more users are spending time on Instagram Stories, rather than their feeds.
The algorithm takes into account all the interactions you receive on your Instagram Stories as well, such as replies or when your stories are sent to someone.
The more that a user interacts with your Instagram Stories, the more likely your posts will show up in their feed.
We’ve also been seeing a lot of micro-influencers telling their followers to “DM me for a direct link to this product!” which is a great way to drive people to your inbox, build relationships with your followers, and ultimately increase the chance of your posts showing up on their feed.
The Instagram Algorithm Rewards You For Interacting With Your Followers
It’s now believed that Instagram not only prioritizes posts with high engagement but may also restrict exposure based on your engagement with your followers.
This year it will be more important than ever to stay on top of your incoming comments, especially within the first hour of posting, otherwise your posts visibility may drastically decrease
Treat Instagram comments like a conversation. If you the comment doesn’t require a response, show them some love with a heart!
We know, keeping track of all your Instagram comments is hard. It’s easy to miss comments in the Instagram app, especially if someone is commenting on an older post.
Tip #2: Keep Tabs On Your Instagram Comments
Later’s brand new Conversations feature saves you time and can help you keep track of all your Instagram comments. You can reply from your computer instead of your phone, and even view your conversation history with a user.
To reply to an Instagram comment in Later, just select the comment, post, or Instagram user you’d like to respond to. Then enter your response, click the Reply button, and you’re done!
To get engagement, you have to give it. By replying to your comments, you’re not only not only showing your readers love, but you’re also increasing your chances of increasing your posts visibility.
The Instagram Algorithm Factors How Quickly Audiences Engage With Your Content
Not only does the algorithm care about how much engagement your Instagram post gets, it also cares about how quickly you get that engagement.
If your post gets a lot of likes and comments shortly after it’s posted, this signals to the Instagram algorithm that your post is quality content, so the post will get shown to even more of your followers.
By finding your personalized best time to post on Instagram, you can hack the algorithm to increase your reach and get more likes and followers.
If you post at a time when most of your followers are online, you give yourself a better chance of racking up those likes — quickly!
Tip #3: Find Out When Your Audience Is Most Active
Later’s Best Time to Post feature automatically calculates your 7 top posting times based on how much engagement your posts have gotten historically.
Because this feature is built into Later, an Instagram scheduler, it’s a super easy to find out when you should schedule Instagram posts for maximum engagement.
If you’re on one of Later’s business plans, which start at just $19/month, your best times to post will be highlighted in your weekly content calendar, making it super easy for you to automatically schedule Instagram posts for when your audience is most active!
The Instagram Algorithm Calculates How Long People Spend Viewing Your Post
The Facebook algorithm looks at the length of time you spend interacting with content, and it’s no different with Instagram!
The Instagram algorithm uses the amount of time spent viewing your post as a factor in determining its popularity.
So how do you stop your followers from scrolling past your post?
Tip #4: Stop Them In Their Tracks with the Perfect Instagram Caption
If you want to beat the Instagram algorithm, crafting great Instagram captions might just be the key. If you have an engaging caption, people are more likely to actually read it or click the “more” button, which increases the time spent on your post.
That extra second that someone spends reading your Instagram caption has the potential to make or break that Instagram post for you, so spend time on your captions!
Our best tip for writing engaging Instagram captions is to sit down when you’re feeling creative, or in the “writing zone,” and spend a few minutes writing out your captions for the entire week.
By writing Instagram captions ahead of time and then scheduling Instagram posts, you can save yourself the daily pressure to be creative and dedicate your time and energy to other important strategies.
This is one of the reasons why videos perform so well in the Instagram algorithm, since a video takes longer to consume than an image.
This is also true for Instagram carousel posts with a call-to-action to “swipe” — they can keep users on your post longer.
Whether you call them Instagram slideshow posts, galleries, or albums (there really is no right answer!), Instagram carousel posts are a great feature that let you share up to 10 photos and videos in a single Instagram post.
Ready to get posting? Scheduling carousel posts is available on all paid plans, starting at $9/month.
The Instagram Algorithm Favors Posts With Specific, Relevant Hashtags
Instagram’s algorithm has always favored the use of specific and relevant hashtags, and they now may be more important than ever.
Instagram recently rolled out the ability to follow Instagram hashtags, which means instead of users having to scroll through a feed to discover your tagged content, your posts could show up automatically in the feeds of potential new followers.
On the flip side, users also have the power to mark your hashtagged content as something they don’t want to see!
Once a user is following a specific hashtag and suggested posts begin showing up in their feed, they will have the ability to select a “Don’t Show For This Hashtag” option to mark content not interesting or relevant.
While this new feature was created to tell the Instagram algorithm what type of content users enjoy, having too many of your posts marked with this “Don’t Show For This Hashtag” option could potentially raise a red flag on your account and negatively impact your other content as well.
As we learned from the shadowban scare, posting the same block of hashtags to your posts can negatively impact your engagement. Instead, it’s important to switch up your hashtag blocks and make sure each is a good fit for your post.
Tip #5: Optimize Your Instagram Hashtag Strategy
Later’s Saved Captions feature makes it easy for you to create hashtag “sets” and add them to scheduled Instagram post with the click of a button. You can create templates to save your most commonly used hashtags, and when it’s time to schedule, simply select one of your saved hashtags to add it to your post.
This will help free up your time and help you make sure you’re switching out those hashtag blocks on your posts!
Best of all? It’s free to use!
The Instagram Algorithm Is Pushing For Authenticity
While the Instagram algorithm is still mainly centered around engagement, it continues to constantly (and quietly) makes unannounced changes to the rules. It’s also much smarter than you think!
You may notice random comments like “Great pic!” or “Nice feed!” or your posts — these are most likely coming from a bot. Instagram has noticed, and is putting an end to these automated responses.
Tip #5: Start a Conversation With Your Instagram Followers
Create captions that include a question or request some sort of response from the viewer. With the Instagram algorithm pushing for authenticity and deeper connections with followers, treat your comments like a conversation.
It’s time to ditch the generic captions and dig deeper!
The push toward authenticity isn’t just within your captions and comments, but also in the content you’re creating. It’s important not to post for the sake of posting, but really take time to think about how your post is contributing to your brand and the message you’re trying to communicate to your audience.
The Instagram Algorithm Delivers You Posts From People You Interact With The Most
If you engage with a particular account regularly, you’re telling Instagram that you like that account’s content. This is why you most likely see your best friends or favorite influencer’s Instagram posts at the top of your feed.
This same rule applies for people who love your content! If they are regularly liking, commenting, saving your content, or watching your Instagram Stories, your posts are more likely to be shown to them.
This is why it’s more important than ever to take the time to build a consistent Instagram brand and aesthetic. Followers are much more likely to convert into fans when they know exactly what they can expect from your feed, and continue to see the same consistent, quality content from your account.
Tip #6: Build a Consistent Instagram Brand and Aesthetic
By creating a consistent brand story through your Instagram aesthetic and account, you can turn those casual visitors into devoted, engaged followers.
Using a visual planner like Later’s that makes it easy for you to drag and drop your images until you find the look and feel that you want.
Your future followers want to know exactly what to expect when they follow you, so it’s crucial you take the time to plan out the look of your Instagram feed before you post.
The Instagram Algorithm Rewards You For Using All Their Features
As frequent engagement and activity is favored by the Instagram algorithm, it makes sense that you would also be rewarded for using all of the platform’s feature!
Instagram continues to roll out new features every few months, giving users fun new ways to connect with their audiences. By testing out these new features, you can grow your reach and help make sure your post is seen!
There have been a ton of new features added to Instagram Stories since its launch, such as polls, gifs, swipe-up features and more.
Last month Instagram introduced “Type” mode, a new way for you to share what’s on your mind with creative text styles and backgrounds.
Tip #7: Always Experiment With New Features
Since the Instagram algorithm rewards users for using all its features, it’s important to always keep an eye out for new updates! Not only will you grow your reach, but it will also keep you one step ahead of the trends!
Launching a new product? Hop on Instagram Live to give a quick how-to.
Looking for customer input? Add a poll to your Instagram Stories.
Host an event? Create a Carousel Post to show off highlights from the night.
Whatever way you choose to add in these new features, just make sure they are still providing value to your audience.
Coming Soon: Instagram’s Next Algorithm Update Includes Adding “Related Posts” To Your Feed
Right now, users only see posts in their feed from other uses they follow, along with sponsored content Instagram shows them. However, this may be changing soon, with Instagram testing a “recommended posts” feature.
Now, you’ll begin seeing content that Instagram thinks you’d liked based off your interested. This means Instagram’s algorithm will be showing users either content their friends have liked, or content they think you may be interested in.
For example, if you follow a lot of fashion bloggers, you’ll most likely start seeing more of this content on your feed.
Instagram confirmed the test, commenting in a statement to The Verge, “We’re always testing new ways to connect you to interesting content on Instagram.”
Image from theverge.com
This means if one user is liking or commenting on your page, then suddenly their friends may start seeing it. This could be a big deal for users, making engagement more important than ever.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Explore and Instagram Stories
When discussing the Instagram algorithm, most people immediately think about the content showing up on their feed.
The Instagram Explore pages operates under its own algorithm as well, and according to Instagram in 2017, “posts are selected automatically based on things like the people you follow or the posts you like.”
You can also see video channels on the Explore page, which can include posts “from a mixture of hand-picked and automatically sourced accounts based on topics we think you’ll enjoy.”
Overall, the Explore page and the feed are mostly similar, delivering you content Instagram thinks you’ll be most interested in, based off your interactions.
My personal Explore page dished up a slime video (I secretly, now not so secretly, love the slime craze on Instagram), a vegan post (I’m a pescatarian) and some fashion-related posts — seems about right.
It also includes some Stories from users it thinks I may enjoy based on what kinds of content they post.
The hashtags results page also follows the Instagram algorithm rules listed above. If you’ve ever searched for a hashtag on Instagram, you’ll notice a grid of nine “top posts” that appear at the top of the results page.
Like the Explore page, these posts are selected based on several of the factors listed in this post, including engagement (how many likes and comments the post received, the popularity of the hashtag and how quick your post receives engagement. This will appear the same for every users searching a specific hashtag, while the Explore page is tailored to your individual interests.
The Instagram Stories that appear on the top of your feed are affected by the Instagram algorithm as well! Typically, the Instagram Stories that appear closest to the beginning of the row are from accounts that you engage with the most, whether that may be through the users posts or Stories!
Use Instagram Analytics to See What’s Working (and What Isn’t)
Taking on your Instagram strategy with a better understanding of what’s working (and what isn’t) will help you come up with a fine-tuned strategy, saving you time and effort.
But diving into your Instagram Analytics means more than just finding out which photo, video, or story performed best. Truly understanding how your content performs – by tracking key metrics over time – is key to understanding how you stand against the Instagram algorithm.
With Later’s new free Instagram Analytics, you can learn more about how your posts are performing and discover which type of content gets the most Instagram engagement!
Optimize your Instagram content and grow your engagement by comparing which post types or photos are performing best, and applying those learnings to your Instagram strategy!
Although the Instagram algorithm changes seem to be frequent and ever-changing, it’s possible to stay on top of them by better understanding how they work.
Taking time to figure out exactly how the Instagram algorithm works will help your chances of “beating” it and driving more engagement on your posts.
This year, take the Instagram algorithm changes as an opportunity to creating deeper connections, produce high-quality content, and optimize your social media strategy!
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