In 2016, Instagram announced it was replacing its chronological feed with an algorithm (and a collective gasp was heard around the world). If you market on Instagram, this presents a challenge: how do you buddy-up to the algorithm to ensure your posts reach your intended audience…or any audience, for that matter? Come along, fellow marketers, and let’s look at the factors that make the algorithm gods happy and get your content in front of the right eyes…
BUT FIRST—WHY AN INSTAGRAM ALGORITHM?
When Instagram was launched in 2010, the formula was simple: snap a picture, edit & upload, and watch the photo appear on the feed in chronological order. But since 2010, Instagram has grown to over 800 million monthly users and counting. That’s a whole lot of content. So much content that, according to Instagram, IGers miss an average of 70% of their feed when it’s in chronological order.
The Instagram algorithm was designed to combat this problem. By reorganizing users’ feeds, IGers would hopefully see more relevant content. This is great for Grammers, but for businesses, it’s another set of hurtles to jump through. In the past, all you had to do was post during times when your audience was more active. Now you must optimize your posts. And considering 72% of Instagram users say they’ve made a purchase decision based on something they saw while browsing the app, it’s in your best interest to bow down to optimization.
TEN THINGS THE INSTAGRAM ALGORITHM LIVES FOR:
#1 POST ENGAGEMENT
The more people engage with your post, the better. Seems pretty simple, right? If only it were that easy. There’s the obvious: a ton of likes, comments, shares, and views tells the algorithm your post is must-see content. Yes, high engagement is crucial, but there’s the not-so-obvious: how quickly users engage.
In some cases, Instagram cares more about how quickly your users engage. If your post racks up 400 likes in an hour or two, that’s better than 4,000 likes over the course of a couple days. But fret not, this can work in your favor. If Instagram only cared about the amount of engagement rather than the speed of it, only accounts with the most followers would be considered relevant content for users. Accounts that make it into the “top posts” section of a trending hashtag, for example, are usually there due to the speed of engagement.
#2 DWELL TIME
The longer a user spends on your post, the more Instagram thinks it must be good content. This is where the quality and length of your captions come into play. I can’t tell you how long your captions need to be. I can tell you that they need to have a unified voice. They also need to sound like they’re coming from a real person, not a robot. The fastest way to lose your Millennial audience is to sound too…how shall I say it: dry, stuffy, stuck-up, boring.
You have around 2,200 characters with which to work. That doesn’t mean you need to use all of them, but you have space to pull people into your narrative—whatever that may be. In other words, your captions need to be engaging.
Using videos, GIFs, and carousel posts is another great way to increase the time IGers spend on your posts…because…ding, ding, ding…they take more time to watch. People have begun bypassing google and going straight to YouTube to look up information, so don’t be afraid to post a lot of videos and use Instagram TV (IGTV).
#3 TIME OF POSTING
This is a recent change announced in early 2018 to bring back some resemblance of the chronological order users so miss. Say goodbye to the days where you could post every few days and have your content appear on people’s feed. Your 3-5 day old posts will no longer appear. This means you need to post more often to make sure your content gets seen. You also need to post at the right time: when your audience is most available (and that will depend on who your audience is, young padawan).
But don’t post for posting sake. Make sure everything you post is still good, engaging content. And don’t over-post. We all know those IGers who post 37 pictures of their child within one hour and clog the feed. And what do we do to those people? Unfollow them.
The good news is, Instagram added a “New Posts” button, giving users more control over when they see new content. So stay relevant (how is up to you).
#4 YOUR BIGGEST FANS
Honestly, this one is pretty obvi. The more often a user engages with your content, the more likely you are to show up on his or her feed. And by engagement, I mean likes and comments—and before you read me, this is different than #1. Number 1 was about how much, this is about how often (I could have combined them, but then I would have a list of 9 instead of 10, and my OCD won’t allow that).
But this “rule” also works in reverse. The more often you like and comment on other users’ content, the better your chance of showing up on that user’s feed. It’s time to get in touch with your inner sycophant (yes, I threw that word in there to make up for my use of “obvi”).
#5 TYPE OF CONTENT
You know how when you sign up for a monthly subscription to, well, anything really, you’re asked what you like. Instagram cares too. But you don’t need to check any boxes, the algorithm simply pays attention to the “genres” you engage with most. For example, if you like a lot of fashion posts, you get more fashion put on your feed.
As you become more popular, Instagram will put you in front of those who will appreciate your special kind of weirdness, but you can hurry this along. Follow the handles (competition) your potential customers follow and engage, engage, engage.
#6 USER SEARCH
Instagram pays attention to what its users search for and puts that and similar content on their feed. You have no control over what IGers are searching for, but what you do have control over are your hashtags. Don’t over-do it with hashtags, but make sure they are relevant to your business. A good way to find out what hashtags you should be using is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and search for your product. Pay attention to the other hashtags that Instagram considers related to your search. Try those hashtags out and see if they work for you.
#7 POST SHARING
When a user shares a post in a direct message, Instagram is watching. The algorithm thinks that if a user shares content (another form of engagement), it must be something of interest. Again, you have no control over what users are sharing, but your audience will be more likely to share your content if it is spectacular. So just be sure to post spectacular content. Easy, right?
#8 STORY ENGAGEMENT
The more an IGer interacts with your Instagram story, the more likely your content will appear on his or her feed. Interactions with your stories in the form of replies or shares is great, but you have a couple other tools at your disposal: polling and “Swipe Up.” These tools can help you trick the algorithm.
The polling feature allows you to place a two-option poll in your story. This is great for story engagement, because it entices users to interact through voting. And you can choose your own question and customize your poll choices, so get creative. The “Swipe Up” option allows you to put your link in your story. Now IGers can go from your story directly to your website! Gone are the days when your only option was a link in your bio.
#9 AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT
You need to engage with your audience. This isn’t only about pleasing the algorithm…and, yes, engaging with your audience pleases the algorithm. This is also about good marketing. If your business replies to your followers’ comments it shows there are real people behind your brand, that you can be trusted, that you care about your consumers. But try to reply to a user’s comment within an hour since they posted the comment (it might be time to hire a full-time social media manager).
#10 INSTAGRAM FEATURES
Use all of Instagram’s available features. I can’t stress this enough. The algorithm loves the attention and rewards you for it. Algorithm aside, these features are there to improve the user experience. The more options you give your audience to engage with your content, the better. So when Instagram rolls out a new feature, learn it and use it. Again…it might be time to hire a full-time social media manager.
Psst…we do social media management (and handle all your other marketing needs) at Ten Four Media Group.