If you've been on Instagram for a while, you may have noticed a few changes to your feed.
As a user, the algorithm changes may leave you delighted (or frustrated) by what you're seeing in your feed. But as a business trying to market on social media, knowing how each platform's algorithm works will help you create and post content that will get noticed by your target audience.
In this post, we'll give you a brief history of the Instagram feed and let you know how your business can take advantage of the latest algorithm update.
A Brief History of the Instagram Feed
2010-2016: Chronological Feed
When Instagram launched in 2010, all posts were sorted chronologically without a complicated algorithm.
Over the next six years, it made some changes to how posts could be sorted and searched – using hashtags and photo tagging to categorize images – but the order of the feed stayed pretty much the same.
2016: Algorithm Feed
By fall 2015, Instagram had grown to 400 million active monthly users. With so many new accounts to follow, users' feeds had an unruly amount of content to sort, and Instagram found that users missed nearly 70% of their feeds.
So in March 2016, Instagram switched its feed from chronological order to an algorithm. Since switching to the algorithm feed, Instagram claims users are seeing 90% of their friends’ posts.
But the algorithm change came with mixed reviews from users. Fans of the chronological feed complained that they couldn’t see all the posts from people they follow and that posts that were weeks old were given prominence.
Even users who liked the idea of an algorithm were unsure how it actually worked. A user would know their feed was out of order, but they wouldn’t know why certain posts were being put at the top over other ones.
2018: The Algorithm Evolves
After a couple years of changes to the app, Instagram decided to be more transparent with upcoming changes to its algorithm.
This clarity came in early June 2018, when Instagram made another large shift in its algorithm. Instagram held a small meeting with some media outlets to explain how the new algorithm prioritizes the feed.
Today's Instagram Ranking Factors
In 2018, a user’s feed is determined by three main factors: Interest, timeliness, and relationship.
1. Interest: Instagram puts what it believes you want to see at the top of the feed.
This is determined by past engagement, such as “liking” or commenting on posts. The algorithm takes note of your likes and comments then shows you similar content.
This is especially noticeable in the Explore page on Instagram. If you were to watch a video from the Food Network, then you will notice your Explore page will be full of cooking videos.
2. Timeliness: How long ago a picture or video was posted will determine its priority in the new algorithm.
This had been a problem with the algorithm in the past. Users would see posts from multiple days, or even weeks ago, at the top of their feeds. Now, posts within the past day will have a higher priority over older ones.
3. Relationship: The more you interact with someone, the higher priority their posts will have in your feed.
The algorithm will take note of how often you comment on or get tagged in someone’s pictures, and how often you tag them in your pictures.
Also keep in mind…
Along with the main factors above, there are three minor factors that determine the algorithm:
Frequency: How often are you using the app? If you log in often, you will see more recent posts.
Following: If you follow a lot of accounts, the algorithm will choose a more diverse feed for you to see instead of showing all the posts from a single user.
Usage: The longer you spend on the app, the wider the variety of posts you will see. If you spend a short time on the app, you will see only the most relevant posts to you.
Myths about the Instagram Algorithm
During this meeting, Instagram also debunked some myths about the feed:
- Instagram does NOT favor users who use new and special features on the app, such as Live or Stories.
- Users aren't penalized in the feed for posting more often.
- Instagram doesn’t give more feed presence to either business accounts or personal accounts.
- Instagram doesn't hide posts containing too many hashtags.
There you have it. Finally, an answer to why Instagram’s feed is in the order that it is in. Gone are the days of being left in the dark on why you see certain posts, and why you may not see others.
Now that you know how the algorithm works, you can have a larger and more effective social media presence.
To stay up-to-date on the latest on Instagram and other social media platforms, you can sign up for our monthly No-Panic Guide to Online Marketing. July and August are devoted entirely to social media marketing, so you don't want to miss it!
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