Inside the Instagram Algorithm

In regards to Instagram, the key measures they use (or considered using) to determine relevance and decide which posts show up higher in your Instagram feed are:

  • People who’s content you like
  • People you direct message
  • People you search for
  • People you know in real life

Now, how exactly each of these elements might be weighted is hard to say, but these are the measures Instagram initially considered in their testing, which means they’re also very likely the same measures they use now.

An internal study from Instagram showed Instagram users weren’t seeing around 70% of the content matched to them in the chronological feed. 

Now, Instagram has not necessarily weighted any of these elements at all, but they’ve instead focused on engagement, and using any engagement as an indicator, but it’s interesting to note the various ways in which that engagement can be measured, which could then result in certain posts by certain people appearing higher in your Instagram feed.  An important note is that algorithms help networks deal with ‘a problem of success’ – that being that they become too popular, and there’s too much activity happening for users to find all the most relevant content on their own.

Essentially, the content from users you engage with will rank higher, and Instagram takes all of these forms of interaction into account.

 

Because you can’t insist that people follow fewer users so they see content important to them, Instagram tested a second theory using their algorithm based on engagement, and they saw significant increases in all key metrics when the new system was rolled out to a small percentage of users  The only metric which went down was the amount of searches users were conducting, which they actually saw as a good thing as it showed people were finding more of what they wanted for without having to seek it out themselves.

All of those efforts have obviously paid off – the platform added 100 million extra new users in the second half of 2016, taking them to 600 million monthly actives, 400 million of whom now log in daily. The introduction of Instagram Stories also played a part, no doubt, but it’s important to recognize the significance of the algorithm also in this context.

It’s an interesting insight into the workings of Instagram’s system – it doesn’t provide all the answers, and the onus is still on you to create compelling content to inspire engagement and rank higher in people’s feeds. But it does give you some idea of the various elements potentially at play (Instagram may, of course, have refined their system since their initial testing).

by Nicole Sheridan