• Alice Violet

How does the Instagram algorithm work?



Regardless of who the primary demographic of your business is, in 2021 it’s highly likely that Instagram is an effective medium in which to reach them.


Instagram, though, is arguably the most demanding of all platforms because it’s almost entirely visually led. This means that varied, and quality content in the form of video, photography and graphics is vital. Once you've invested time and money creating the content the next step is navigating the platforms complex algorithm.


This week between the 8th-10th of June Instagram held a ‘Creators’ event to offer insights about the algorithm, shadowbanning and burnout. Below are some of the highlights regarding the algorithm that will be useful when trying to get greater exposure for your content.


What is the algorithm?


In Instagram's own words:


“One of the main misconceptions we want to clear up is the existence of “The Algorithm.” Instagram doesn’t have one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app. We use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose. We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that.


Each part of the app – Feed, Explore, Reels – uses its own algorithm tailored to how people use it. People tend to look for their closest friends in Stories, but they want to discover something entirely new in Explore. We rank things differently in different parts of the app, based on how people use them.”


This probably isn’t too far from what most people expected of the purpose of the algorithm, but what we really want to know is what steps can we take to get more exposure for our content from relevant audiences.


How exposure for Reels and Stories are ranked


Instagram explained that Feed and Stories are where people mostly engage with their friends and family, so this area of the platform showcases the most recent content from those you’re closest to. They also use thousands of ‘signals’ based on who created the content and your preferences. Below are the most important signals across Feed and Stories in order of their significance in Instagram’s words.


"1. Information about the post. These are signals both about how popular a post is – think how many people have liked it – and more mundane information about the content itself, like when it was posted, how long it is if it’s a video, and what location, if any, was attached to it.


2. Information about the person who posted. This helps us get a sense for how interesting the person might be to you, and includes signals like how many times people have interacted with that person in the past few weeks.


3. Your activity. This helps us understand what you might be interested in and includes signals such as how many posts you’ve liked.


4. Your history of interacting with someone. This gives us a sense of how interested you are generally in seeing posts from a particular person. An example is whether or not you comment on each other’s posts."


From there we make a set of predictions. These are educated guesses at how likely you are to interact with a post in different ways. There are roughly a dozen of these. In Feed, the five interactions we look at most closely are how likely you are to spend a few seconds on a post, comment on it, like it, save it, and tap on the profile photo. The more likely you are to take an action, and the more heavily we weigh that action, the higher up you’ll see the post. We add and remove signals and predictions over time, working to get better at surfacing what you’re interested in."


How posts that appear on Explore are ranked


Explore is an area for users to discover content from accounts they don’t already follow. They explain that this is very different from your Feed and Stories which is primarily from accounts you follow. The type of content that shows on a users Explore page is based on what posts they have liked, saved and commented on. The order of the content on Explore is also ranked by how interested in the content Instagram thinks you will be. In addition to topics you are interested in, Instagram explained that they avoid showing content in Explore which could be seen as offensive such as content of an adult nature or showing vaping or smoking. Below are the most important signals across Explore in order of their significance in Instagram’s words.


"1. Information about the post. Here we are looking at how popular a post seems to be. These are signals like how many and how quickly other people are liking, commenting, sharing, and saving a post. These signals matter much more in Explore than they do in Feed or in Stories.


2. Your history of interacting with the person who posted. Most likely the post was shared by someone you’ve never heard of, but if you have interacted with them that gives us a sense of how interested you might be in what they shared.


3. Your activity. These are signals like what posts you’ve liked, saved or commented on and how you’ve interacted with posts in Explore in the past.


4. Information about the person who posted. These are signals like how many times people have interacted with that person in the past few weeks, to help find compelling content from a wide array of people."


How Reels are ranked Reels are a fairly new addition to Instagram and in my opinion have always outperformed other content types on the platform. Instagram explains that the purpose of Reels are to entertain and that they actively survey users on whether they found a Reel entertaining or funny. Important signals on whether a Reel gets more exposure include whether it’s watched all the way through by most users and whether it encourages users to click on the audio as this tells Instagram they may be inspired to create their own. Instagram also admits that Reels featuring watermarks or of a political nature won’t get as much exposure. The watermark here refers to videos created on TikTok which are downloaded and re-purposed on Instagram. Below are the most important signals across Reels in order of their significance in Instagram’s words.



"1. Your activity. We look at things like which reels you’ve liked, commented on, and engaged with recently. These signals help us to understand what content might be relevant to you.


2. Your history of interacting with the person who posted. Like in Explore, it’s likely the video was made by someone you’ve never heard of, but if you have interacted with them that gives us a sense of how interested you might be in what they shared.


3. Information about the reel. These are signals about the content within the video such as the audio track, video understanding based on pixels and whole frames, as well as popularity.


4. Information about the person who posted. We consider popularity to help find compelling content from a wide array of people and give everyone a chance to find their audience."



I am a social media consultant with over ten years experience in paid and organic social media spanning technology and travel. I've worked with many of the world's leading luxury brands before becoming producer of an award-winning podcast at a global tech company. I launched Alice Violet Creative to help brands increase leads and loyalty via social media. I firmly believe content, brand and social media are the most potent of all marketing avenues in 2021. Take your brand to the next level info@alicevioletcreative.com.