Instagram Algorithm Updates (Updated July 2021)

Jul 06

Instagram Algorithm Updates (Updated July 2021)

As digital marketers, part of our job is to understand the how’s and why’s behind all of the digital marketing strategies and opportunities available to us. We constantly seek to learn how various platforms work so that we can optimize our approach to best achieve success through these channels. One of the platforms that are ever-changing, and therefore often difficult to understand without a little research, is social media. Specifically: Instagram. 

Instagram officially launched in 2010 and, over the years, has seen many updates and changes. Though Instagram does not make the inner-workings of its algorithm public knowledge and has explained that the Instagram algorithm is constantly changing, we will update this post as changes are made and reasoning is made available.

July 2021 Instagram Algorithm Update

Though there is no official source documenting any change yet, in late June Instagram came to the world with a big announcement. A video released by the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, explains how Instagram will slowly shift to prioritize video content above still-frame photos. They have been experimenting with one algorithm that prioritizes recommended videos in your Instagram feeds and tested another algorithm the first week of July. While much is still uncertain on how this will affect Instagram and its creators, we heard it straight from the horses’ mouth that video content is king. Some creators are applauding the choice, while others are in an uproar. As we know more about this new shift, we will update this post with details.

June 2021 Instagram Algorithm Update

Instagram published an article in June of 2021 that went in-depth on how the platform operates. The article opens with the statement that reads: “Instagram doesn’t have one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app. We use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose. We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that.” Their goal is to ensure that users get to see as many relevant posts to them as possible while they’re scrolling their Instagram feed. They go on to elaborate that each part of the app uses a different algorithm to determine what users get to see. The 3 main parts of the app are as follows: Feed (which includes both posts and stories), Explore, and Reels. We will discuss each individual algorithm and how you can leverage it for your success.

June 2021 Instagram Feed Algorithm

Your Instagram feed is where you can find all of the content from the accounts and tags that you follow. You can access your feed by clicking on the little house icon at the bottom of your Instagram screen (shown below highlighted in blue).

Screenshot of an instagram grid with a circle over the home icon that directs users to their instagram feed

Feed content includes both media posted to user grids as well as individual user stories. The images and videos that show up in your feed are curated specifically for you based on what Instagram calls “signals”. Instagram defines signals as “all the information we have about what was posted, the people who made those posts, and your preferences.” Instagram went on to list the following as some of the most important signals (in order of importance)

  • Post Information: This includes how many likes a post has, what time/day it was posted, video length, and location
  • Poster Information: Instagram uses this to determine how important that user may be to you and how likely you are to interact with the content
  • Your own activity: Some of these signals may be posts you have liked, how long you scroll for, accounts you typically interact with
  • Your history: This determines if you’ve historically interacted with the account whose post they’re showing to you in the feed

Those these are the “most important’ signals listed by Instagram. They also stated in the blog that there are thousands of signals that they use to determine what posts and stories you see in your feed. These signals are also constantly changing as Instagram learns how its users prefer to interact with the platform. Based on the signals received by you and the users posting, Instagram is able to curate a feed tailored to what they are predicting you will be most likely to interact with. Their goal is to show you the content you want to see and keep you scrolling through your feed as long as possible.

June 2021 Instagram Explore Algorithm

The Explore part of the Instagram app allows users to not only search for content but presents them with options of content the algorithm thinks that specific user will like. This content includes everything under the sun, or at least everything you can find on Instagram: posts, stories, reels. shopping, videos. It’s all carefully curated by- you guessed it- signals that indicate whether or not the user will interact with it. You can find the Explore page at the bottom of your Instagram feed by tapping on the little magnifying glass (shown below circled in blue).

Screenshot of an instagram grid with a circle over the search icon that directs users to their instagram explore

Instagram identified that they use signals such as posts you’ve liked, commented on, and saved to gather options to present to you in your Explore feed. They use that data to identify other accounts that interact with the same accounts as you, and what other accounts they interact with. Through this Instagram is able to piece together connections of what you may be interested in and present that content to you in the Explore feed. They have identified the ranking factors for the content in your explore feed as follows, in order of importance:

  • Post Information: This includes how many likes a post has, what time/day it was posted, video length, and location
  • Your history: This determines if you’ve historically interacted with the account whose post they’re showing to you in the feed
  • Your own activity: Some of these signals may be posts you have liked, how long you scroll for, accounts you typically interact with
  • Poster Information: Instagram uses this to determine how important that user may be to you and how likely you are to interact with the content

June 2021 Instagram Reels Algorithm

We identified the emergence of Reels in our 2020 Algorithm Update as a way for Instagram to keep up with the ever-growing video platform: TikTok. Instagram has spent the last year fine-tuning its Reels feature to make sure it is entertaining as users expect it to be. You can find your Reels feed, again, at the bottom of your Instagram screen by clicking on the icon that looks like a film scene marker (shown below circled in blue)

Screenshot of an instagram grid with a circle over the icon that directs users to their instagram reels

Unlike the Feed and Explore sections, Instagram uses direct user surveys to understand what content people find entertaining. While signals still come into play. Instagram is still learning how its users consume Reels and more carefully curating the algorithm of this new feature. They’ve identified the important signals for Reels to populate in your feed as follows:

  • Your own activity: Some of these signals may be posts you have liked, how long you scroll for, accounts you typically interact with
  • Your history: This determines if you’ve historically interacted with the account whose post they’re showing to you in the feed
  • Reel Information: This includes how many likes a reel has, what audio is used, and video quality
  • Poster Information: Instagram uses this to determine how important that user may be to you and how likely you are to interact with the content

2021 Removal of Like Counts

Though this doesn’t directly affect the algorithm because Instagram still knows how many likes a post has, it is an important change to note. Users now have the ability to hide the like counts on their posts, both on your own posts and on posts in your feed. There is much speculation around the reasoning for this change, but the official Instagram statement on their reasoning is as follows: “Today, we’re announcing that everyone on Instagram and Facebook will now have the option to hide their public like counts, so they can decide what works for them. We tested hiding like counts to see if it might depressurize people’s experience on Instagram. What we heard from people and experts was that not seeing like counts was beneficial for some, and annoying to others, particularly because people use like counts to get a sense for what’s trending or popular, so we’re giving you the choice.”  You can follow the steps indicated below to hide like counts:

How to Hide Your Post’s Like Counts on Instagram

There currently isn’t a universal way to hide all of your posts’ like counts, but to hide like counts of individual posts follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the post where you want to hide like counts
  2. Click on the 3 dots in the top right corner
  3. Click “hide like count”

How to hide your like counts on instagram step 1 showing a circle over the 3 dots in the top right corner of your postHow to hide your like counts on instagram step two showing "Hide like count" circled

How to Hide Other’s Post’s Like Counts on Instagram

To hide like counts for all the posts that appear in your feed, follow the below steps:

  1. Navigate to your settings
  2. Click on Privacy
  3. Click on Posts
  4. Toggle the button that indicates “Hide Like and View Counts”

How to hide others like counts on instagram step one with the privacy setting circled in your settings tabHow to hide others like count on instagram step two with the posts option circled in the privacy tab of your settingsHow to hide others like counts on instagram step 3 with the option to hide like count circled

2020 Instagram Algorithm Updates

August 2020 Instagram Update: New Reels Feature

Instagram launches Reels to stay competitive in the social media sphere

In order to compete with other social media platforms, Instagram launched its new Reels feature. These are short, 15-second piece-mealed videos that are a lot like the content posted to the app Tik Tok. You can film 15 seconds straight or piece clips together and overlay sounds/music. Reels are a great way to share high-quality, yet still informal content and boost engagement in your feed. 

Reels are created through the same menu that you would create a story.

At the bottom of the camera window, you can click on REELS and then put your video together:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is still unclear how the algorithm will adjust to factor in Reels engagement, but as with any social platform, Instagram seems to favor when you use their features. Your Reels will show up in your follower’s feeds, on your grid, and be discoverable in the explore panel. Instagram has also included the ability for your reel to be featured, which will make it more likely to show up in explore. They have explained that this is their way of sharing valuable, helpful, and engaging content with other Instagram users.

January 2020 Algorithm Updates

Instagram responds to typical myths and misconceptions about its algorithm

Instagram took to their stories in January of 2020 to debunk some of the myths surrounding their current algorithm. Some key takeaways from the information they provided are:

  1. Posts and content that you interact with are what are most likely to be shown in your feed. It doesn’t matter if the account is a verified business/influencer or your best friend from 2nd grade. If you interact with the content, that is what is most likely to be shown at the top of your feed. 
  2. It is not built into the algorithm to favor one type of content over another (for example, photos over videos). What you see in your feed is customized for you based on your interaction habits.
  3. The algorithm is built to pick up on authenticity, and overtime is able to pick out inauthentic engagement (spam followers, “follow pods”, etc.)

How Instagram Ranks Posts

When Instagram launched in 2010, posts in user’s feeds were ranked chronologically. The most recent posts showed up first, and as you scrolled through the feed, you found older posts. In 2016, Instagram changed to a model that showed posts a little differently. Currently, Instagram posts are ranked based on 6 key factors:

1.) Interest

Based on your past behavior and interactions with posts, Instagram is able to predict what they think you will be most interested in, and most likely to interact with again.

2.) Time

The recency of the post being shared is factored in- it’s just no longer strictly chronological. 

3.) Relationship

The people and accounts that you interact with the most are the ones who are most likely to show up first in your feed.

4.) Frequency

Frequency is in reference to how often you use Instagram, as the algorithm is constantly adapting to show you content that you haven’t’ already seen. 

5.) Following

Instagram bases what you see on who you follow. If you follow more users, the algorithm has more content to pick from, so you may see less from specific people.

6.) Usage

Usage references how long you spend on the app each time you open it. If you open it for short amounts of time, you will see the best posts it figures each time you open it, making it sort of a highlight reel for you. If you spend longer amounts of time in the app, it will show you more posts in a more chronological order. 

 

Basically for Instagram, time, and consistency are key. They want to see that you are using their platform to the fullest capacity and actively engaging with people through it. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you leverage Instagram to achieve success, reach out to our team! We would love to talk with you, give you a free audit of your existing social media, and set up a plan to successfully build out your platforms and grow your reach!

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