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How to understand Instagram's algorithm

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An algorithm in a computer context is a very broad concept that encompasses any procedure aimed at achieving an end. However, when it comes to social networks, the algorithm is the procedure that orders all the content in the application and decides what should be prioritised according to various factors.

It doesn't just work on the viralisation of content: who comes up first in your searches, what content is suggested to you, what advertising appears... All of this is the job of the algorithm, which investigates how you move through the app. It anticipates your movements and understands your tastes so that you have the most satisfying experience possible.

In fact, the algorithm is one of the best-kept secrets of apps and websites. Tik tok, for example, designed an algorithm that detects your tastes and movements after just 20 minutes of using the app.

The problem is that we don't always understand how this algorithm works (it's getting more and more complicated), and we don't know how to interact with the app in the right way.

How the algorithm works

Instagram has gone through phases in which it ordered content by chronological order, others by notoriety and others by "likes". If you want to achieve a good positioning, or simply want to know what the order of the list of people who have liked your post means, understanding the algorithm will help to resolve all these doubts.

The algorithm is updated periodically to create the best pattern for the most satisfying experience, but there is no single criterion that the algorithm uses to rank your content and how it appears on other people's profiles.

However, this information is not only obtained from likes and followers, but all behaviour on the app is recorded and stored: screen swipes, profile searches, time spent on each photo, links clicked, text enlarged, stories you spend more time on...

el algoritmo de instagram

Solen Feyssa via Unsplash

Broadly speaking, instagram relies on four metadata with which it establishes the order:

  • User account analytics: how long you use your account, whether you like commenting or just likes, whether you follow a lot of people or just those you interact with, etc.
  • Information about the post you see: if it has been uploaded a long time ago, if the people who see it interact with it, what format it has, what hashtags it uses.
  • The analysis of the account that publishes the content you have seen: the same analysis it does on your profile, it does on the other person's. The relationship between the two accounts.
  • The relationship between the two accounts: Instagram analyses the relationship between the account that views the content and the account that uploaded it. It looks at whether they follow each other, whether they have followers in common, whether they have seen the other person's content before, whether they like similar posts... A kind of compatibility between the two accounts. The more similar your interests or profiles are, the more frequently Instagram will show you your content.

Chronological order, therefore, is always important for the app. With some exceptions, recent content appears first, and is moved as new content is generated. That doesn't mean that the last thing posted will be the first thing you find, other factors also come into play.

The interest you show in different profiles, hashtags, arguments or topics will be reflected in the order of your application. The accounts you follow and the posts you like will almost always be ranked above those you don't interact with. At the same time, the algorithm is able to detect profiles with similar content, triggering suggestions that are based on the topics you are most interested in.

In reality, from this point of view, the algorithm can be a double-edged sword if you as a user are looking to get a bit of everything and be surprised. If you suddenly show an interest in home renovations, it won't be long before your Explora content is full of them.

entender el algoritmo de instagram

Gabrielle Henderson via Unsplash

The Explore section is your most useful weapon if you are a personal brand or a company, as it is through it that many people can get to know you. Use hashtags, audios and viral filters and accompany your posts with good text that describes them correctly (the algorithm detects keywords).

Tips to improve your algorithm

  • Interact: It is not only about giving likes to posts, but also about responding to all interactions made on your profile. Do not leave direct messages unread, comments unanswered, etc. This is the engagement, the hook, how much other accounts are tied to yours. But if you do not respond to these reactions, instagram understands that there is no engagement.
  • Support instagram novelties. as a company, instagram appreciates and prioritises that which publicises its new developments. reels are the newest format and instagram, as a company, wants to popularise them. i.e. a post, with the same characteristics as a reel, will not be prioritised.
  • Use carousels and publications that need more time: one photo has less engagement than a publication with several. This may be the reason why some of your photos have fewer likes, perhaps they went unnoticed among other people's content. This has to do with the time that each user spends on your publication. If it is just one photo, they will spend less time than if there are 10. And that, for the algorithm, is to show less interest.
  • Saving content: If you save the content of a profile, Instagram will understand that you are very interested in it, and therefore it will try to show you their content and your content to that account so that they can see it.

Instagram relies heavily on engagement. It wants accounts to interact with each other, rather than creating a one-way relationship. That is why it prioritises your profile for those profiles in which you show interest. In other words, if you are very interested in a person or company, and you frequently look at their content without following them, Instagram will show that person or company yours, to see if engagement is initiated on the other side.

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