Quite the contrary to my last post on Instagram. I’m going to give you all the tips and secrets I know to winning against the algorithm!
After 5 years on Instagram from 2013 – 2018 I decided to start a fresh account because the algorithm completely destroyed my accounts reach and engagement. Literally no one was seeing my posts, I had 1650’ish followers, I have around 220+ now on my new account and I get way more engagement than I did before. I’ve heard stories of people having the same issue from 10k all the way through 200k+. No one can escape the algorithm.
Everything in this post is going to help you get a better understanding of the current state of affairs on the algorithm and how it affects your account, assuming you don’t already have 1M+ followers.
If your account hasn’t grown at all in the last year it honestly might be time to start fresh like myself and many other people.
In 2016 Instagram implemented the algorithm and completely changed the explore page and the way people find each others photos. They also got rid of chronological order on your feed so now it shows relevant content and stuff you haven’t seen first and pushes everything else to the bottom. Hence why you’re seeing stuff from 2 days ago at the top of your feed… So given the current situation with the algorithm that keeps changing every few months I’m going to give you all the tips and secrets to the best of my knowledge that work.
Everything in this post should cover about 80-90% of what you need to know about the algorithm. If you stay consistent with it you’ll be successful in your Instagram journey!
Engagement Is Everything
Engagement and likes are going to be root to your success. When you post a photo the first hour is absolutely crucial, it works like a reward system. If you get 100 likes within the first hour it’s more visible to your audience and will show up on the explore page for another hour. If you get 200 likes within the second hour it keeps going on and on like that and eventually drops out after the 24 hour mark. So the life span of a post can either be 1 hour or 24 hours. The more comments you get on your post the more engagement it gets the higher relevancy it has on the explore page, which means people will most likely see it. When you see people on IG stories saying “comment X on my latest post” that’s so there post will be visible by more people than just their followers and has higher relevancy on the explore page. How fast your followers engage with your content also matters to the algorithm.
It’s also really important you engage with the people you follow as well, spending 5-10 minutes a day liking and commenting on their photos will make a big difference as well.
The time of day you post also matters, if you’re based in the US I’ve noticed 10am, 1pm and 7pm (M-F) and 9-10am on weekends seem to be really good times to post. Everyone tends to have different times based on their audience.
One thing I was a little shocked to learn was that editing your posts within the first 24 hours can drop your reach, like fixing tags, the location or caption, etc. If you have to fix anything about it just delete it and start over, as much as that sucks.
Another thing is when someone comments on your photo you have an hour to reply to it or you’re post drops in relevancy as well. Out of all things on IG this makes the least sense to me.
If you pay close attention to FB and IG they have very similar algorithm attributes, except FB is more pay to play, just like IG business accounts.
Your Actions On IG Are Everything
Part of the algorithm includes who you follow, what you like, who you interact with and how active your followers are.
- If you’re a landscape photographer you only want to follow people who post related things to landscape and nature and mainly photographers in general. (sorry friends and family who don’t travel the world taking pro photos) If you follow a bunch of fitness accounts you’ll notice all your followers will suddenly be powerlifters and bodybuilders as well as the content on your explore page. Aka people who aren’t really interested in your content won’t be seeing your photos.
- Same applies for likes and comments, the algorithm takes all of it into account.
- How active your followers are was a weird one I found out. It’s cool getting a ton of new followers but if they aren’t active or engaging with your content the algorithm takes it into account and slows down your post. If you get pages like “1k_new_ig_followers” you definitely want to block all those accounts because it’ll affect your engagement and how relevant you are to other people over time. I’m going to assume this is combat against the people who do the follow/unfollow method, which I’ll get into later.
- IG stories also applies to the algorithm, it takes into account all the interactions you receive on your story as well, like replies or when your stories are sent to someone.
- Sharing your posts or someone elses posts to IG stories makes a difference too because it’s increasing your interaction with other accounts.
Essentially the more you interact with another account the more likely that person will show up on your feed and IG story first. The algorithm also rewards you for interacting with your following.
Social Media Companies & Apps Don’t Work Anymore
As far as I know apps like Captivate, social media companies like River, engagement tools, fake followers, none of that stuff works anymore. If you don’t have organic reach and engagement you might as well forget it because the algorithm doesn’t like it when you follow and unfollow a ton of people, post on random peoples photos (people will know it’s fake too) all these sorts of things. If you’re trying to build a real following through IG you’ll definitely get a good amount of people who will follow and unfollow you, it’s annoying but it’s part of the game. By the end of the week I might have 1000 followers and when I turn on my phone Monday morning it’ll drop to 900 followers. You’ll also notice a bunch of people commenting “Nice pic!” or “cool photo!” all part of that same engagement tool.
IG favors and rewards authenticity so just skip those shortcuts, they won’t work. What’s the point of having a big following if you have to keep cheating to maintain it and your followers don’t truly care about what you’re doing?
Each post has a 30 hashtag limit, obviously everything you tag has to be relevant to your post. I would actually advise against using all 30, it seems to drop your post relevancy and get less engagement. I’d recommend avoiding hashtags like #photography #travel, anything with more than 300k-400k+ posts because there not going to be seen by anyone and you’ll get target by those bot accounts. I stopped using obvious tags like that and my engagement and real follower count went way up. Use hashtags that could get your photo re-posted on a feature page, if your photo circulates on IG that’s a big step in the right direction and generally the goal.
I’ve heard two sides of getting “shadow-banned”, aka when you post something on IG and it just doesn’t show up in any form anywhere. It was recently confirmed by someone at IG that getting shadow-banned doesn’t exist, (see here) your posts will always show up. It’s just up to the algorithm whether or not people see it. I have noticed though if I delete a bunch of posts then try to post something new it generally hinders it so I would recommend not going to crazy on deleting posts all at once. If you use hashtags like #photography with millions of posts you probably won’t see it. If I had to guess, if you’re going to follow and unfollow a ton of people in a short amount of time, delete a ton of posts or do anything in bulk I can see your account getting flagged for suspicion. My advice would to be cool down for a few hours and come back to the app.
Fun fact about OG-IG: #photography never worked on the original IG, it would just show up as 0 posts.
Business Account VS Regular
My best advice is stick with a regular account. When you switch to a business account it becomes pay to play like FB, your reach will drop a bit because you’ve become a “business” and they want to you pay money for paid posts. So if you’re not actually a business (like a physical store) I’d suggest sticking with a personal account, your reach will remain normal throughout your growth on the platform. I’ve also heard two sides of this story, one side is your reach is normal under 5k and the other is it gets screwed up upon switching.
Also once you switch to a business account it doesn’t matter if you go back to a personal, your reach is pretty much screwed forever.
This is one easy way to play the system. There are engagement groups or IG-pods as they’re called. What it is, is a group of people who comment on each others posts every time they go up to boost the relevancy of that post and to boost it’s engagement so it makes it on the explore page. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t but either way it’s kind of cheating. Instagram is cracking down on this trying to level the playing field once again so if you can get it one even for a little bit it might be beneficial.
IGTV & LiveStream
From my understanding you need to utilize every part of IG to fully play the algorithm including those two features. You need to “go live” at least once a month and post to IGTV once every two weeks. Why this matters I have no idea but apparently it’s a thing. I feel like nobody ever actually watches the videos on IGTV because its kind of a seperate section of Instagram. Going live makes more sense because its like a real person interacting with your audience in video form, similar to IG stories.
In conclusion the general basis of the algorithm is to show you the most relevant content that IG thinks your interested in. The more accounts you interact with, the more engaging your content is and the more time you spend on IG the more “successful” you’ll be on the app.
Having a ton of followers on IG definitely doesn’t guarantee success or set any standard for how good your work is. IG is purely a tool to get people to see your work and it ends at that.
And finally, always post unique high quality content and set yourself apart from the others.
If you have any additional tips, tricks or comments on how to win on Instagram let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!
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