How Instagram algorithm works

How Instagram algorithm works

by Katarina Nápoles

Published December 15, 2019

The debate around this technology has little to do with how secret it is, but how such algorithm can harm or benefit some profiles, lowering/expanding reach and engagement.

Here we’ll try to explain exactly how the Instagram algorithms works in 2020, what criteria it uses to rank content and also how you can take advantage of it to do well on the app. Keep on reading!

How the Instagram algorithm really works

The first thing you need to know about Instagram is: just like any business, the platform wants to make the most profit from advertisers. That is, the more people see an ad, the better for the advertiser. Being a better advertising place, advertisers will probably expend even more money on Instagram Ads.

To get more ads, Instagram needs us to spend as much time as possible on their network. That way, instead of spending five minutes on Instagram and being impacted by three ads, for example, we spend three hours of our day and see over 50 ads.

Some people may think “will Instagram become a new Facebook?”

Well, we hope not. And the platform really moves in the opposite direction sometimes but no one can ever really tell whats the next big thing.

What we can say is that Instagram tries to stay at the top of it’s game by launching new features almost every month, which injects the dose of hype that every social network needs to survive these days.

That being said, let’s go to the top Instagram ranking criteria:


The Instagram algorithm understands how much you like a certain subject by the way you behave within the service. If you like a lot of makeup posts and comments on dog videos, for example, the algorithm understands that it should prioritize these themes in your feed.

Instagram uses technology that can recognize the content of images in posts and sums these signals with whats within comments to guarantee greater accuracy.

Also, if you wish seeing more posts from any specific profile, you should like and comment on posts on this account to make it clear to Instagram that this kind of content interests you and you want to see more of it.

But don’t forget: by showing you content that keeps you scrolling, Instagram can hold you longer on the platform and show you more ads about that subject too.


Although the chronological feed is long gone, Instagram’s most up-to-date algorithm takes time into account for each post shown.

Can you remember the last time you went on Instagram and saw a post from three days ago? These days it only happen if you spend a lot of time without logging in because, currently, Instagram wants to show you the content of your interest but is fresh as well.


Another very important criteria that Instagram uses is your relationship with other accounts. The algorithm can figure out which people you relate to most from your interactions. Sending DMs, who you tag in your photos, which stories you answer most… This all tells Instagram which profiles are your favorites.

Getting you to prioritize posts from your friends, family, and favorite artists is one of the platform’s goals – to keep you hooked.


Instagram product lead Julian Gutman explains the algorithm


These are the three main criteria that the Instagram algorithm uses to rank the posts in your feed and the Explore tab.

But there are other issues that also influence it:


How often you use Instagram also influences how your feed will look. If you open the app a lot you will most likely receive updated content each time.

Those who only use the app few times a week may see older content, but of greater interest.

Who do you follow

The algorithm also takes into account how many profiles you follow. If the user follows fewer people, they are likely to receive a good deal of the content from all these profiles.

At the same time, the more people you follow, the harder it will be for Instagram to show you everything, as you’ll have to spend hours and hours scrolling down to see all the posts.


How to use the Instagram algorithm to your advantage

If the Instagram algorithm uses criteria to prioritize some content and downplay others, it means we can work on the social network to beat those criteria. We set up a little list for you to follow:

Use the new features of Instagram

Instagram seems to reward profiles that use the new features of social networking. And how do they reward? With more reach, ie showing your profile with a higher priority.

The latest releases of the app have been focused mainly on Instagram Stories. So don’t be afraid to create vertical content whenever any new features come up.

While our average story usually stands at 300 unique views. After the release of Quizz’s sticker, we reached 468 unique views organically. That’s a 56% growth!


Encourage followers to comment

“Tag a friend that …” these kind of posts seem silly, right? Well, not really.

Since the algorithm looks at who we relate to and interact with the most, from the moment someone comments on your post, Instagram will understand that your profile is important to that user and will deliver your content with higher priority in their feed.



So always try to encourage followers to engage with you by answering a question or tagging a friend.


Post when your followers are online

The first few minutes of your post are precious. The more people interact with the post, the more Instagram will understand that it’s good and the more the post will be shown to others, creating a loop.

Therefore it is very important that you know the best time to post to your profile. There are several ways to find out, but if you already have an Instagram business account, just go to Instagram Insights.

In the menu that appears in the upper right corner, select Info. Then click on the Public tab and scroll down to the bottom. A chart of the times your followers most accessed each day will appear.

step by step to get insights


Invest in high quality media

According to Instagram itself, getting a good place in your followers’ feed is directly related to creating great content. This means that not only should your caption be perfect and flashy, but your images as well.

The fact that Instagram is a network that appeals to the visual weighs even more. So whenever possible, produce high quality photos and videos. Vibrant colors, different ideas and breathtaking photos are types of content that often results in good numbers in engagement.

Photo we produced for Postgrain’s Campaign (tag products). The idea is super simple, but that’s already different from what we are used to seeing in the feed.


Make Instagram stories often

Its no secret that Instagram Stories are a big part of a good Instagram Strategy nowadays, what you might not know is: stories also has its own algorithm. Therefore, you must work to always get the first places between the profiles that are up there.

Ideally, you should always work on how to verticalise your content. Also, be sure to encourage their engagement in your stories as well: ask them to share, send them to a friend or even respond to it.

Since it already gives us lots of features to use, just try to not abuse Instagram’s stickers.


Respond to comments while they are still recent

Whenever possible, respond to comments on your posts while they are still new. This also creates the looping I mentioned above: the more comments on your post in a short time, the more Instagram will find you interesting.

It also encourages others to comment, as they know you will likely valide them. It will also give a good brand impression, one that interacts with followers and is always available.

Use user generated content

Reusing content that users spontaneously produce about your brand can help you beat the algorithm! First, it will provoke a positive reaction from the user who produced that content, who will feel that you paid attention to it.

Second, because other users may be influenced by behavior and knowing that they might be recognized and may contribute to you as well.



Embrace direct messages

The Instagram algorithm is very interested in who you relate to the most and this is directly related to the DMs you receive and send on Instagram. The more your followers interact with you there, the higher priority you will have in their feed.

So always be available to chat for messages and try to make that very clear in the Stories and feed posts. This type of relationship will even be very positive for your business, as direct messages usually involves longer conversations and gives you the opportunity to cultivate an individual and lasting relationship with each follower.

Do a giveaway/contest

To this day, the easiest way for you to win multiple likes, followers, and comments at the same time is by making a giveaway/contest.

The rules of the draw on Instagram are usually directly linked to what the algorithm values ​​most, which are interactions (likes, comments) and relationship (followers, comments, tagging friends).

In addition to increasing the engagement in your profile, you will do well for the algorithm.


Myths about the algorithm

Although Instagram has been publicly explaining the algorithm updates and has elucidated a number of previously dark issues for those working with Instagram, the platform’s algorithm is still shrouded with myths.

We’ve chosen the most common about lies about the Instagram algorithm to explain to you how it really works. Take a look:

Instagram hides your posts

Instagram is not hiding posts from anyone – oh well, perhaphs those hit by a shadowban. As I said earlier, whether or not you get a post in the feed will depend on many factors.

The truth is that most Instagram users follow many profiles and therefore have a hard time seeing everything. But Instagram makes sure that if you keep rolling the feed, you’ll see absolutely EVERYTHING that has been published.

Videos get more reach than pictures

Instagram has made it clear that it does not prioritize any kinda of media. So if they are of the same quality, a video and an image are equally likely to perform well.

Business accounts have decreased reach

Instagram has also made a point of explaining that it doesn’t take the type of account in consideration for ranking content.

In fact, as of today, the business account has a lot of perks, such as access to more detailed data about your audience and call-to-action buttons, for example.


The Instagram algorithm doesn’t have to be wrapped in mysteries. Once you know how it works, your job of getting it to your advantage is much easier and will come naturally.