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How The Instagram Algorithm Works

In 2016, Instagram switched up its algorithm and posts started showing in what was to users a complex and not discernible order. This had an implication for businesses that use the platform as a primary social media platform to interact with the it their target audience. This is especially so for travel agencies and sellers of many products.

The new algorithm seemed to prioritise one account’s content over another, prompting calls for fairness. It was hard to understand why one post/content was prioritised over another. It was no more just about putting up a post or content.

The firm has however provided answers as to how the new algorithm works. In a recently hosted information session at its San Francisco offices, the firm set the record straight on how user experience is determined.

Here are the factors that go into how Instagram prioritizes what an individual user will see as they scroll, according to the company as shared by Lydia Bélà her, editor at

Instagram uses machine learning to surface up the posts a user is most likely to care about based on past behavior. If a user has liked, commented on or lingered over similar content in the past, they’ll likely see it again. For example, if you always hover over photos of slices of cheesy pizza, Instagram will show you similar images more often.

Even though Instagram has ditched showing posts in chronological order, it still won’t show you something posted too long ago. Most posts users see are a few days, if not minutes old.

If you interact with a certain person or account frequently — commenting on their photos, being tagged together in their posts — you’ll see their posts more often.

Instagram also detailed three ways in which usage patterns influence the makeup of feeds:

The more often a user opens the Instagram app, the more often Instagram will refresh that users’ feed, with the above considerations in mind, to surface new, relevant content.

The more accounts a user follows, the more options Instagram has of what to serve up. Instagram will try to diversify feeds of users who follow a large volume of accounts.

The average duration of an Instagram user’s scroll session also comes into play. If you have short sessions, you’ll be more likely to see the most relevant posts during those brief periods. But if you tend to scroll for longer periods of time, you’ll see a wider variety.

In addition to outlining the algorithm’s innerworkings during the media info session, Instagram also took the opportunity to dispel some common myths about how it generates feeds.

For one, if you scroll long enough, you’ll see everything from everyone you follow — Instagram won’t purposely hide anything from you just because it thinks you aren’t interested.
You’ll see more photos (versus videos) if you tend to linger looking at photos longer; likewise you’ll see fewer videos if you tend to scroll past them without watching.
If a user often posts Stories or Live videos, taking advantage of all of the app’s bells and whistles, Instagram won’t value them as a power user and promote their content in users’ feeds, contrary to suspicions.
Just as Instagram doesn’t reward power users, it doesn’t silence or “downrank” those who post extremely often or add dozens of hashtags to their captions. However, a user is not likely to see multiple posts from the same account in a row.
Instagram weights content from personal accounts (i.e. friends) and business or brand accounts equally.
Back in March 2016, when Instagram announced plans for the feed algorithm, Entrepreneur contributor and Instagram expert Lesya Liu told readers to embrace the algorithm change away from chronological feeds.

“It’s in the platform’s best interest to show engaging, relevant content to its users, so that they stay longer on the platform,” wrote Liu, who offers an online course titled “Cracking the Instagram Algorithm.” “That’s why the algorithm’s only job is to scour through the platform and find awesome content, which will be shown to more and more people.”

Users have a say in what content they see — they more they like, comment and linger on certain types of Instagram content, the more Instagram will show it. But if you’re looking to get more eyes on your account, engagement can help you, too. As Liu has pointed out, the more you interact with others on the platform, the more likely your content is to land in Instagram’s Explore section, where users can find new content from accounts they don’t follow. This is true even for those with low follower counts — Instagram offers a mix of popular and lesser known accounts in Explore.

And as always, individuals and brands looking to grow their Instagram audiences can also use hashtags relevant to the content of their posts to expand their reach, especially now that users can follow hashtags in addition to accounts.

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