The Science Behind the Instagram Algorithm

Instagram has come a long way since it was released in 2010. Initially, you could only post photos taken within the app and add one of the 23 filters that Instagram provided you with. Fast forward to 2017, you can share photos taken on any device and from any time, you can make all your own edits beforehand or edit in the Instagram app. You can post videos up to 1 minute in length, you can direct message, other users, you can share multiple images (up to 10) in one go creating a slideshow, you can post pictures or video to "Stories' which disappear within 24 hours, you can even go Live and live broadcast video from your Instagram! Phew, that's a lot of updates to what was a just a simple photo sharing app.

So why is it so important to businesses? In 6 years, the platform has grown to more than 600 million users and is continuing to increase, 95 million photos are shared every day, and by the end of 2017, it is believed that more than 70% of all brands will have an Instagram account. That's a whole lot of potential customers and a whole lot of competition for their attention.

I wrote an e-course specifically with the small business owner in mind. I want to help business owners to reach their passive customers who are hanging out on Instagram just waiting to be discovered. Instagram users are some of the most affluent of any social platform, making them the perfect target customer. Statistics show that engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times higher than Facebook, 54 times higher than Pinterest and 84 times higher than Twitter! There is no reason why your account should be any different.

Algorithms are everywhere, all social media platforms have them, Google has one. Algorithms are mostly a list of instructions that tell a computer program what to do and in what order. Think about it like the process of getting dressed, you put your socks on before your shoes, your underwear before your trousers etc. Instagram has an algorithm, and it is heavily discussed and "hacked". Nobody, apart from Instagram, really truly knows how it works or what you need to do to "hack it". All we know is what we believe works, and in my course, I teach my students my "hacks" to make their posts perform and their Instagram to become a successful marketing channel for their business.

If you're considering signing up to my e-course, It's important to know I don't have a magic formula to make your Instagram successful, just like with everything in life, it requires hard work and dedication, but it's also fun!

The Instagram algorithm went through quite a significant update in June 2016 changing the way a user viewed other users posts. No longer would you see posts in chronological order but instead you are served content based on what the algorithm saw as valuable content that you would engage with. This caused a great deal of frustration to Instagram users, and many large accounts saw their engagement drop overnight. Since then everyone has been trying to "hack" the algorithm and work out how to make their content seem valuable to the algorithm and be shown to more users.

In February 2017 Thomas Dimson from Instagram talked at the Machine Learning @ Scale Event in New York and gave us a precious insight into the algorithm and why Instagram moved from their chronological model.

Instagram found that the average user was missing out on 70% of the content they would perhaps want to see, and they tried to make way for the user to see more relevant content when they logged into the app. To prevent users feeling they needed to follow fewer accounts, they looked at how they could make us, the users, happy each and every time we logged in and to do this, it needed to learn our habits and what makes us happy. Instagram looks at several proxies to see what makes you "happy", this includes:

The likes and comments you give and receive

How much you view vs post

How much time you spend on a post and within the app

The content you upload.

Who and how often you use direct message

The types of searches you do

Once they have worked this out, they have to work then out how to best serve you content. To work out what you might like to see Instagram assess you vs the content Author, this includes, but is not limited to:

Your follower/following status (i.e. are they following you as well as you following them)

Do you know them in real life? (i.e. are you Facebook friends with them)

The current engagement level of that piece of content (i.e. is it popular)

The recency of that post (i.e. was it posted 5 minutes ago or 5 hours)

Your historical interaction with that Authors content (i.e. do you usually like/comment when shown their posts or similar posts by other Authors)

The algorithm then makes assumptions based on the above and tracks your actions and refines this each and every time you use the app and is tailored to groups of people, which Instagram call "Clusters". These "Clusters" are made up of 10,000 + people, and they all have a similar interaction pattern to each other.

Taking into consideration all the above, how do you get into a highly engaged Cluster which will propel your content to the top of people's feeds? Well, this is what my e-course teaches my students. Thomas said in his talk that "Feedback is a Gift" and essentially that is what this algorithm has been built on. Receiving likes on your posts, makes you happy, giving likes and comments, makes the Author happy and overall it makes everyone's experience richer (and the Instagram "Economy" continue to grow).

One of the key learnings I took away from this talk is that the algorithm SUPPORTS smaller accounts, which is why all the complaining is coming from the large Instagram accounts who saw their engagement drop overnight. Instagram didn't want to make the platform all about Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez who have millions of followers; instead, they tried to level the playing field. This means, you and your few hundred or even thousand followers, have a got an even better chance of growing than you did pre-June 2016!

The Instagram algorithm is very similar to Facebook's algorithm, and since Facebook now owns Instagram, it's not surprising that what has worked so effectively for Facebook is now being applied to Instagram. Take a look at the below infographic for Facebook, this essentially sums up what Instagram is trying to assess when showing you content when you log into the app.

I mentor and coach clients on how to create meaningful content that adds value to their customers, grows their audience, increases engagement, but more importantly, converts to sales. If you’d like to know more about how we can work together, get in touch here.

© 2017 Social Mouth Ltd