Understanding the Instagram Algorithm to Maximise Content Reach

Instagram introduces new features and updates more frequently than season changes – we love the GoPro and Spotify integration but the jury is still out on emoji slider polls. Thankfully, we have a slightly firmer grasp on the newsfeed algorithm (for now). To ensure that your content reaches as large an audience as possible, keep the following points in mind when you plan your platform strategy:

#1: The algorithm favours posts with high engagement

This seems like a no-brainer, since the whole point of shifting from a chronological newsfeed was to keep users in the app for a longer period by offering up content that users are interested in. But it is a point worth reiterating as any type of action counts towards engagement, from visible activities such as likes, comments, and video views, to ‘dark social’ interaction that you can’t measure, like shared posts in DMs and profile searches.

The good news (or bad, depending on how you look at it) is that the quality of your content matters. Before you start thinking about how to game the system, lay a solid foundation with great content that your followers would want to engage with.

#2: How quickly your audience engage with your post matters

The first hour that your content is posted is crucial. If it gets a lot of likes and comments quickly, the algorithm interprets this to mean that your content is of high quality and will in turn show it to more of your followers.

To understand how to use this to your advantage, we need to take into consideration another algorithm factor – the timing of your post. As much as possible, Instagram still tries to show you the latest posts rather than ones that are dated hours or days ago.

Some trial and error would be needed, but make the effort to find your personalised best time to post, based on when most of your followers are online. Post during these active hours to rack up the engagement, and the likelihood of Instagram showing it to your other followers when they come online increases.

#3: How long your audience engage with your content matters as well

Just like Facebook, the Instagram algorithm takes the amount of time audiences spend viewing your post as an indication of how interesting it is. This is one of the reasons why videos perform so well on the platform, since it takes longer to watch a video than a single image.

Adopt strategies to capture your followers’ attention for a longer period. Craft engaging captions that entice followers to read on, even if it’s just a second more. If you’re posting a carousel post (multi-image posts), include a call-to-action for followers to ‘swipe’ for more content.

#4: Posting on Instagram Stories help to increase engagement

With over 300 million daily users, it is no wonder that the algorithm would want to encourage you to post on Instagram Stories. If followers view your Stories regularly, it shows up more frequently on their Stories roll (yes, this is not chronological and there is an algorithm behind it too!), and the more they view your Stories, the more likely your post will show up in their feed. That’s not all – any interaction that followers have with you on your Stories, such as voting on a poll, counts toward engagement with you and increases the value of your post in the algorithm’s calculation.

With a shelf life of only 24 hours (although now you have the option to include past Stories as Highlights on your profile), it is easy to dismiss the effort required to post engaging Stories on top of content you are already pushing out on your feed. Those who recognise the importance of Stories and integrate it into their content strategy will ultimately see its value and benefit from higher engagement rates.

#5: The algorithm rewards you for using all the app features

Instagram needs your help to test out new features and determine its popularity, so it makes sense that you would be rewarded for utilising these newbies and helping to spread the word about their latest efforts.

Look out for new updates and experiment with these features. Not only does this help to keep you ahead of the trend, you will be rewarded with better reach for your posts. However, it goes without saying that this should be done seamlessly within your Stories content. In other words, don’t look like you’re trying too hard to be cool!

#6: You are also rewarded for interacting with your followers

As a platform that encourages personalised interactions, Instagram encourages you to engage in a conversation with your followers by increasing exposure of your content to them. In fact, you may be penalised with reduced visibility for not staying on top of comments that were made on your posts! Not all comments require a response, but make the effort to show that you’ve read it by liking the comment.

The objective of Instagram is to understand your every micro-action so that it can serve you with the most engaging content and keep you on the platform for as long as possible. The algorithm grows more complex as it attempts to understand the meaning behind your every interaction. With that in mind, always approach your Instagram strategy from the lens of your followers. Put yourself in their shoes; act/react according to how you want to be treated as a consumer and you’re on the right track!