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Instagram’s Ever-Evolving Algorithm

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Instagram has come a long way analytically since its launch over 10 years ago. Beginning as a platform built by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Facebook earned ownership for $1 billion in 2012 under Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to keep the two platforms separate in terms of use. So how exactly does Instagram run its distinct algorithm to social success and what may change in years to come?

4 years ago, Instagram revolutionized its data analysis of posts by moving from a feed that was chronologically ordered to a much more data-driven medium. This newly instituted medium includes six key factors that excite Instagram’s algorithm. 

  1. Your post’s feed ranking is predicted with regards to users’ interest in your content. Users’ Instagram behavior is what determines which post is the most relatable and is to be at the top of your feed. This explains why all account types are initially equal among viewers; the algorithm is largely dependent on the user’s own interests, not just popularity of content. The most important engagement points of these interests are comments, likes, reshares, and views.

  2. In an attempt to prioritize those with who you share a close relationship with, Instagram calculates you and your follower’s interaction rate. This is essentially the “who” of the algorithm’s operation. Those with who you direct message, like, comment, and share are proven to portray a strong relationship to the algorithm, therefore serving you more content from that follower.

  3. One factor that remains most relevant to Instagram’s former chronological feed format is its retention of timeliness when posting. Although interests and relationships are important, posting at the right time when users are most prevalent on the app forces the algorithm to push the latest and most popular content at you at that moment. This also takes into account the surge of likes on a post around the time it was posted. Believe it or not, the most effective time of day to post on Instagram is proven to be from 9 am to 11 am EST. However, it’s important to identify the best times to post based on your own unique audiences!

  4. Another data point Instagram uses to sort content is how much you use the app and how frequently you open the app. Obviously, if you are an avid user of the app, your content will roll in more chronologically, but those who are occasional visitors are hit with the most popular and relatable content at the top of their feeds.

  5. Similarly, the algorithm tracks the users' app usage, where those who spend more time on the app will get their hands on deeper and more juicy content than just the highlights of the day that an occasional visitor would view. 

  6. Finally, Instagram serves more specific content by measuring the number of people you are following.  A more conservative following will allow the algorithm to portray a better-rounded consensus of that day’s content. However, those who follow loads of accounts will not usually see every piece of content posted. In this way, Instagram packages a much more summed up version of highlights since the last time you visited the app.

With all this in mind, it is important to remember that of all social media giants, Instagram specifically is constantly changing the way it interprets and measures its data based on “machine learning”, more precisely Artificial Intelligence said the creators at Instagram. The machine compiles more and more information and is bound to alter the way it measures its information search in years to come. All and all, the most important part of getting hits on Instagram is to stay consistent and be #relatable.

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