How to Outsmart the Instagram Algorithm in 2020

The elusive Instagram algorithm, always playing hard to get and keeping us marketers on our toes!

There's been a lot of mixed messages over the years, most recently the move away from a chronological feed. These changes have brought up a lot of insecurities for publishers..."Do videos perform better than photos in the algorithm? How do you get to the front of the feed? or "Do hashtags help or hurt?"

So how can we win Instagram over in 2020? To our delight, Instagram recently set the record straight and gave us some vital insights to plan our 2020 social advertising strategies.

The 6 key factors that influence the Instagram algorithm for feed posts:

#1: Interest > How Much You Care About a Post

Your Instagram feed is tailored by a combination of all of your Instagram activity history. This encompasses the friends you interact with most, whose stories you watch, people you are tagged in photos with, and the type of posts that you like and comment on.

The Instagram algorithm favours content that receives the most engagement. The platform's important engagement metrics for feed ranking are comments, likes, re-shares, and views for video posts.

NBC Take: It's important to note that Instagram does count emoji's as characters for comment engagement but Instagram favours posts with longer comments meaning it's more important than ever to put the effort into writing responses back to people who choose to engage with your posts.

#2: Relationships with Followers

The Instagram algorithm puts weight on showing you posts from your friends, family, and accounts that you care about most at the top of your post feed.

This takes into account your Instagram behaviours such as:

  • People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos)
  • People you direct message
  • People you search for
  • People you know in real life

NBC Take: For brands and publishers this means that if you choose to ignore messages or activity, Instagram will recognise that you're not acknowledging people who want to interact with you and eventually you'll start to see your organic reach drop. It also means if you end up gaining a tonne of new followers from a competition/post/ambassador and aren't consistently posting, then those new followers won't have a chance to interact with your content and as a result, not be shown.

#3: Timeliness

Not only does the algorithm rank how many engagements a post receives, but it also factors in how long ago the photo was posted.

Researching your brands best time to post on Instagram, is a smart way to try and hack the algorithm to increase reach, likes and followers by publishing content when most of your fans are online.

NBC Take: It's important that you post often and at the right time but not just for the sake of it. Content must be engaging enough to drive an action from people otherwise it will be considered unworthy content and not shown.

#4: Frequency

Frequent scrollers' feeds will appear as though they are “chronological” since Instagram tries to “show you the best posts since your last visit.” However, less active users will be served posts according to what Instagram thinks they want to see.

NBC Take: No follower is too small. If some of your followers are infrequent users of Instagram, they'll choose which posts to show them. If you're taking the right steps to make sure you engaging with all types of followers, not just those that are 'influential' then Instagram is more likely to show your content organically.

#5: Following

Are you following every man and his dog on the 'gram? If you follow a lot of people, Instagram will be picking from a wider range of profiles so chances are, you won't see as much content from specific people.

NBC Take: If your social strategy is about finding the most 'influential people' who follow millions of brands and trying to interact with them, then they might not be the right people to approach. 'Influencers' are great at driving awareness of your brand, but if you're looking to increase your organic reach, start looking for local customers tagging locations in your area. For online businesses, look at competitors or similar brands' followers and choose people who don't seem to follow the entire Instagram population and start engaging with them.

#6: App Usage

How long you spend on the app determines what content you see. If you use it for short sessions Instagram will show you the highlights of your following, if you spend long sessions Instagram will "dig deeper into its catalogue."

NBC Take: If brands and publishers use the learnings above and play Instagram the way it wants to be used, posts will be served more organically, engagement will increase and connections will be more authentic. Essentially Instagram is looking to favour pages that do all the above so if you get it right, you'll be rewarded.

Instagram Algorithm

Extra Tips To Beat the Algorithm  

Post Consistently To Instagram Stories

As the Instagram algorithm continues to impact users’ engagement, it comes as no surprise that more users are spending time viewing Stories, rather than posts. The beginning of your story row features the accounts you engage with most, be it with their posts or their stories.

Posting consistently to Instagram Stories will increase your likelihood of appearing at the top of your audience's story feeds – giving you multiple chances throughout the day to be discovered!

Encourage Interactions with Stories Stickers 

Poll and emoji slider reaction stickers are a quick and easy way for fans to interact with your brand. Ask a question stickers may not be as quick to take part in or conjure but, but they can be super helpful in driving genuine engagement and getting to know your audience.

Drive Conversations with Engaging Captions  

As we know, Instagram values engagements so it's a smart idea to write your caption with this in mind. You can encourage interactions in a number of different ways such as by writing a killer opening line, including a call-to-action such a question or tag a mate, giveaways etc.

Cross-Promote Content for Maximum Engagement  

Drive engagement further by strategically cross-promoting content via a number of channels namely post feed, stories and IGTV.

Optimise Hashtags to Reach Relevant Audiences

Adding hashtags to your posts is one of the most effective ways to reach more people on Instagram, which means more “views” for the Instagram algorithm to take into account. With this in mind, it is imperative to develop a good hashtag strategy based on what your audience are searching for. We recommend looking at what successful brands in your network are doing to gain valuable hashtag inspiration.

Slide into DMs

In addition to likes, comments, saves etc., direct messages (DMs) are a strong engagement indicator for the Instagram's selective algorithm. Have you noticed the users you message most are often the first in line on your feed? — Yep you guessed it, the Instagram algorithm is once again doing its best to serve you content from the people you dig the most.

Monitor Results with Instagram Analytics

Knowing what's working - and more importantly, what's not - is a key element to any strategy. By taking on board the above tips for the top (of the feed) and actively tracking and monitoring content performance, you will save your time and effort in the long run in a bid to reach your target audience.

Top 8 Instagram metrics to track:

#1 Reach

The removal of likes in multiple countries is changing things up a lot and as a result, reach is being ranked higher than engagements. Reach shows how many unique accounts have seen your content so if your objective is brand awareness, then this is the most valuable metric to aim for.

#2 Post Saves

Saves are a solid way to know whether your followers resonate with your posts and give valuable insights to inform your future content strategy. The more saves/bookmarks you have on a post, the more the Instagram algorithm will favour your content.

#3 Sales

Instagram is making a continuous effort to help brands drive and track sales having introduced shoppable posts, Instagram Stories product stickers, checkout, and most recently shoppable AR filters) Direct sales results can be tracked from Instagram by simply adding UTM parameters to any shoppable links you use.

#4 Engagement Rate

As post likes become hidden across the world, comments are the hot new engagement metric in 2020. Your Engagement Rate is a key performance indicator of how well your audience gets you.

To calculate your ER: (Likes + Comments) / Followers x 100

#5 Story Views

To get a clearer picture of your audience retention rates on Instagram Stories, we recommend analysing completion rate insights, how many watched your stories right through to the end or and how many dropped off.

#6 Best Time To Post

By posting when the majority of your audience is online, you are far more likely to received more likes and comments on your content your content. Check out this handy graphic on the global best times to post!

#7 Growth

Keep tabs on your follow/unfollow activity is an important way of knowing what content is attracting your audience and what is turning them off. Instagram’s “followed” and “unfollowed” metrics now shows you exactly how many followers you gain and lose each day.

#8 Traffic

Measure traffic to your site from your link in bio, and if you're one of the lucky ones with over 10K followers on Instagram; you can add direct "swipe up" links to stories.

Above all, the most powerful tactic for 2020 and beyond is to keep your audience's interests at the heart of your strategy. Building and nurturing a genuine relationship with your followers will work wonders for your business by growing your Instagram real estate and increasing overall sentiment surrounding the brand.

Did you make it this far? Congrats! Why not email us and we can help you come up with a social strategy to get your brand seen.

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