If the bulk of your marketing strategy takes place online, then chances are you've already heard of the new Instagram algorithm they announced this month. Like Facebook, Instagram keeps the exact algorithm of its feed under wraps — meaning that no one really knows exactly how it ranks the posts you see in your feed or which calculations it chooses to rank those posts. But they do explain which types of posts are prioritized.
Unsurprisingly, much of what we do know about Instagram's algorithm is that it is very user-centric. This means that the calculations they use, and any changes they make, are for the sole purpose of making the average user experience a more pleasant one. This also means that if you understand how the algorithms work, and you continue to use Instagram in a way that helps give users a positive experience, your social media marketing efforts will really pay off for you.
It's All About Engagement
You might already be sick of the word: “engagement.” Like other social media networks, Instagram uses your engagement to determine what to show you. The more often you interact with a person's posts, the more often that person will appear near the top of your feed when you log into Instagram. And not only that, but similar accounts and posts will also be ranked higher in your “Search and Discover” area when you're trying to find something new to look at. So finally, liking all those motivational quotes will actually help you find more motivational quotes.
So, what constitutes engagement?
- Liking a photo or video
- Commenting (none of those bot-like fake comments like “cool.” Make sure your comments are at least 4 words long)
- Replying to comments
Stay away from fake engagement, such as:
- Short comments that mean nothing
- Joining an “Instagram Pod” to exchange engagement with people in order to cheat the system (besides, they don't work, and your engagement comes from other influencers instead of your clients or brands you want to work with!!) In fact, joining an Instagram Pod could get you in trouble with Facebook (let's not forget, Facebook owns Instagram, and Facebook hates fake engagement). — In fact, if you are in an Instagram pod, get out. It's quite likely Instagram's algorithms will only get tougher due to these practices.
How does this knowledge help with your business?
If you've been with the Suite for a long time, then you know that we've been saying how important genuine engagement is for years. This means posting photos and videos that compel your audience to interact with you, and asking your audience to interact through the proper use of a call to action on every post. The more things you post that your audience likes, and the more often you can compel your audience to engage with you, the more you will show up in their feeds and under the discovery feeds.
Additionally, think of the word being used here: engagement. This means something deeper than merely getting noticed. It implies starting a conversation with some real back and forth. If you are inviting your customers to start a conversation with you, whether it be about business or about something more personal, you are opening the door for a more meaningful relationship with them. And that will increase the likelihood of them engaging with you again in the future.
Finally, this new Instagram algorithm will help lengthen the life of your posts. Prior to these changes, the average lifespan of a post on Instagram was anywhere from 6-48 hours depending on the activity of the hashtags being used and the activity of the poster. Since then, we've noticed that older posts are starting to see revived activity with no effort from us at all (we didn't promote them, edit them, or repost them in any way). Although these changes are still too new to say for sure, so far it looks like this new Instagram algorithm has extended the life of our individual posts by almost double, when there is good engagement.
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And About Those Strangers in your Feed?
That's right: Instagram's new Discovery feature is showing posts from people you don't follow directly into your feed. Instagram is breaking with that tradition and starting to show you posts from people you don't follow. These aren't sponsored posts — just everyday posts that Instagram thinks you will like (based on your, you guessed it, engagement).
How can you use this to help you with your business?
Just like strangers are showing up in your feed, you could be showing up in other people's feeds. And what a great opportunity to introduce yourself to someone new who may be interested in connecting with you simply because you post information similar to what that person already likes and follows.
Unfortunately, you never know when that might happen. Instagram doesn't send you any sort of a notification letting you know when your post has popped up in someone's feed. So there's no way to directly use this information to help you grow. But knowing that this happens at all can help you develop your content strategy. The more your audience is engaging with you, and the more authentic your posts, the more chances you have of appearing in the feed of someone new is engaging with posts just like yours.
Let's Talk Hashtags
Hashtags are not as important as they used to be. They're useful still for categorizing your content, but the Instagram algorithm is now focusing on keywords. You'll start to show up in “related” posts on someone main feed because your posts have the same keywords or feel as another post that they've already liked.
You can search hashtags to see what other accounts are using in their captions for keywords, and use them to write your own keyword filled caption. Then when their followers react to their posts, you're more likely to show up as a related post since your keywords and captions and vibe are similar.
Don't Forget to Share your Story
Snapchat introduced Stories, short video clips that expire and disappear after a set period of time, to the world. And it didn't take long before Facebook and Instagram adopted this feature and offered it up to its users. Just like what happened with the hashtag, another social platform invented a feature and Instagram has mastered it. Stories on Instagram reach more people and gain more traction than the Stories on any other platform.
And the engagement that happens on these disappearing stories helps with your overall engagement rating. So if you're not already using this feature, you're going to want to start soon.
Just like when any network makes a major change to its algorithm, confusion sets in about what these changes mean and almost immediately people start asking the questions about how you can work around them. Turns out, you don't need to try to beat these algorithms at all. The only thing you need to do is understand how they work, and continue to post within their guidelines.