Instagram Algorithms: 8 Genius Ways To Master Instagram Marketing

Written By Trudi Holden. Updated 8th April 2021
Head of Digital Engagement and the face behind our social media. Trudi leads our social media strategy and content development, with a particular passion for increasing intuitive engagement.

Understanding Instagram Algorithms for business marketing

Picture this. Your perfect customer opens their Instagram. They scroll for an average of 2.95 minutes. They like a few cake pictures from their local café, comment on a Reel about cats, and save a meme to share with a friend later. As quickly as they arrived, they are back to their Zoom call or the school run.

They follow your account, so of course, they saw your latest offer. Right?

Well, that all depends on how well you ranked on the Instagram algorithm for that particular customer on that specific day.

Scheduling a few posts each week and hoping for the best won't get you very far on this constantly changing social media platform.

The good news is, with just a few informed tweaks to your Instagram strategy, your grid could turn into real-life paying customers.

The secret is understanding how Instagram's ever-evolving algorithms work and how to master them like a pro!

Instagram algorithm advice
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Instagram Algorithms for business

Once considered simply a hub for millennials to share curated, filtered photos of their breakfast smoothie bowl, Instagram is now a real game-changer for business acquisition.

90% of Instagram users follow a business - from big named brands to local bespoke service providers. Instagram is the 6th most visited website, 9th most popular Google search and 4th most popular App.

On average, a user spends at least 30 minutes a day looking at content, with the most active users spending almost a whole working day (7 hours) per week!

If you're looking to reach your dream customer exactly where they are, then the chances are they're here!

Social media is an invaluable way to get up close and personal with existing and potential clients, sharing not only your services and offers but also giving an insight into your ethos, team, and personality. The more people know about you, the more trust they have in you over your competitors.

Investing time and money into a beautiful, engaging grid isn't just about building brand awareness. Studies show that 36.2% of B2B decision-makers use Instagram to research new products or services.

But with over a billion users, how do you get your voice heard? The key is in understanding how Instagram filters content with its algorithms.

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What is an algorithm?

In a nutshell, Instagram algorithms decide what you see every time you open the App. In an instant, it trawls through all content generated from accounts and hashtags you follow and intuitively selects what you will get fed while you're there.

On average, a user follows 150 people – but often only sees the duplicate top accounts rotated on their newsfeed. You're likely here because you want to one of them.

The algorithms decide what posts, stories, reels and IGTV content people see, in which order and how often.

The organic content you see is mainly based on what Instagram has assumed you want to see based on your previous activity, including what you have commented on, shared, or regularly engaged with in the past.

It's a simple equation:

The more people like, comment, share and save your content

=  the more they will see in the future!

Instagram algorithms will also consider if you already follow each other and how reciprocal your engagement is with each other (this is important, we will come to this below!).

As a general rule, the hierarchy of which engagement action ranks the highest goes something like this:

  1. Save
  2. Comment
  3. Share
  4. Tag
  5. Like

So, as you can see, though watching numbers of followers and likes going up may give instant gratification for your latest post, a more strategic approach would be to encourage a range of engagements from your follows that cultivate a genuine interest in you.

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Keep on the pulse

Organic engagement has fallen since 2020. With more businesses going online, social media has become more competitive than ever.

Naturally, as marketeers get wiser about mastering Instagram's algorithms and up their game before long, things will change to equal the playing field again. 

Social media strategists love a good challenge, and we certainly get that with regularly changing algorithms to keep us on our toes! To keep things simple for you, we'll be sure to keep on the ball and update this post if anything changes.

8 Content hacks to rank higher on Instagram Algorithms

We always recommend authenticity over cold strategy, but here are a few of our favourite ways to use knowledge of Instagram algorithms to improve your Instagram performance:

  1. Build engagement intentions into your content plan

As we saw above, each action has a ranking of its own in terms of importance. So rather than simply planning a jam-packed calendar full of content that shouts about the things you want to communicate, be sure to build in the outcome in terms of engagement.

Ensure you regularly build content that aims to encourage shares, comments and saves to bump up your reach.

For each post, consider:

  • What is the aim of this post? To inform, entertain, update, directly sell or ask for feedback?
  • What action do I want someone to take?
  • Is there a direct call to action (CTA)?
  • How will I get them to perform the action I want?

With just a little forward-thinking, your content can go beyond the likes and reach genuine real-time engagement.

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2. Ask directly for your CTA

If you don't ask, you don't get it! The simple answer is sometimes the best. If you want comments or shares, ask for them.

Be sure to wait around for a good 30 minutes after posting to be on hand for instant replies. The more comments content gets in that first hour of posting, the higher it will rank for the rest of your followers.

Cheeky hack: I don't like a comment immediately. Save that until later. Comment straight away and keep the conversation going but save liking their comment until the next time your post on your grid. That way, they will get a notification of your like, and it will nudge them to return to your grid to see what's new!

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3. Show up consistently & be consistent

We all have that friend who's a little flaky and can't be relied on to be on time/show up at all. It's human nature to trust those who show up for us consistently and to know what to expect when they do.

Be honest with yourself about how often you can create and post content and keep it steady throughout the month. Though the Instagram algorithms does not necessarily rank you for your consistency, followers will engage more with accounts that post consistently than those who have a flurry and then drop off for weeks.

Be consistent in what you post about too. Instagram is constantly honing its algorithms to ensure users are genuinely seeing what's attractive to them. The clearer you are about your niche and your content you offer, the more accessible Instagram will find it to pick you out for your audience's interests.

4. Utilise reels

Just like those new shoes, you can't take off, despite the blister. When a platform introduces a new feature, it's going to want to show it off a lot.

Reels are the latest tool on Instagram's digital belt, and it is unashamedly prioritising Reel content in its algorithms. They are gaining 67% more engagement than regular video and outperforming regular posts, so be brave and get creating!

5. Schedule stories

Social media is essentially story-telling, and you don't get much more freedom to take people on a journey than with Instagram stories.

500+ million people use Stories daily, and one-third of the most-viewed stories come from brands.

Get creative with your stories and post regularly to keep people wanting more. The more often then choose to click on your stories, the more often you will show up as soon as they enter the App.

A few tricks to consider when creating stories:

  1. Write slightly longer content to encourage them to hold the screen to read. This increases the time spent viewing your story and lets Instagram know your audience are engaged in your content.
  2. Consider a series or specific content for days of the week, so people are anticipating and tuning into your content
  3. Build in ample opportunity for user-led content by utilising quizzes, polls and questions
  4. Use hashtags and mentions to encourage story shares
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6. Regularly post carousels

When you post several images onto your grid in one post, it creates what is known as a carousel. Not only are they great for developing visual slide shows for every photo you include, but it also creates an additional opportunity for you to show up on someone's feed. That's because Instagram will rotate which image appears, even if they have already seen the post.

Therefore, if your carousel has 4 images, that's 4 chances to pop up in front of your audience.

Carousels are not necessarily prioritised through Instagram algorithms; however, posts that earn more engagement generally get more reach. On average, carousel posts score the highest engagement rate (1.94%) compared to regular posts.

7. Build a genuine community

As mentioned above, up there on Instagram algorithms ranking is how reciprocal accounts are. It makes sense. Social media started with the intention of connecting friends and family, so it is always on the lookout for accounts that seems to vibe off of each other.

Regularly building in time to like, comment and share content of your customers, local businesses, and relevant influencers tell Instagram that you are here for the social, not just to promote a product.

In addition to building an authentic connection with your audience and building in priceless opportunities to get to know them and their needs, engaging with others ensures your name is in people's hearts and minds for longer.

8. Be on-trend with hashtags

Now, we have gone round in circles with this one. While some Instagram experts have suggested 11 is the optimum number of hashtags to use per post, others have advised going for the full 30 allowed.

Our take on it? Quality over quantity is best. Taking the time to collate the right hashtags will be well worth it.

Best Hashtags is an excellent resource for finding relevant hashtags for your top choices, and looking at those used by your favourite, relevant accounts is good practice too. To avoid being stagnated in your assumed vital words, it's crucial to keep on the ball with what is trending – and not be afraid sometimes to curate content specifically to use them.

After all, hashtags are not only a tool for your audience to find your content. When used cleverly, they can lead new demographics to discover you too.

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