Man vs Machine: Tackling Instagram’s Algorithm

Instagram metrics on smartphone

By Danny, 1 month ago (4 min read)

Since its launch back in 2010, Instagram has connected users across the globe through the power of user-generated imagery.

Selfies and food snaps aside, the past decade has seen the social media platform evolve into an incredibly useful content marketing channel for businesses armed with the right know-how. You only need to look at the stats to see this – in 2020 alone, a mammoth 75.3% of US businesses will utilise Instagram as a marketing tool.

But a recent algorithm update that moved the newsfeed away from the traditional chronological ordering of posts has wreaked havoc among users, businesses and engagement metrics alike. 

Faced with this new, more advanced behavioural algorithm, how can businesses ensure their Instagram posts achieve the same levels of organic reach and engagement? Join us in the classic battle of man vs machine as we take a closer look at the most effective ways your business can tackle Instagram’s new algorithm. Think of it as a far less violent and, admittedly, slightly less exciting John Connor vs The Terminator…

How does Instagram’s algorithm work?

Like all major social media platforms’ algorithms across the past decade, Instagram’s algorithm has rapidly evolved by learning more about us as users.

By tracking the types of posts we engage with (whether by physically pressing ‘like’ or simply by stopping scrolling), the algorithm can determine the types of posts and users that matter to you most. Essentially, the aim is to feed you the content that will keep you on the platform for as long as possible – as cynically explained in Netflix’s hit new documentary The Social Dilemma.

To do this, the algorithm orders users’ news feeds based on the posts they’re most likely to engage with, as opposed to the most recent posts from accounts they follow. As far as users’ experiences on the app go, this personalisation is worthwhile. But many brands have seen a sharp decline in engagement metrics as a result of their posts being pushed further and further down the newsfeed.

So, what can your business do about it?

If you’re a SME on Instagram, it’s fair to say the odds may be stacked against you. Luckily for you, we’ve got a few insider tips to help you beat the bookies… 

Understand the factors at play 

To beat the algorithm, you have to be the algorithm. Alright, that might be a tad overdramatic, but ensuring you understand the basic ranking signals is always a good place to start.

While the algorithm’s exact process is already beyond us (what were we saying earlier about The Terminator…?), there are certain attributes we know to be factors in determining user behaviour and, in turn, where your post is positioned in the user’s newsfeed. It’s always best to be aware of the impact of: 

  • The user’s session time – the shorter the user’s average session time, the higher your content needs to rank on their newsfeed in order to be seen  
  • The number of accounts followed by the user – the more accounts a user follows, the more competition you face on their newsfeed

Master your content 

As a simple rule of thumb, the more users engage with your Instagram content, the higher your posts will be positioned on their newsfeed. This highlights one fundamental takeaway: content is king.

Mastering your social media content has never been so important, but this is far easier said than done. Experimentation is key to working out what content drives the most engagement, so be sure to vary your content types and track performance data to gain a better understanding of what works.

Some examples of different social media content types include: 

  • Quotes and testimonials
  • Facts and data
  • Videos
  • Promotions and giveaways
  • Behind-the-scenes insights
  • User-generated content
  • Blog content promotion

Don’t forget about your existing audience 

Of course, marketing is all about driving growth – and when it comes to social media marketing, this is no different.

But Instagram’s algorithm focuses on relationships. In short, this means ignoring your existing social audience on the hunt for new followers can actually hinder your ability to increase your follow count and engagement metrics.

Instead, look to maintain and nurture existing relationships to drive consistent engagement. From replying to comments to following back, there are plenty of ways you can show your existing audience they matter.

This will help you build an online brand community by blurring the lines between customer and brand. Better yet, though, with every interaction, your feed ranking position is more likely to improve – the very definition of win-win!

The algorithm will always be one step ahead, learning more and more about users with each passing day. While this means no Instagram content plan can be completely future-proof, leveraging these tips is sure to leave your brand’s social media marketing strategy in the best possible shape.


Want to know more about how Land Digital can help you with your brand’s digital marketing strategies before the inevitable robot revolution? Get in touch with our friendly team of humans today.