Instagram algorithm, explained: How it works and how to beat it

Whether you’re just starting out on the path of an influencer or a business with a well-established brand, chances are you’ve heard whispers of the infamous Instagram algorithm. 

For those who aren’t aware, an algorithm is simply a set of rules that the social media app follows that dictates when and how many people see your post and Stories. It’s by no means a magic switch that gives you millions of followers, but some users have found different tips and tricks for growing their audience by following — or beating — the algorithm’s rules. 

How the Instagram algorithm works for posts in 2020

Instagram went through a massive change over the past few years when it switched from its original chronological order of posts seen in a user’s home feed to an algorithmic way of displaying content.

Going from posts being displayed based on time to some seemingly obscure mathematical order left many long-time users struggling to get their posts seen by anyone. But slowly, people have begun to understand Instagram’s new algorithm and how to work with it instead of against it. So if you want to learn how to use the algorithm in 2020, follow these principles below. 

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Engagement is key

According to experts, the key to working with the Instagram algorithm to engage with your followers. It’s not enough to just post your posts and spend a bunch of time scrolling; you have to interact. 

When you’re on Instagram, make sure you’re regularly commenting on other people’s photos, replying to comments on your own photos, liking, saving and sharing other content, and following new people often. Here are the top ways to engage with other users’ content: 

  • Liking 
  • Commenting 
  • Saving posts 
  • Sharing posts to your Story 
  • Replying to comments 
  • Following new people within your target audience 
Instagram algorithm factors in engagement

Even though Instagram is currently testing the removal of likes from posts and videos, it won’t affect engagement. Starting a conversation around a topic is the most important thing in terms of engagement. So make sure you turn your comments and replies notifications on so you never miss a chance to interact. 

Use Instagram’s features

We all have our favorite Instagram features and others we’re not big fans of. But when you make a point to actively utilize all the different ways the social media app lets you connect and create, it pays off. 

So when Instagram introduces new stickers, GIFs, or ways to use your Stories, posts, and IGTV, try them out. Instagram wants to see that you’re not only engaging with your followers, as we mentioned before, but that you’re also engaging with all of the new tools and tricks they’re continuously creating for you. 

How Instagram’s algorithm works for Stories in 2020 

While liking and commenting on people’s posts is essential to beating the algorithm, it’s also important to include Stories in your overall Instagram strategy. 

When it comes to using Stories (arguably Instagram’s most popular feature), engagement is once again the name of the game. However, there are a lot of different ways to do so.

How does Instagram decide what Stories you see first?

Over 500 million people watch Instagram Stories every day, so it’s easily one of the most popular features on the app. When it comes to creating highly engaging Stories, the ultimate goal is to be at the front of as many users’ Story feeds as possible. 

The algorithm used to determine Story placement on a user’s feed is very simple: It displays Stories in order of the profiles you’ve shown the most interest in. That interest is based on your personal interactions — likes, comments, messages, and the Stories you watch the most — as well as how active an account is on Stories. 

So if you want your Stories to be front and center, you have to make them engaging. Using features like the Questions and Poll sticker (and people actually using them) will signal to Instagram that you’re the kind of user who likes to start conversations with your audience.

How does Instagram algorithm determine what Stories to show?


How the Instagram algorithm sorts your Story viewers

To see how well your Stories are doing and how much your followers are engaging with your content, you have to take advantage of Story Insights. Story Insights is a free analytics tool that is essential for anyone trying to expand their reach on Instagram. 

One of the easiest ways to gauge how well your Stories are doing is to see how many people are viewing them. Here’s how to see that information:

  1. Open up your Stories. 
  2. Swipe up on the bottom of the screen. 
How the Instagram algorithm sorts your Story viewers

There, you can see a list of the followers who have viewed your Story. There’s been a lot of debate around how exactly Instagram’s algorithm arranges the order in which your Story viewers are displayed. Some people think it’s based on who visits your profile the most or who you’re messaging the most, but that’s not the case. 

Instagram ranks your Story viewers by who you engage with the most on the platform, not the other way around. Essentially, it’s all based on your personal activity on the platform and who the algorithm believes you are closest to. 

However, if you continuously check who has viewed your stories, the algorithm will switch up the ranking to try to show you a new set of people.

How to get Instagram’s algorithm to show your posts and Stories 

As you’re now keenly aware, Instagram’s algorithm is all about engagement. Mindless scrolling will get you nowhere. If you want your posts and Stories to be at the top of the list, you have to earn it through intentional and genuine interaction. 

Below are a few of the top tips from around the internet on how to get Instagram’s algorithm to work for you:

  • Make sure you’re only posting high-quality photos and videos. 
  • Post to your Stories consistently as well as to your feed. 
  • Focus your efforts on videos over photos, as they tend to get more engagement. 
  • Try going on Instagram Live more often to interact with your followers. 
  • Take time crafting your captions so that they’re relatable to your audience.
  • Only use hashtags that are relevant to your post — and don’t overdo it. 
  • Use Instagram Insights to learn the peak times when your audience is active on the app. 

If you’re working on growing your Instagram, the most important thing you can do is create content that your target audience will actually care about. With that intention in the back of your mind, you’ll be able to work with the algorithm in no time.

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