This exciting episode of the 21 Handshake Marketing podcast has Sarah, Ashley and Aleks taking a look at the latest news from Instagram – and yes, it’s very interesting. It looks like Instagram’s algorithm has really affected what appears in the news feed – but also that a lot of Instagram assumptions are (according to the company) incorrect. Marketers have a lot to go through, so let’s get started talking about it!

Social Media Algorithms Aren’t Going Away

Algorithms are the law of the social media land these days. As Aleks explains, the social algorithm is way that a social media platform sorts and displays its content. In the beginning, posts would simple appear in “reverse chronological” order, so you’d see the latest posts first, end of story. But if you’re getting hundreds of posts a day (as many of us do), this becomes quickly cluttered. Algorithms were created to step in and say, “Okay, this post and this post and this one over here deserve priority based on these specific features.”

From a user standpoint, algorithms have largely been a success. People tend to spend more time seeing posts about subjects they care about, and posts from family and friends they want to connect with. But brands remain uneasy with algorithms, which tend to hide brand messages more easily and make social media marketing more difficult. That brings us to what we know about Instagram’s current algorithm!

But We Now Know a Lot More About How Instagram’s Algorithm Works

Instagram has finally opened up to report a few very important facts about its algorithm (once almost entirely a mystery to those outside the company). Some of these facts were exactly what we expected! For example, we know that on average when you take a look at Instagram’s feed, you’re missing about 70% of all the posts. In fact, you’re only seeing about half the posts from your friends (leaving brands/businesses out of it), because the algorithm just isn’t pushing that stuff to the top. Basically, no matter what, the average person only sees a fraction of what’s going!

What are we supposed to do with that? How do we make this algorithm happy if we’re brands trying to increase awareness? We found three key factors on Social Toaster that appear particularly helpful.

Interest: The algorithm uses knowledge of a user’s past like and interactions to judge how much interest a user has in a particular post. That makes it very important to create customer personas and accurate target audiences so you can create content they will respond to.

Timeliness: While reverse chronological order is no longer a thing, Instagram will still post newer content higher in the feed, so it’s still good to post around the time you want your content to be seen.

Relationship: Instagram is much more likely to give posts priority if the user has a relationship with the poster – if they frequently like, share and comment on someone’s posts, they’ll see a lot more of that profile’s content in the future. This is a great reason to encourage your followers to like and respond to your posts (without being annoying about it).

Instagram Has Said Several Algorithm Theories Aren’t True

Marketers have made a lot of assumptions about how the Instagram algorithm works. It turns out, some of those guesses were wrong. Let’s go over the theories that Instagram has officially debunked with this latest report (keep in mind, this means we have to trust what Instagram is saying, but there’s no good reason for them to misrepresent this information).

  • Using the same hashtags repeatedly won’t get you shadowbanned: Using banned hashtags, however, still gets consequences.
  • Posting too frequently won’t derank you: Well, not directly – but the algorithm is naturally unlikely to post unpopular posts, so drowning out your own posts with too much content is still a mistake.
  • The algorithm doesn’t choose between photos, video, Stories, etc.: Again, not directly, although if people have a preference then so will the algorithm.
  • Personal accounts are not given higher priority than business accounts: That’s good news!
  • Posts are never hidden from users: Instagram is hedging on this one – they’re saying that a user will see all posts from the people they follow if they use Instagram long enough. That appears to mean that you will see all posts if you just keep on scrolling forever…which of course no one does. It also doesn’t explain how some accounts have been quite clearly shadowbanned in the past.

Wow, that’s a lot to process! You can listen to the full podcast for our take on everything, and what this means for Instagram business and social media. But it looks like the old chronological reliability of social media is becoming less important overall, which means what you post about and how you post seem to be getting more important than when you post – which could be good news for your company.

But what do you think? What do these Instagram surprises mean for you? Drop us a line on social media @21handshake and let us know what you thought. If you gave a listen and really enjoyed the podcast, you can rate us 5 stares on iTunes and share us with a friend or colleagues!