This month Instagram rolled out a new layout to their app that replaced the notification button with a shopping tab, introduced Tik-Tok-inspired reels, and other minor changes. These changes were not a pleasant surprise to all users. Instagrammers fled to Twitter to voice their complaints.
Instagram’s famous switch from chronological content to algorithmic was one of the most detested updates in social media. Over time, many influencers have been able to master the algorithm and make sure their audiences see their content. Since Facebook’s purchase of Instagram, we have seen a movement towards shoppable posts and more monetization of the platform in general. While some users are skeptical, it introduces a new opportunity for small business sales. Instagram’s intentions for small businesses aren’t always fair and rosy, but understanding their system can allow you to beat it.
Understand the Algorithm
The supposed reason for intelligent algorithms is to help you wade through the clutter that is your newsfeed. It works to learn your scrolling behavior and push posts from your top creators as a priority and minimize posts from accounts you value less. For example, if you like Gucci and want to follow them, but prioritize seeing your best friend’s content more, Instagram will always show you your friend’s content first and more often. This feature can be frustrating for content creators because if they miss the algorithm, they could see significantly less engagement with their posts.
The algorithm has solved some woes that chronologic feeds had. For instance, the time of day you posted mattered much more pre-algorithm. This caused social media “rush-hours”, certain times of day that were known to garner the most engagement. Now with the algorithm, you could post in the middle of the night and the content will still eventually reach the correct audience over the next 24 hours. After that initial 24 hours, it’s not likely to get more engagement than it has gotten in the initial day.
Every time you post, Instagram treats it as an experiment. It shows it to the first initial 10% of people your post and based on their reaction to it (what percentage of them liked and commented and shared the post) Instagram will determine the value to other users. If the post performed badly with the first 10%, Instagram will not push your post as much to the top of user’s feeds. Don’t forget, “engagement” has changed in meaning over the years. It’s widely theorized that “saves” are most valuable, “shares” are second-most valuable and comments are third. Likes have diminished in importance. Invisible keystroke measurements are also being measured by Facebook, much to the chagrin of digital privacy enthusiasts. Examples of this are how long you spend looking at a post, how long you look at a profile, and what you type into the search bar and delete without pressing “enter”.
Human Intelligence Can Still Compete with Artificial Intelligence… For Now.
Now that you understand the algorithm, how can you beat it?
- Create posts that are worth bookmarking
Because “saves” are so valuable now, you have to think about what kinds of posts are worth saving. Think about why YOU save a post. Usually, because it inspires you, you want to remember something you read on it, or it has valuable information that is worth referencing. Infographics, educational/informational long-form captions, and insider-advice are great examples of “save-worthy” posts.
- Utilize ALL the features
Instagram is a bit of a cyber-bully these days. It has added new features like stories, reels, IGTV, and IG Lives, and it will punish you for not using them. The algorithm can almost be thought of as a reward system. If you use their app in the way they’ve intended (obsessively) then it will reward you. You should be utilizing all of the features they have.
- Use tools in your story
There are many interactive tools you can use on Instagram stories. There are polls, questions, DM buttons, time/location tags, music suggestions, and more.
- Ask questions in your captions.
Asking genuine questions starts a conversation and Instagram likes that. You might ask users what their favorite skincare product is or ask them to tag a friend who loves boba tea.
- Respond to every story reply with at least an emoji.
This establishes true engagement rather than your followers talking to a wall. Instagram knows if it’s a one-way street, it isn’t a real conversation.
- HashTAG, YOU’RE IT.
Hashtags. Use them. Abuse them. They are critical in getting your post on the explore feed of your next follower. They give your posts visibility outside of your ole’ reliable follower base.
- Post Videos
Like utilizing all features, you should also utilize all types of media. Use videos, GIFs, boomerangs, carousels, and whatever else you can think of. Having a variety of media is also a great way to make sure your audience doesn’t get bored.
Use it or Lose it
Once you understand the algorithm’s goals, you can see how to align them with your own goals. Make the algorithm work for you rather than against you. Instagram’s algorithm may be controversial, but it’s not likely to change. Whatever you do, just don’t stop trying. In the world of social media, consistency is key. Your scrolling thumbs are a muscle and with any muscle, you use it, or you lose it (your following).