Fortunately, the algorithm isn’t a total secret. It’s really just code that determines what users want to see and prioritizes those posts.
That means you need to convince the algorithm that your posts include the kind of content that people are looking for on Instagram.
In this article, we’ll go over how the algorithm works, and how to use that knowledge to get more Instagram views.
Spoiler alert: outsmarting the Instagram algorithm and getting more views is more about understanding what your human audience wants.
What Is the Instagram Algorithm?
An algorithm is software logic that’s designed to solve a problem. That’s the textbook definition, anyway.
In this case, though, Instagram uses an algorithm to show users what they want to see.
In 2016, Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, said about the algorithm: “What this is about is making sure that the 30% [Instagram users] see is the best 30% possible.”
Since then, things have changed. We have Stories. Shoppable Ads. The under-the-radar IGTV.
And of course, Zuckerberg now rules the ‘gram alongside Facebook–and the two social giants share an ad portal and audience insights.
Over the past decade, Instagram’s algorithm has gone through a series of updates that reflect a slightly different set of priorities.
Today, the new algorithm uses six factors to make this determination with three “core factors” that include:
- User interests – Instagram predicts what posts you may want to see based on your past behavior with similar content.
- Timeliness – recent posts will be given priority over older posts.
- Relationship – regularly commenting on, or being tagged in, posts of other users will put them in your “friends and family” category.
Users who are really into fishing, for example, will more likely see fishing photos at the top of their feed than family photos of distant relatives they haven’t talked to in years. That’s the algorithm in action.
How does Instagram determine what people will like? It looks at their history online.
To continue with the example above, if a user is continually clicking “Like” on fishing photos, then the algorithm will determine that he or she wants to see more fishing photos.
To sum it up, Instagram’s algorithm evaluates user behavior to determine what people really want to see. From there, the platform pushes content that aligns with those interests to the top of their feeds.
Instagram’s algorithms also look at the following ranking signals to determine what users see in their feeds–it should be noted that these “secondary factors” don’t hold as much weight as the three mentioned above.
- Frequency of use – People who use the app often will see more content than people who only use it occasionally.
- Number of followers – People who follow lots of accounts tend to see a broad cross-section of content. People who only follow a few accounts, on the other hand, will see more content from each of the accounts they follow.
- Session time – People who spend plenty of time on the app will find more content because they’ll catch the posts that didn’t rank at the top while they keep scrolling their feeds.
1. Make an Impression with Your Headline, Bio, & Profile Pic.
As much as looks shouldn’t matter, the fact is, your bio–whether it’s you or your brand–is the first thing people see on Instagram. Your bio is one of the few spaces on the platform where you can capture the interest of new audiences who have yet to hear about your brand.
2. Show Instagram (and Your Followers) Your Credentials
While we typically talk “EAT” guidelines in the context of hacking Google’s algorithms, embracing your expertise, authority, and trust on social media can help you hack your Insta, too.
Give your followers a glimpse into who you are–for entrepreneur/influencer/thought leader types, that might mean sharing personal accomplishments that help audiences understand why they should listen to you over somebody else.
For bigger brands, this is your chance to showcase your mission, values, and unique value proposition.
In either case–be it e-commerce store or solo-preneur, big box or inspirational speaker, one of the best ways to beat the Instagram algorithm is to put your skills and experience front and center.
Keep in mind, your ultimate goal is to give your target audience a reason to care about your account–and by extension your brand (personal or not).
In other words–while this all might sound like an excuse to brag about yourself, optimizing for the Insta crowd is just like optimizing for the SERPs–the user experience comes first. Why is your brand relevant? What do you offer? How is it unique?
3. Master the Art of the Emoji
Emoji aren’t exactly this magic bullet Instagram hack, but, done right, they can do wonders for that relatability factor, especially when coupled with your credentials and accomplishments.
Try adding them to your bio–as they function as both a design element that breaks up the space, and an opportunity to make plain text more engaging for audiences.
This might seem obvious, but like all things “brand-oriented,” make sure that the emojis you use in your bio, Stories, or ads match the rest of the copy.
We’ve moved beyond the old days where it was borderline acceptable to just send random emojis along with an unrelated message. Today, emoji represent another channel for expressing your humor, wit, and even a sense of whimsy (though the jury’s out on whether the checkmark or the Apple Watch emoji qualify as whimsical).
4. Upload Instagram Posts When Your Followers Are Online
If some great content is posted on Instagram and nobody is online to engage with it, is it really there?
Who knows for sure. However, if you asked the Instagram algorithm, you’ll get a firm and resounding “NO.”
That’s why it’s important to post content when you’re followers are most likely to be online.
Instagram will show your post to a small percentage of your followers at first. If it generates more engagement than your average post, then you can expect that it will get prioritized higher in user feeds. If it receives less engagement, it will get lower priority.
So if you post at a time when only a few of your users are online, then you’re already starting with one strike against you in terms of engagement. It’s not likely your post will get pushed to the top of people’s feeds.
On the other hand, if you post at a time when the lion’s share of your users are online, then you stand a better chance of getting engagements. When that happens, you can expect more impressions.
Of course, this advice raises the question: how do you know when your followers are online?
There are a few ways that you can answer that question (BTW: I wrote a whole post on timing Instagram posts a while back. Check it out if you’re looking for more info.) including the following:
- Start by looking at Instagram analytics. How have your Instagram posts have performed over the last several months?
- Is there a block of time when you seem to get most of your engagements? If so, then that’s a good indication that your followers are online at that time.
- Also, use common sense. If you’re a B2B brand, you might find that most of your followers are too busy to be online during business hours. They might browse Instagram after 6PM when they get home from work. If this is you, I recommend looking into who is engaging in your IG content, how does that compare to other platforms, and is Instagram the best use of your time.
On the other hand, if you’re running a B2C business, then you know that some of your customers browse Instagram during slow times at work.
You can also follow generic advice about the best times to post on Instagram. Be advised, though, that opinions vary widely about the best times to post on various social media channels.
Finally, one of the best ways to determine when your followers are online is with the aid of a tool. Squarelovin is one of the best at offering Instagram insights.
5. Double Down on Popular Content
One of the best ways to stay on top is to simply give people what they want.
In other words, post the type of content that your followers want to see.
When you do that, you’re almost guaranteed to get engagements. And when that happens, you can expect the Instagram to prioritize your post to the top of people’s feeds.
But how can you tell what type of content people will like? You can look at the history of your own posts.
If you have a Business Profile on Instagram, then you have access to Instagram Insights. Those insights will give you some valuable detail about the type of content your followers want to see.
To view your insights, tap on the bar graph icon on the top, right-hand side of your Business Profile.
Click on Posts and filter all your posts by engagement during the last year or last 6 months.
At the top of that feed, you’ll see the posts that get the highest engagement. Scroll through the feed and look for common themes.
If you see that certain types of posts are generating more engagement than others, then you have the answer to your “What do the people want?” question. Post more content just like the content that’s already performed well.
6. Post Instagram Stories For More Views on Instagram
Much like Snapchat, Instagram stories are those disappearing photos and videos that have become all the rage.
They are so popular in fact, that in 2017 they boasted more than 300 million active daily users. That’s even more than its predecessor Snapchat!
Instagram stories are a great way to connect with your followers. They offer several opportunities for engagement such as:
- Location stickers
Essentially, the algorithm is going to work the same for stories as it does for standard posts.
However, because of the popularity of Instagram Stories and the fact that they are an additional opportunity for engagement, they will help your overall ranking in the feeds.
For more on how to get the most engagement out of your Instagram Stories, take a look at my full guide.
7. Get More Views For Instagram With Live Video
Much like Instagram Stories, live videos are another way to boost engagement and get more views.
If you are connecting with your followers as you should be, you likely have a ton of topics just waiting to be turned into a live video.
Take a look at your comments and the posts your followers have interacted with the most. This is a great place to start looking for video ideas that you know will get great engagement.
Probably the greatest benefit of live videos is that they show up first on the stories feed. Better still, your followers will get a notification as soon as you “go live”.
8. Post Human Content
It’s called social media, not commercial media. For a reason.
People do not log on to Instagram to receive a sales pitch. They go there to share photos and chat with one another.
That’s the whole point of social media.
If you post content that makes it clear you’re only trying to sell something, you can expect to receive hardly any engagement and lose followers. That’s not going to do your brand any good.
Instead, use Instagram to post content that people in your target market will love even if it doesn’t close a sale immediately.
That will do a couple of great things for your business.
First, it will boost brand-name awareness. When people who follow you need a product or service that you’re selling, they’ll look to your business as a viable competitor.
Second, it will generate engagements. Those engagements will influence the algorithm to push your content to the top of people’s feeds.
If you’re looking for an example of a brand that knows how to promote itself on Instagram without coming off too salesy, take a look at the feed of online clothing store ModCloth. You’ll find great fashion shots that appeal to people in the company’s target market but don’t come across as overly commercialized.
Think about how you can do something like that with your brand.
9. Use Hashtags
One really easy way to stay relevant in the Feed is by using hashtags.
If you’re unfamiliar with hashtags, they’re keywords that you put after a hash (#). They identify topics related to your post.
For example, if you post a meme about search engine optimization (SEO), you might include the hashtag #seo in your caption. Then, people who view all posts with the #seo hashtag will likely see your post.
When you use hashtags, you’re increasing your audience size. That’s because your post won’t just be visible to people to follow you, but to people who follow that hashtag as well.
Of course, when you increase your audience size, then you not only increase your immediate visibility, but you also increase the likelihood of engagement.
Do you see where this is going? If you gain more engagements, the algorithm will prioritize your post.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that you should only use hashtags that are relevant to your content.
Social media is riddled with posts by people who exploit popular hashtags just to gain visibility. Unfortunately, those hashtags often have absolutely nothing to do with the content of their posts.
If you try to increase impressions by leveraging a hashtag that’s not related to your content, you’ll just get branded a spammer. Even worse, Instagram might take action against you.
Don’t get caught in that trap. Instead, find hashtags related to your content and use them.
10. Leverage Trending Topics
Current events can make you a fortune.
Sometimes, breaking news becomes a trending topic on social media. When that happens, think about how you can use it to your advantage.
Usually, a trending topic will have its own hashtag. Post content relevant to that topic and use that hashtag in the caption.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a great idea to find something humorous that you can post related to a trending topic. That can be pretty difficult if you aren’t a comedian, though.
Sometimes, you might stumble across a funny meme that’s associated with a trending topic. You can usually “borrow” that meme and post it to your own account.
A couple of years ago, NWA released a meme generator related to its upcoming biopic Straight Outta Compton. Some companies used it to create a graphic that promoted their own brand.
For example, Insomnia Cookies created an image that showed dozens of cookies coming out of the oven with the caption: “Straight Outta The Oven.” The company tagged it with the #StraightOutta tag on social media.
We keep it real. #StraightOutta pic.twitter.com/lzFRIdIdfY
— insomnia cookies (@insomniacookies) August 10, 2015
Back then, more than a quarter of a million Instagram posts used the #StraightOutta hashtag. It was a great way for companies to promote their brands online.
The good news for you is that there will always be another #StraightOutta moment on social media. Just keep your eyes open for trending topics and find a way that you can work them into some shameless self-promotion.
If you can make a few people laugh along the way, all the better.
One word of warning: be very careful about using hot-button political or social issues to promote your brand. That can backfire big time.
Even when you’re leveraging a non-controversial trending topic, avoid using a meme or making a statement that could be construed as offensive to some people. There are countless stories of companies that had to issue an apology after a social media campaign misfire.
It’s a great idea to run your social media promotions past a few different people before you post them publicly.
11. Post Frequently
This is a slippery slope. When it comes to quality versus quantity with Instagram, both are important to boosting engagement.
If you only post once a month, your engagement will suffer simply because users are not seeing your posts frequently enough to be engaged.
If you post three times a day, users may consider this to be spammy. They could get easily annoyed by your posting habits and unfollow.
So, how can you balance this out to optimize your use of the platform? It’s simple. You should be using a content scheduling tool.
There are many available, and using such a tool will help you plan out your content in advance. It works well if you want to stick to a theme too.
But keep in mind, the right frequency is unique to each brand. That’s why it’s important to find the frequency that works best for you.
Doing so will require a little experimentation. Start out by posting three times a week. This is usually a good place to start, and a tool like Hootsuite or HeyOrca can help you stay organized.
Then, try increasing your frequency. Add in a post on one more day, and see if you get more or less engagement. Keep tabs on your overall engagement, and adjust your strategy from there.
A word of caution: don’t post just for frequency’s sake. If you’re struggling to come up with quality content to post, give yourself a break and stick to a schedule that works for you.
12. Host a contest
One of the quickest and easiest ways to boost your account’s engagement on Instagram is to host a contest.
In order to put on a proper Instagram contest, you will need to put in a little effort before-hand.
You need to figure out what products or services you want to offer and whether or not you want to include other brands that go well with your niche.
For example, if you make costume necklaces, you could offer your best-selling piece as a prize. You could even reach out to other brands in your genre to join in on the contest and provide their own products as prizes. This will entice even more users to enter.
Next, you need to decide which type of of contest you want to run.
You could easily do a solo contest that simply asks for users to follow your account, like your post, and tag 3 friends in the comments to enter.
You could also ask the users to repost your contest post to boost the amount of potential new followers you could gain.
Just be careful that none of your parameters fall under “engagement bait.” Last year, Facebook cracked down on accounts that used spammy or shady tactics to encourage likes, shares, and comments. Accounts found guilty of engagement bait are consequently demoted in the Feed.
You can read more about engagement bait and kinds of content to steer clear of here.
Here are a few other fun contest ideas:
- Photo Caption Contest – Ask users to caption a photo and then decide which caption was the best.
- Trivia-Based Contest – Encourage users to show-off their skills and knowledge with a fun trivia question.
- User-Generated Content Contest – Get your followers to create their own original content based on your contest rules. For example, you can ask existing customers to post images or videos creatively using your product. The best entry wins!
- Stories Contest – This type of contestis time-sensitive and encourages users to engage quickly.
- Scavenger Hunt Contest – Encourage your followers to get involved with your brand. Give them a list of photo tasks to complete or offer clues to help them find a prize.
Pro Tip: Remember to create a special hashtag for your contest. It needs to be catchy and unique to your brand. This will help boost brand awareness on the platform.
To host a contest on Instagram, you first need to set your goals, decide on the rules, determine how long it will run, and figure out how you will notify the winner. It needs to be well-thought-out, but it isn’t difficult.
13. Ask Followers to Turn On Notifications
You can casually ask your followers to turn on notifications for your account.
This will let them know whenever you post something new.
The more users who turn on notifications for your account, the higher chance you have of boosting your brand’s reach and engagement.
Bonus: Ask Followers to “Tag a Friend”
Here’s a neat trick to grab more engagements: ask followers to “tag a friend.”
Post some content that you think is particularly valuable, especially to people in your target market. Then, write a caption that promotes your content and ask your followers to tag their friends in the comments.
This strategy does two things.
First, it gets people to comment on the post. That’s because they tag their friends by leaving a comment.
Second, it attracts new people to your account. The users who were tagged will take a look at your post and, if they like what they see, they might tag a friend themselves.
They might even follow you.
A Few Myths About the Instagram Algorithm
Let me take a few lines here to bust a few myths:
- “Reverse chronological is coming back” – Don’t count on that. Remember, Instagram is owned by Facebook, which loves to predict what you want to see. You can expect the algorithm to stay in play for quite some time.
- “Instagram has a reach cap” – This myth went around in January 2019. Instagram took to Twitter[!] to let people know that there is no reach cap. If you can make something go really viral, the Instagram algorithm won’t stop showing it just because a certain percentage of your followers saw it.
- “Verified users get their content prioritized” – Nope. Verified users are subject to the algorithms just like anybody else. If they want people to see their posts, they’d better produce some amazing content.
- “Going Live and posting Stories will help my posts be seen” — The algorithm does not take live videos or stories into account. However, if you use these tools provided by Instagram, you will increase your chances of gaining new followers and boosting engagement. This is simply because the people who see your live videos or stories like your content.
Wrapping It Up
You don’t have to be a savvy, hidden-in-a-dark-room kind of hacker to crack the Instagram algorithm.
Hopefully, you’ve learned some valuable tips for Instagram success.
The bottom line is this: the more you utilize every opportunity for engagement, the more likely you are to rank higher in the feeds and get views for Instagram.