“The algorithm changed and no one sees my posts anymore!
If you have any friends or colleagues who use Instagram for business, then I’m sure you’ve heard that one before.
It’s easy to blame algorithm changes for getting fewer likes, fewer comments, fewer impressions and fewer followers, but the algorithm isn’t the only factor that drives engagement and attracts new followers.
Click here to sign up for an upcoming Instagram webinar if you want to learn more about how to use Instagram’s algorithm to your advantage. You’ll immediately get an Instagram success cheat sheet, too.
If you want success on social media, you need to accept this first:
You can’t control the algorithm on any social media platform, but you CAN control everything else.
There are a few key elements to Instagram’s algorithm, which used to just be chronological up until last year.
Below, I’m going to break down the elements that are in your control and the ones that aren’t in your control.
Parts of Instagram’s algorithm that AREN’T in your control:
Relevancy: how relevant a post is compared to other posts in a user’s feed
If you follow and like many fashion accounts and follow one sports-related account, guess which photos you’ll rarely see in your feed? The sports-related one, even if it posts multiple times a day.
This is something you can’t control because it has to do with whom your followers are following besides you. But if you attract the right Instagram users to your profile, then it should be a match in terms of relevancy.
Relationships: accounts users regularly interact with
Users will see posts from accounts they regularly direct message, share, comment and like in their feeds, and they won’t see posts from accounts they don’t engage with as much.
Again, you can’t control how often a user engages with your content, but you CAN make content that drives engagement (more on that below).
Profile searches: how often a user searches for a specific profile
Since the algorithm will show posts from profiles that users search often, a select few will always be at the top of their feeds whenever those accounts have a new post.
If you want to think about how to capitalize on this element, think about how you can make your profile search-worthy for your current followers. A few ideas that will encourage users to search for your profile so they don’t miss a post:
- Daily challenges
- Teasing a big announcement
- Doing giveaways
These three elements of Instagram’s algorithm shouldn’t cause you too much stress. Instead, focus on the elements you can control, listed below.
Parts of Instagram’s algorithm that ARE in your control:
Engagement: how many likes and comments (and views for videos) a post gets
The simple way to get more engagement on your posts? Create more engaging content.
Engaging content on Instagram is nice to look at, has a clear voice and point of view and uses a call to action.
Here are a few ways to get more engagement on your posts that you can try today:
- Ask an engaging (but easy to answer) question in the caption of your posts
- Encourage your followers to comment if they have questions about a specific topic
- Tell your followers to tag a friend who would like whatever is in the photo
- Tell your followers to like the post if they agree with your caption or relate to what you’re saying
- Create higher quality images by using a real camera instead of your phone, editing them (I use Snapseed) and thinking about composition. The more beautiful your images are, the more people will engage with them
- Write out real, authentic captions once in a while to connect with your audience in a meaningful way
- Use the right hashtags to get more traffic to your post
- Post at the best times to get more engagement
- Tag other relevant accounts so they can also get their eyes on your posts (and possibly share them)
Before posting, ask yourself: Would I want to leave a comment or double-tap this post? Be picky with your content and captions.
What I want you to take away from this: Give your audience a reason to engage and meet them more than halfway.
By the way, you can download my Instagram success cheat sheet which includes best practices for engagement here.
Timing: when and how often users post
Even though Instagram’s algorithm isn’t chronological anymore, timing and consistency still matter.
In my experience, posting once a day minimum, three a day maximum (yes, even on weekends) is best if you want to play nice with the algorithm.
I notice my impressions, engagement and profile views drop dramatically if I even skip one day. Consistency is key in both the quality of your content and the amount of times you post.
One of the most common questions I get is, “When is the best time to post?” It’s different for every account depending on where the majority of your audience lives.
A good rule of thumb is to think about when your audience is commuting or not focused on work. Those times are: 7am-10am, 12pm-1pm, 7pm-10pm.
On posting multiple times a day: When I was in rapid growth mode (before I hit 10k) I posted twice a day. Once in the morning, and once at night.
Now, at almost 70k followers, I find I get less engagement when I post twice a day and just keep it to one post.
I also recommend that you keep playing with posting times and trying more than one a day until you find what works for you by looking at your analytics.
The one thing I want you to take away from this: Your account will grow steadily if you consistently post amazing content every day at similar times.
Direct shares: how many times users have shared your posts
It’s pretty obvious why Instagram’s algorithm favors posts that have high engagement and lots of shares.
While you can’t control how many times your content gets shared with other users via direct message, you can control the shareability of your content.
Again, this goes back to quality. My account grew fast when I upgraded from my iPhone camera to my Canon Powershot G5X and thought about the composition and lighting more.
What I want you to take away from this: When you plan your content or think about your posts, consider this question: Would I want to show this to my friends?
Time spent on post: how long users spend looking at a post instead of scrolling past
So one of the elements of Instagram’s algorithm has to do with how much time users are spending looking at your post instead of scrolling past.
Aside from creating a beautiful image or quote that users will want to look at, you’ll need to put some time into writing your caption, too.
Some Instagram experts swear by short and sweet captions with a couple of emojis, but if you’re trying to “find your tribe,” you have to speak up and out in your caption.
One trick is using the first 100 characters or so in your caption as a juicy hook. That way, people will keep reading (and spend more time looking at your post).
How do you hook your followers? You tap into their emotions. You talk about their problems and offer advice or a quick solution. You talk about a relatable issue, experience, feeling, transformation or realization.
Give your followers something to sink their teeth into. No, not every user has time to read a long caption, but they want to know what you have to say about the topics they care about. Otherwise, why the hell should they follow you?
What I want you to take away from this: Treat your captions like mini blog posts. Always include a CTA and/or compelling question. Add value.
Other algorithm elements to consider:
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that like Facebook, Instagram is now favoring video and the accounts that are using its newer features: Instagram live and Instagram stories.
So if you want to play nice with Instagram’s algorithm, I recommend you use those features, too. Posts videos when you can and use stories a few times a day to start. Go live if you want a good adrenaline rush.
Not sure what to talk about on Instagram stories and Instagram live? Ask your audience.
They’ll give you all the ideas you need, and you’ll stress less about your content.
Before you blame the algorithm again, think about your content. Yes, the algorithm changes sometimes, and it can affect how your posts perform… but that’s not what you should focus on.
Keep serving your audience, continue to look at your analytics and be honest with yourself. If you’re experiencing a drop in engagement or your follower growth is “stuck,” it might not entirely be the algorithm’s fault. Take it as a sign to revamp your content.
Here are the first three steps to take ASAP:
- Ask your audience what they want to see more of.
- Dive deep into your hashtags and make sure you’re using the right ones
- Study the content that IS performing well on your competitors’ accounts (or accounts in other niches that you like), and try to pick out the elements of their content that you can try to implement to yours.
If you have specific questions or you’re interested in discussing the growth of your account and monetizing it, reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS: I’m co-hosting a live Instagram Marketing one-hour online workshop with fellow Insta-expert Anna McNaught of The Liked Photo on November 17. Click here to sign up and get on the waiting list. Spots are limited.