The Instagram Algorithm In 2020: Part 2


Be sure to check out Part 1 of our Instagram Algorithm blog HERE!

The all-consuming question regarding Instagram in 2019: “Does anyone know what’s going on with the Instagram algorithm?”

What’s the goal of Instagram’s algorithm? What data does it collect? Is the algorithm the same among different features? What does it calculate? How does it work?!

We’re here to break down the following:

  1. Instagram algorithm in relation to feed posts

  2. Instagram algorithm in relation to story posts

  3. Instagram algorithm in relation to IGTV

  4. Instagram algorithm and the Explore page

Instagram Algorithm In Relation To Feed Posts

While, yes, the Instagram algorithm is constantly changing, there are a few key things that remain the same. According to Instagram, there are 6 factors that are considered in the Instagram algorithm for your Feed posts:

  • Interest

  • Relationship

  • Frequency

  • Following

  • Timeliness

  • Usage

The Instagram algorithm is changing ALL the time, based on the data that’s collected every second. On Instagram’s Live Q&A, someone asked, “How often do you change the Instagram algorithm?”

Instagram’s answer: “Because it’s powered by machine learning, Instagram’s feed ranking is constantly adapting and improving based on new data.”

Social Light Tip: Before we dive in, we suggest following Instagram’s ‘Creators’ account for myth-busters, tips, and ideas, all straight from Instagram themselves.

1. Interest

The Instagram algorithm can predict, based on recent content you’ve engaged with, what posts may earn your engagement - this doesn’t necessarily mean you’d follow them, just that you might engage with certain posts (however, you as a user are probably more likely to follow someone you engage with frequently).

Everything you see in your feed is most likely based on your previous engagements and behaviors on Instagram. This includes feed posts, Instagram stories, and even what comes up for you on the Explore page.

2. Relationship

Instagram’s algorithm also determines the relationship between you and your followers.

Instagram figures out who you “care” about the most in the following ways:

  • The people who know and hang out with in real life (and therefore tag in photos)

  • People you search for

  • People whose content you like

  • People you direct message

Example: If you begin following someone, you may notice their posts immediately begin to show up on your feed. However, if you don’t engage with those posts, you’ll probably notice they begin to become less and less frequent. This is Instagram learning that you probably won’t be interacting with with their posts or providing engagement.

This is why consistent posting is so important - even if it’s just your Instagram stories!

3. Frequency

This brings us into how often you're opening the app.

Remember when Instagram tried to put posts in chronological order? That didn’t go over too well. But if you’re opening the app frequently, you’ll probably notice some posts in chronological order since Instagram is gathering the best posts for you since you logged on last. However, if you don’t open the app as often, then you may see content that Instagram thinks is more tailored to you - and Instagram could be wrong. This is where your engagement on posts comes in.

Simple as that! This isn’t such a huge determining factor that you need to worry about and address, but more of something to be aware of.

4. Following

Want to see more of the posts of people you care about? Instagram notices how many people you’re following, so if you follow a lot of accounts, you probably won’t even see the majority of posts by the other 959 people you’re following.

Social Light Tip: Go through the accounts you follow and see if there’s anyone you want to unfollow (Instagram even lets you sort who you're following by most recent or earliest followed!). Then check in on some accounts you haven’t seen posts for in a while and engage with a few photos.

5. Timeliness

Unless you don’t log in often, you probably won’t see posts from over 24 hours ago. Instagram is constantly trying to keep your feed fresh for YOU based on so many factors. This is why, from a posting perspective, it’s a good idea to understand your best time to post so your followers see your content.

Do you ever notice that you usually get the majority of your engagements within 24 hours of posting? You might get a couple likes outside of that 24-hour window but it’ll most likely begin to dwindle down.

6. Usage

Yep! Instagram calculates your app usage. Here’s the breakdown of what you might see:

Spending a lot of time on Instagram during the day? You may see more diverse posts from more diverse accounts that you follow each time. That’s because Instagram has most likely already shown you what they know to be the posts and accounts you’re guaranteed to interact with, so they dig a little deeper to find more for you.

Spend only a few minutes on Instagram each day? You’ll most likely see the usual accounts you interact and engage with.

Instagram Algorithm In Relation To Story Posts

This is almost too simple (come on, Instagram). The Stories that show up closest to “Your Story” are accounts you engage with the most. This includes anything with that account - Feed or Story posts. Period.

Even accounts that don’t engage back show up in the front. Here’s an example of my featured Instagram Stories that show up first when I open the app:

After Instagram Live Notifications:

A Social Light client, our company videographer, and another client

It shows you the latest from your favorite accounts. That’s why some individuals or brands post on their Stories throughout the day, so they’re the first you see when you open the app.

Instagram Algorithm In Relation To IGTV

IGTV is still relatively new and still evolving, but there are few similar criteria as Instagram Feed posts.

You’ll notice the three categories - For You, Following, and Popular - when it comes to IGTV.

“For You” is exactly what you think it is: videos that Instagram thinks you specifically will like.

“Following” is videos from people you follow (duh).

“Popular” is videos that are trending on IGTV.

Looking for your IGTV videos to be seen? The best thing you can do is put a Preview on your Instagram Feed! This is the first minute of the video that’s placed on your grid, then gives the viewer the option to continue watching more on your IGTV. This Preview also counts as Feed content, which Instagram calculates the engagement for!

Instagram Algorithm And The Explore Page

Forget everything you just learned...just kidding! Although the algorithm is different for the Explore page, it works similarly to the Instagram Feed algorithm.

The Explore page is there for just what you think it is...for you to explore new content and accounts, and it’s always customized to you based on what Instagram thinks you’d like. Instagram now also allows you to search by topic on the Explore page.

Here’s what my Explore page consists of:

  • Fun hair & makeup tutorials (these are so addicting)

  • Shopping suggestions (uh-oh)

  • Wine (no shame...)

  • Workout/wellness content (recipes, workout routines, fitness apparel)

  • Memes about food and The Office (priorities)

Looking to get on the Explore page? It’s actually not as difficult as it seems. Follow our tips above, and subscribe to our blog to be the first to know when our post about how to get on the Instagram Explore page goes live!

Social Light Tip: it doesn’t hurt to use relevant hashtags!


Want to learn more? Be sure to check out Part 1 of our Instagram Algorithm blog HERE!

Trying to figure out Instagram alone for your brand can be difficult. Take a look at Social Light’s Company Deck to learn more about how we can help you - then let’s jump on a call to get to know each other and discuss the future of your brand!

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