The Instagram Algorithm In 2021: PART 1

Whether you meticulously study the Instagram algorithm until your eyes bleed or not, you’ve probably noticed quite a few changes - some obvious, like Instagram Reels and where you go on your account to post - but what about the changes you can’t see? We’re dissecting the changes to the Instagram algorithm for the year 2021 so you don’t have to!

In the beginning of time there was man. Much much later, man invented Instagram and created a brand new digital world that other humans revolved their lives around...honestly, is that not the case? If you’re reading this, you probably rely on the platform - heavily or not - whether it be for your business, a personal brand, or utilizing the world of influencer marketing one way or another.

Instagram has somewhat maintained its original mission statement throughout all its changes: “to capture and share the world’s moments.” While users find ways to take full advantage of the platform (and some find ways to cheat the algorithm), Instagram is constantly changing.

Before we take a look at the Instagram updates, it’s important to first reference back to their original vision and core values. These roots are often maintained with each algorithm change:

  • Limitless sharing

  • Community first

  • Inspire creativity

  • Simplicity matters

Instagram emphasizes that its priority lies with its users by tailoring all its features to be as user-friendly as possible. It blends this with creativity to ensure that they are left awestruck and longing for more of the experiences. Since communication and creating moments is the objective of the company, Instagram has demonstrated caution through its open simplicity such as ease to upload, edit and share images.”

Part 1 of this below focuses solely on Instagram Feed posts. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will cover Instagram Stories, IGTV and Reels, and the Explore Page.

Subscribe to our blog to be notified when Part 2 drops!

The following information is useful for all users: infrequent app users, frequent app users, average accounts, influencers, and brands/businesses.


We’ve mentioned the factors that affect the Instagram algorithm in our 2020 blog post… (one moment, had some 2020 PTSD for a minute. I’m back now) but Instagram has made some slight but big changes to each:

  • Interest

  • Relationship

  • Timeliness

  • Frequency

  • Following

  • Usage

1. Interest

You probably know by now that when you like a post on the gram, you’ll be targeted by other similar accounts, posts, or ads. Your Instagram feed is essentially mirroring all your digital behaviors back to you. Anything you’re tagged in, like, comment, save, share, etc, all affects what you see in your feed.

This is why posting consistently, and on all areas of Instagram (feed, stories, reels) is so important. The more you post, the more your audience and prospective audience will have an opportunity to interact with you. Hence, you’ll show up more on their feed.

When it comes to engagement, likes are surprisingly no longer the most important factor:



  3. Saves, shares & reposts

  4. Video views

However, Social Light’s 2021 theory is that likes are becoming more and more irrelevant day-by-day. Certain countries have already hidden likes from public view. If we were to order engagement factors by their significance, we’ve noticed this to be the most accurate:


  2. Saves, shares & reposts


  4. Video views

There’s also another engagement rumor out there: the amount of time you spend looking at a post without even engaging tells Instagram you must have somewhat enjoyed it. This is a factor in the TikTok algorithm and with Instagram’s introduction of Reels, it’s definitely a possibility. But we’ll dive into this later.

Instagram changing their algorithm like:

Social Light Tip: Now knowing what engagement factors are most important, take your time to give max engagement to posts and accounts you enjoy! You’ll REALLY be helping them out, and they may notice you and be inspired to give that engagement right back.

We’re officially declaring 2021 as the year of engagement kindness!

2. Relationship

Me: “Yo, I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want”

Instagram: “So tell me what you want, what you really, really want”

You ARE in charge... even though it feels like you’re not. Instagram cares about what you care about. While the extreme invasion of privacy can be confusing and/or curious, it’s also pretty helpful in Instagram customizing your digital experience.

How this specific aspect of the algorithm works would have to be a whole other blog post (and honestly, I’m not sure we need to scare you with that information), but Instagram understands and dissects your IRL relationships with others based on:

  • Whose content you engage with

  • Whose photos you’re tagged in and who you tag

  • People you search for

  • People you know in real life

  • People you DM (I know...)

Whenever you follow someone new, Instagram puts their content in your feed to see how you interact with them and goes from there.

Social Light Tip: Do you randomly remember some accounts you follow but you realized you haven’t seen their posts in a while? Search their account and go like some of their posts! You’ll probably see them pop back up in your feed (and vice versa).

3. Timeliness

This is where posting consistently can be helpful. Instagram wants to show your followers the latest and greatest of what you post, so they’re starting to care less about past posts. That’s why it’s important to maintain a consistent posting schedule to stay relevant in feeds.

Social Light Tip: Over the years of business, we’ve used several automated systems to determine our clients best times to post but have yet to find a fully accurate system to calculate this. Using our scheduling and reporting system alongside manual strategies, we’ve determined that the most accurate way to find your best posting times is by testing it manually.

Manual Discovery

Determining the best days and times for posting could take a little trial and error over the course of a month. Post on different days at different times each week and be checking your Instagram analytics. You’ll see a pattern for which days work best for you.

Don’t be afraid to play around with it and don’t get too discouraged if you’re seeing low engagement. Keep track of what does AND what definitely doesn’t work. If you need help staying consistent with posting in order to determine these times, that’s where a scheduling platform is most beneficial!

Automatic Discovery

If you’re looking to try the automated route, you’ll probably want to sign up for a scheduling platform that has the ability to calculate your best times. However, you’ll most likely have to pay for it, and we don’t recommend relying solely on this method.

Keep in mind that if you chat with a customer service representative for your scheduler, they won’t be able to tell you exactly how they determine your best times or what data they pull from where. Instagram doesn’t give away company secrets so unless your scheduler is an OFFICIAL partner with Instagram (there are different platforms that the algorithm is more compatible with, yes, but no official contracted partners), then they probably use their own algorithm and data system to determine your best posting times… not Instagram’s. Therefore, is it even accurate to Instagram?

We’d say probably not.

4. Frequency

Timeliness and Frequency sort of go hand-in-hand.

Instagram shows you the best and most relevant posts to you since you last opened the app. If the majority of your audience frequently opens the app (meaning 2 or more times a day), your posts will show up in a more chronological order, therefore you’ll probably want to post more frequently to provide them with fresh content. While once each day is still considered a pretty high amount of posting per week, maybe that’s what works for you (see Timeliness section above)!

You can take a look at your Instagram analytics to determine the demographics of your audience, when they’re most likely online, and therefore how frequently you should be posting.

5. Following

If you’ve had your Instagram account for a while, you probably have several inactive accounts still following you and it may be in your best interest to remove those from your following.

If they’re inactive they’re contributing to your following, yes, but not to your engagement rate, which we know by now is the most important factor when it comes to anything on the business side of your Instagram account.

Not to mention, if a lot of your followers are inactive, that inactivity is probably doing more harm than good for your accounts algorithm ranking. Yes, it’ll be sad to remove those followers you worked so hard to gain but it’ll be better in the long run.

6. Usage

The more you use Instagram, the more Instagram will show you. If you don’t use it that often, Instagram will only show you the highlights from that day (or that week if you really don’t use the app).

Simple as that (finally).


We’s EXHAUSTING to have to change up your strategies every time the Instagram algorithm changes even a little bit.

Full transparency (hey 👋🏻 Malena here), I’m splitting this blog up into 2 parts because it’s a lot of information, but also because I can’t handle writing any more information about the algorithm today. I’m somehow mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted from all this research.

But, I’ve said it before... we do this research so you don’t have to. As our business grows, we know we can’t take on every potential client that comes our way. And not everyone needs a full marketing team! So we’re providing you with a well of knowledge so you can be prepared and develop your own effective strategies!

Whether you have questions, are ready for a full team, or anything in between, send us an email! We’re happy to help in any way we can.

Subscribe to our blog to be notified when Part 2 drops!