How the Instagram algorithm really works

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Everything you need to know about the Instagram chronological news feed comeback, and why the algorithm still matters.

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In 2022, just to keep us all on our toes, Instagram reintroduced its chronological news feed and once again shuffled its algorithm. The app has confirmed three new feed options will soon be available in the app: Home, Favorites, and a chronological Following feed. Yes, the chronological feed is making a comeback and is going to affect the Instagram algorithm.

But what does this mean for you?

Firstly, this will help combat the rise of quick tips and hacks aimed at “beating the algorithm”. This content has been relentlessly showing up over the past two years. Some of the advice is quite solid. However, most of it is rooted in quick fixes without going back to any strategy or framework.

Secondly, it gives us more opportunities to get our content seen on Instagram. Instead of focusing on the quantity of content, quality of engagement will become what truly helps you stand out from the crowd.

Yet, the algorithm was first introduced to improve the experience for users. According to Instagram chief Adam Mosseri’s words, the algorithm dictates how Instagram can improve and optimise the journey when using the app.

When we first launched in 2010, Instagram was a single stream of photos in chronological order. But as more people joined and more was shared, it became impossible for most people to see everything, let alone all the posts they cared about. By 2016, people were missing 70% of all their posts in Feed, including almost half of posts from their close connections. So we developed and introduced a Feed that ranked posts based on what you care about most.

So why the sudden change? Mosseri gives us the low-down on Twitter. When we take a second to think about it – this new update will create more opportunities for Instagram to deliver suggested content through the main landing-page feed, while still allowing people to continue to follow accounts they like.

Introducing ‘favorites’ and ‘following’ feeds

The Favorites feed will feature content from accounts that the user chooses. For example, Mosseri says he uses it for siblings, certain creators, and friends. It will highlight a curated list of accounts from the individual user. The Following feed setting will bring back the chronological stream of posts from accounts you follow.

I am expecting to see a lot more users trying to make their way in their audiences ‘Favorites’ going forward. Spend time engaging with your current audience and creating a strategy. It may come a time you’ll have to nudge them to add you to their ‘favorites’.

Yet, the Following feed is going to potentially level the playing field for a lot of creators struggling to reach their current audiences. So, where will the algorithm be working in the new feed views?

Algorithm ranking in the Home Feed

Better understanding how your content is categorised on the main home feed matters. As Adam Mosseri explained in 2021, Instagram doesn’t have one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app. They use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose.

When it comes to the Home Feed, the biggest lesson from the article is that the Feed and stories ranking is based on relationships and habits, and patterns as the app is trying to detect behaviours to prioritise people that we’re closest to.

The first we’ll call Home — which is the Instagram experience you know today, where we rank content based on how interested we think you are in each and every post, to try to make the most of your time.

To rank the algorithm, they broke it down for us in steps, called signals, which can be helpful for you when building your strategy. Four signals are used across the different parts of the app:

  • Information about the post – this includes how many people have liked it. when it was posted, video length, and location.
  • Information about the person who posted – how many times people have interacted with that person, your relationship with them
  • Your activity – for discoverability purposes, it goes back to signals such as how many posts you’ve liked, specific topics
  • Your history of interacting with someone – how interested you are generally in seeing posts from a particular person

These signals help Instagram dictating why we see different things throughout the app.

It’s essential to create an engagement strategy as well as a content strategy. Get clear on when your followers are online. See what content resonates will signal Instagram that you are creating more of what’s working, favouring you in the Feed.

Ranking in Explore

Your content will rank differently in different parts of the app, including the Explore feed and the Reels tab. Understanding the Explore ranking system. Especially since Instagram may use this algorithm in the Home feed more prominently.

  • Instagram argues that the way they rank explore is very different from the feed. Because of that, they will try to create a slightly different experience, which is also based on topics and various types of interaction.
  • Instagram will look at how popular a post seems to be, tracking signals like how many and how quickly other people like, commenting, sharing, and saving a post.
  • These signals matter much more in Explore than they do in Feed or Stories.

It goes back to a point I highly encourage you to taken board when mapping your content. Make sure your audience is saving and sharing your content. It’s going to help Instagram signal that this content is something that people who don’t follow you will be interested in consuming.

The signals are the same as the ones in the in the regular Feed. However, they’ll tailor them for people that don’t know you yet. For example, knowing what posts you’ve liked, saved or commented on and how you’ve interacted with posts in Explore in the past will be used to recommend you similar content.

Encourage your followers and audience to engage with you because it will help people find you on the Explore, based on the core keywords and topics that your posts and images will be related to. Also, spending more time as a marketer in the Explore feed can help you look at Instagram content through the lenses of your ideal audience.

Ranking in Reels tab

Reels are designed to entertain you; much like Explore, most of what you see as a user is from accounts you don’t follow. Elements like effects and trending audios help you with the algorithm. In fact, they will help create predictions based on what people are currently watching.

Thanks to the new insights, you can track how many people watch your Reel all the way through. The app’s information about the Reel is highly ranked as the content within the video. You can improve discoverability by choosing the right elements such as the audio track and popularity of filters.

Trends matter on Reels. A lot. The choice of video, the style, all the way down to the audio, and the effects will signal the level of popularity of a specific Reel. Hop on a trend to aid discoverability.

Making the most of Instagram new feed views

Instagram is counting some specific actions as something that you can use to tune the overall experience. The introduction of new feeds is going to be a game-changer for users. Understanding how to craft your very own experience when navigating the app is going to affect what you see in the different feeds.

  1. Pick close friends as this will prioritise them in both stories and home feed. They will probably be able to add to your ‘Favorites’ soon.
  2. Mute people you do not want to hear from to help to rank your Home Feed.
  3. Mark recommended posts as not interested, especially when you are in Explore. This will help Instagram fine-tuning your topics of interest.

Ensure that you got clear on the topics and keywords that you were working on when it comes to your Explore feed. Encourage your audience to engage in any possible way, especially likes, comments, saves and shares.

If you are investing time on Reels, hop on current trends and use trending audio or filters. Mimic popular structure of your video can help signal Instagram that your video is among the ones that have been trending recently, helping you boost discoverability.

It is essential to fully understand the Instagram algorithm update. Using these new insights to better shape your strategy can help you find more clarity around how to use Instagram going forward.

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