How Does The Instagram Algorithm Work?

Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence | 0 comments | by Erin Quilliam

Algorithms are everywhere now, from search engines to social media.

They sometimes seem like methods steeped in mystery, deciding what we see in ways we never know.

But in reality, they’re nothing more than formulas.

And as with any formula, if you can determine how it works, you’ll be able to work out the answer.

(Thankfully, this isn’t a math formula. My days of figuring those out are far behind me!)

Ergo, if you know how the Instagram algorithm works and what factors are used in the formula, you’ll know how best to optimise your account to be more visible.

In the following article, I’ll explain just how the Instagram algorithm works, what factors influence it, and how you can make the most of them to make yourself seen.

What is an Algorithm-minWhat is an Algorithm?

Firstly, let’s quickly refresh ourselves about what an algorithm actually is.

At it’s simplest, an algorithm is a set of instructions for software to follow.

This means that by understanding what pattern the platform is following, and what actions it is doing, you know how to best fulfil the criteria it is searching for.

Algorithms are everywhere now and dictate what people see and when.

Additionally, algorithms are being changed all the time. This means that whatever works today, might not work in a few months.

It’s a fast-moving world, but then again, what digital space isn’t?

However, Instagram hasn’t seen any huge changes to the algorithm in a little while.

Instead, Instagram has focused on improving user experience and connection in other ways. From many updates to try and prevent online bullying and increase safeguarding, adding in-app shopping features, to increasing accessibility.

The changes to the algorithm and how posts are displayed aimed at improving the experience for users, and it has. They see over 90% of their friends’ posts, a huge improvement from previously, and spend longer in the app.

Algorithms dictate the order of posts in your feed, as well as what you see in your explore tab.

How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work-minHow Does the Instagram Algorithm work?

The Instagram Feed Algorithm

The Instagram algorithm determines what posts a user will see on their main feed.

As you’re probably well aware, it’s not strictly chronological.

It does put more recent posts towards the top, though.

But what determines the order of posts on a user’s feed?

Here are a few of the factors Instagram said influenced the order of posts.

Timely – More recent posts are more likely to appear first
Level of engagement – The more often people interact with an account, the more likely their posts will be bumped to the top of the feed.
Relationship to the user – The closer the relationship, the closer to the top and more often you appear in their feed.
How often they use the app – If they use the app a lot, you’re likely to be seen. But if they aren’t a regular user, your chances of being noticed are slim if you’re not at the top of their feed.
The number of accounts they follow – More accounts, more competition for the top spot.

Instagram’s Explore Tab Algorithm

The “explore” tab is similarly curated by an algorithm, but the factors that determine the content shown there are simpler.

Using machine learning, Instagram analyses all the accounts and posts you have interacted with before.

Then, it finds accounts that are similar to these. (Not individual posts!)

It’s essentially going, “Hey, you liked this thing. Well, how about this other cool thing that complements it?” or, “Hey, your friends all seem to like this. Why don’t you take a look too?”

More often than not, the user really is going to be interested and take a closer look.

Out of these accounts, a few hundred posts are chosen to be placed in the tab and ranked according to how likely the user is to engage with the post.

The Instagram Algorithm is Powered by AI

In the case of Instagram, the algorithms at work all learn about how you use the app using machine learning.

It analyses data from your usage and from this gathers insight into the content you like best and can begin serving you better and better recommendations.

As it’s powered by machine learning, it means the app can independently learn about your habits and preferences. The more you use the app, the better it gets at predicting what you want to see.

This is how the explore tab is curated, after all.

It’s why if you start looking at, for example, screenshots from a new hit TV show, then suddenly your explore tab is peppered with posts relating to that show.

This process is also what’s behind suggesting the “recommended” posts that appear in your main feed.

On the other hand, you can use the “see less often” tool to tell Instagram you didn’t like a certain post. The algorithms learn from this, too, and start filtering out any content similar to what you don’t want to see.

The AI at work is also responsible for filtering out spam and misinformation.

For now, let’s go back to the recommended post and how that works.

The Recommended Post

The “recommended” posts are based on the content you like, and the people you follow.

Once you’ve seen everything from the people you follow and reach the now-familiar “you’re all caught up” banner, you can choose to scroll on and view these recommended posts.

As you can see, Instagram is learning from your individual habits and tries to pre-empt what you want to look at next.

This means that everyone using the app can have a highly personalised experience, with content automatically tailored to their interests thanks to AI.

What Does the AI in the Instagram Algorithm Mean for Marketers-minWhat Does the AI in the Instagram Algorithm Mean for Marketers?

It means that if you have a follower who is really interested and engaged with your Instagram account, they will see your posts more often.

Meanwhile, if someone engages with similar posts but doesn’t follow you, you might creep into their explore tab as something they will be interested in.

This means that unless people are already engaged with you, or similar content to your own, you will probably never come onto their radar unless they specifically search for you or a certain hashtag.

Yes, that might seem unfair. “I want to be seen by more people!” I hear you cry.

Well, that’s the trade-off.

In order for the user to have a great experience in the app, with content automatically curated to them as an individual, it can be harder to break into their attention sphere.

On the other hand, it does encourage your current followers and those interested in your field to be more engaged with you.

That being said, it isn’t impossible to make the algorithm work in your favour and expand your reach.

How to Make the Instagram Algorithm Work for You-minHow to make the Instagram Algorithm Work for You

First off, I hate to disappoint you but there is no sure-fire way to make yourself seen.

Instagram has made these improvements to deliver users with highly personalised, high-quality content that relates to their interests and the interests of the people they follow.

You should embrace that though.

Because it makes the app more enjoyable for everyone and keeps people engaged with it and what’s on it.

Not to mention when you do show up on people’s feeds and recommendations, you’re so much more likely to have them interact with you.

I think of it like Instagram naturally filtering warm leads, for the user and you.

There are a few things you can do to make yourself more likely to be seen though.

Produce High-Quality Content

As with all content production and marketing, you want to be creating high-quality posts that people are more likely to be interested in.

People won’t be compelled by a stock image or half-assed sales caption.

They’re using the platform to see beautiful places around the world, watch their friends’ antics, and keep up with celebrities and brands they admire.

Your image has to catch their eye and stop them from scrolling.

And your caption should provide value. Be it humour, or educational, or inspirational.

Pick out a few brands and celebrities you follow, and take a look at what they’re doing.

Or better yet, find a few of your best clients or target clients, and see who they follow, and start emulating that.

Build Relationships

Relationships are a big factor in the algorithms at work.

Building relationships doesn’t need to be following all of your ideal clients.

Just start interacting with them and the accounts they follow.

Throw a like at them, and comment on a few things, just always make sure its a meaningful interaction.

Post Regularly

Recency is super important in trying to get yourself seen on Instagram.

Since newer posts are put to the top of feeds, and recent posts are more likely to turn up in the explore tab, you need to give yourself the best chance of appearing there.

Which means you need to have recent content, ergo, you need to be posting regularly.


As competition increases as more users populate Instagram, and post more, combined with the personalisation of feeds, it might feel like you can be drowned out on the platform.

Naturally, and in the vein of parent-company Facebook, it can seem like you’re pushed to buy ads to be seen.

But, as I said, it means we see the average user spend more time in the app with higher rates of interaction.

So rather than see the algorithms as a barrier, see them as a bonus.

Because if you tick all the boxes, you will still be put forward to new audiences.

And when you are, they’re very likely to be genuinely interested in your posts.

Like I said, think of it as naturally qualifying warm leads.

If you’re interested in finding out the more technical details behind creating working algorithms and AI, you can get in touch with us. We’re happy to explain and talk techy to you!

You can also read about how Google’s “Did you mean?” algorithm works.

Want to design an algorithm of your own? We can do it for you. Call or email us today to talk about your requirements.

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