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The Instagram Algorithm Broken Down

Originally, Instagram showed posts to users in the chronological order they were posted - no algorithm involved. But ever since Instagram did away with the traditional timeline following an actual timeline, we’ve all been at the mercy of the ever changing algorithm. We’re going to explain how to deal with the algorithm in 2021, specialized in three main forms of posting - feed posts, reels, and stories.

Traditional Feed Posts

There are 5 major factors that go into how your feed posts rank with the Instagram algorithm:


The algorithm puts posts that they think a user will be interested in higher in their feed than posts that include information/themes that a user rarely interacts with. If you always like and interact with accounts about houseplants, the algorithm will continue to put houseplant posts high in your feed. As the poster, the only control you have over this aspect is creating quality content, consistently that your ideal audience will be interested in. Even better, make your audience want to show their interest by engaging with your content. Ask them to comment with their questions or share your posts with others.


Along with interest, Instagram prioritizes content from close friends and family on your feed. How do they know who your close friends and family are? Remember that Instagram is owned by Facebook, and your two accounts are attached if any of the information used for them matches (email address, phone number, etc.), so if you have your mom listed as a relationship on Facebook, Instagram knows that too. Instagram also gauges which accounts you frequently like, comment on, and DM. They will push those account's posts to the top of your feed. This is why it is so important to respond to all DMs (that aren’t threatening or creepy) because it tells Instagram that you are building a relationship with your followers, and then your posts will pop up higher on their feeds.


The more often you scroll through Instagram, the more likely your feed will look more like the old chronological Instagram feed because Instagram will be trying to show you the newest content since your last log in an hour ago. If you log in once every other day, the algorithm is more likely to push posts that will interest you to the top of your feed as opposed to recent posts. To catch both kinds of Instagram users with your content, you’ll need to post consistently - about 5 times a week. This way your content will reach the people who log on every hour, and the people who take days off at a time.


If you follow many different kinds of accounts (rap artists, home DIY, and TV memes) Instagram has a harder time pinning down what you’re interested in, so you will have a less customized feed by interest. The same is true if you don’t interact with a lot of accounts you follow. If you never like or comment, Instagram can’t tell what you’re interested in. How do you use this info to help your content with the algorithm? While your followers number is important, if a ton of them are followers that are super inactive on Instagram, you might want to remove them from your followers list. Their lack of engagement with your content could actually be bumping it down the algorithm. So while you might like the looks of your big followers number, it will be worth it to purge the bots every once and awhile.

Engaged Usage

If all you do is post on Instagram, you’re telling Instagram that you aren’t one of its active users. Don’t. Post. And. Ghost. Make sure you engage with your followers and the people you’re following. Social media is supposed to be like a conversation. Just posting and then not commenting and engaging is like walking into a room, yelling what you have to say, and then walking out of the room. No one, including the Instagram algorithm, likes that person.


To tell the truth, no one really knows how the algorithm deals with Reels yet because we still don’t have insights for reels. But we do have some guesses. It’s clear that the algorithm is pushing Reels because they’re trying to overtake TikTok’s popularity as the home for short form videos. To give your Reels an extra bump, make sure to post them to your feed (don’t worry, you can customize the cover so it fits with your aesthetic) and use a well curated hashtag cloud. Experiment with posting times for Reels, and track how it goes. Until we get insights, we’re mostly in the dark about reels, but we do know that Reels are extremely important for growth on Instagram right now. If you post on Reels consistently, it’s sure to boost your other forms of content with the Instagram algorithm.


Instagram puts stories from accounts you consistently interact with at the front of your stories feed. The top stories in our feed are from other social media managers that we interact with almost everyday. This is why the “Relationship” section above also applies to the algorithm for Stories. Respond to DMs. Encourage engagement on your posts. Respond to every comment. That interaction will help your stories inch their way to the front of your follower’s stories feed.

The algorithm also tries to get the newest stories to the front of the feed because of their vanishing nature. Posting multiple stories a day takes advantage of this part of the algorithm. Try to post at least 3 stories a day to become a consistent part of your follower’s Stories feed.

Our number one piece of advice to succeed with the Instagram algorithm is to consistently show up with quality content. Start with small achievable goals and we know you'll start succeeding with the algorithm. We're sure even more changes to the algorithm are in store for 2021, so keep up to date with Media A La Carte so you don't get left behind.

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