The Instagram algorithm has been controversial for past year. When Facebook took over the platform, they quickly implemented a new Instagram algorithm. This algorithm changed the way we receive information. Previously, we saw posts in chronological order on Instagram. Now, an algorithm decides what posts we see first based on certain criteria.
The 5 Key Instagram Algorithm Factors are:
- Interaction – the accounts you frequently interact with. This includes viewing stories, liking posts, saving posts, sharing posts, sending DMs or commenting on posts.
- Engagement – how popular an certain post is. This includes likes, comments and saves.
- Relevance – how relevant the content is to topics you’ve shown interest in. This includes hashtags you follow or search, or hashtags you personally use.
- Searches – the accounts you search for on Instagram
- Time – the amount of time spent viewing a post, story or profile as well as the time a post was shared.
The Instagram Algorithm was designed to show you the content you’re most interested in. However, human behavior threw a wrench in the plan. The ease of scrolling Instagram makes it easy to forget to engage in accounts you’ve selected to follow. By doing so, users naturally stopped liking and commenting on as many photos. Therefore, instantly altering your “relevant content”. Designed to be visual platform, users often spend less than two seconds viewing a post as they scroll to the next. This inherently alters the Instagram algorithm again by shortening the time spent viewing a post.
The Instagram Algorithm Study
For seven days, we tried numerous variables while posting to see what posts performed best. From hashtag variations to time of day posting, to geo tags and comment pods. Here are our findings:
DAY 1 –
We posted in our Stories a screenshot of our profile – asking how many of those nine images anyone had seen organically in their newsfeed. The results were disheartening, to say the least. On average, our followers were seeing three of our posts over the course of nine days.
What we learned: SO MANY of our followers were feeling cheated by having missed so many of our posts. We felt defeated and oddly isolated. However, we quickly learned that providing a call to action in our stories resulted in higher clicks to our profile (which Instagram says contributes the algorithm).
DAY 2 –
We posted a photo with me in it, around 7pm PST. Historically, photos with people in it perform better than ones without. For this post, we added our 30 hashtags to the caption immediately after posting it. This post performed decently, with over 350 likes trickling in over the first few days. Most interestingly, this post prompted 102 profile visits. Again, a large contributor to the Instagram algorithm.
DAY 3 –
We posted a lifestyle type photo at 3:30pm PST with a strong call to action at the beginning of the caption. We also added star emojis to the beginning of the post to help differentiate it from our normal captions. The key here was adding a call to action in our Instagram story immediately after posting, urging people to engage on our post. This time – we didn’t add any hashtags for the first 24 hours the post was live. In the first hour, the post had received 300 likes. By the end of the week, there were over 222 comments, 16 saves and more than 600 likes.
What we learned: Hashtags cause the algorithm to slow down your post. A caption without hashtags appears more “authentic”. For the remainder of the week, we would continue to add hashtags the next day. Additionally, we learned that adding a call to action in our Story prompted strong engagement.
We posted a quote image that we created, again in the afternoon. Quote cards often do well, but this one performed better than any before. The image was saved 64 times and reached almost 5,000 people. That was twice as many as any post recently. We also took a poll in our Instagram Story as to how many people spend most of their time scrolling their feed versus watching Stories. 60% of answers said they mainly watch Stories, and no longer spend time scrolling through their Instagram newsfeed.
What we learned: Post more quotes.
As for the results of the newsfeed vs. Stories poll, that could explain a LOT of why people aren’t seeing posts. It’s because they aren’t looking. 60% of people said they no longer look at their newsfeed. That could play a fundamental role in why people are experiencing lower post engagement.
Our 5th post was another original content piece, posted earlier in the afternoon. When the post started off slow, we went this off to two “comment pods”. These comment pods (two groups of close friends in a DM) will like and comment on a post they may have missed in their feed, which helps boost the algorithm.
What we learned: Don’t post earlier than 3pm unless it’s first thing in the morning.
We posted an interior decor image in a different view than shared before at 8:15am on Saturday morning. This post performed really well and is still receiving lots of likes and comments 36 hours later. After 8 hours, we added hashtags specifically describing the image, leaving out vague industry related ones.
What we learned: Original content always does best. Early weekend posts can perform well also.
With an Instagram Business account, you are provided insightful analytics. We’ve included our own personal results from the performance of the week below.
The Best Tactics to Beat the Instagram Algorithm
For six days, we tried numerous variables while posting to see what posts performed best. Below, we’ve listed our recommendations for the best Instagram tactics to increase your exposure. These recommendations are based on our personal experiences only. However, they’re also the strategies we’ll continue to use for our own business account.
- Original content is key – whether it’s a thoughtful snap from your iPhone, or one shot with a photographer, original photos perform better than any others. While strong stock photography is a helpful filler, your engagement will grow by incorporating more original content. We recommend a ratio of 60% original, 40% stock.
- Post in the afternoon – post between 3-4pm for longevity. Post between 8:30-9:30pm for quick engagement.
- Don’t use hashtags for 60 minutes after posting – refrain from posting a group of hashtags for the first hour. Add your hashtags by editing your original caption, not by placing them in a comment like many people used to.
- Change your hashtags with each post – when you do add hashtags, make sure they are entirely relevant to the content in your image or caption. Stick to 15-20 per post that are all thematic to your content, avoiding over used tags.
- Use your Stories – every time you post, mention it in your stories with a specific call to action asking people to engage. Sometimes, we need a reminder to break the human nature to simply scroll or stare.
- Post regularly – one post a day is optimum for your feed, while consistent posting throughout the day on your Story is ideal. Stories do a better job of refreshing chronologically than your newsfeed, so frequent posts spread throughout the day increases your visibility.
- Include hashtags in your stories – Use one or two key hashtags in your stories to increase visibility.
- Add VALUE to your content – whether directing followers to a great sale, giving away a free download, providing advice, or solving a problem for people – make your content add value to your followers lives.
More than anything, be an active participant. ENGAGE in other people’s content. Like photos as you scroll. Leave comments. Answer polls. Initiate conversations. It is a two way street and your growth will come from thoughtful engagement.
Now that Part 1 of our Instagram Algorithm study has concluded – we’re on to something bigger. Later this week we’ll share a plan to help get Instagram’s attention. Our goal is to get Instagram back to being instant – and the newsfeed back to chronological order. We’ve collected dozens of personal stories as to why this is crucial. Examples of how the new algorithm is threatening our businesses, our friendships and our freedom of speech.
In the meantime, try implementing our suggested techniques this week and let us know how they work for you. This is a conversation, not a lecture. If you have ideas, we want to hear them. The more knowledge we share, the more successful we all become.
The Identité Collective is a full service creative studio for interior designers and boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help small businesses elevate their digital presence to become industry experts. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here.