02 Feb 2024

Instagram – the land of filters, hashtags, and endless scrolling. But what’s the secret sauce behind getting your content noticed in this vast sea of photos and videos? The Instagram algorithm, a complex set of rules that determines what appears on your feed.

Earlier this Summer the head of Instagram shared the first insight into how the various algorithms actually works. We’ve unraveled the intricacies, from how your Feed is ranked to what matters in Stories, Explore, and Reels. Armed with this knowledge you can strategize your content successfully.

What Is the Instagram Algorithm?

Before we unravel the magic behind going viral, let’s break down what exactly an algorithm is. In simple terms, an algorithm is a set of rules or processes that Instagram uses to decide what content appears on your Feed.

But here’s the twist – Instagram doesn’t have just one algorithm. It has a smorgasbord of algorithms, each tailored to different parts of the app.

So let’s break it down.

How Feed Is Ranked

A users’ Instagram Feed is personalized, serving up posts from friends, family, and accounts they follow. But how does it decide what to show first? Well, it takes into account everything from who they follow and engage with to the type of content they prefer, using signals to track their interests.

The Signals That Matter

So, what signals does Instagram use to determine user interests? It’s a medley of factors:

Activity: This includes the posts they’ve liked, shared, saved, or commented on – all revealing their interests.

Information About the Post: Instagram looks at how popular a post is, when it was posted, and even its location.

The Person Who Posted: If they’ve been interacting with someone’s posts, Instagram notices and bumps their posts higher up the Feed.

Relationship History: If a user engages with an account frequently, such as  commenting on posts, Instagram takes note.

From these signals, Instagram makes educated guesses about how likely they are to interact with a post. The more likely they are to engage, the higher that post will appear on their feed. It’s like a game of predicting their next move.

How Stories Are Ranked

Viewing History: How often they check out an account’s stories. If they’re a frequent viewer, those stories get priority.

Engagement History: Liking posts and sliding into DMs? If they’re actively engaging with an account, Instagram knows.

How Explore Is Ranked

Explore is a ticket to discovering new things on Instagram. It’s a mix of posts from accounts user’s don’t follow, carefully curated to pique their interest.

Here’s what goes into it:

Information About the Post: Post popularity matters – how many people are engaging with it and how quickly.

User Activity: If they’ve liked, saved, shared, or commented on a specific type of post, Instagram will try to serve them more of the same.

History of Interacting: You could think of this in a similar vein to re-marketing. If a user has interacted with an account in the past (even if they don’t follow them), Instagram would be more likely to show their posts on the user’s Explore page.

How Reels Are Ranked

Reels are Instagram’s spotlight for entertainment. To keep you entertained, they consider:

User Activity: Content user’s have engaged with in the past determines what reels they see.

History of Interacting: Just like Explore, past interactions matter here too.

Information About the Content: Instagram looks at the audio track and visuals used. This highlights the importance of utilizing trending sounds when you create Reels.

How can you hack the algorithm?

Now you know how the algorithm works, how can you optimize this information with your own Instagram strategy?

Engagement Matters

Instagram revealed it is promoting content that inspires conversation.

If you want your posts to be at the top of your followers’ Feeds, your Stories to show up first on their list or, you want to be on as many Explore pages as you can get your (digital) hands on: boost conversation and engagement.

If your follower’s engage with you regularly, Instagram will take notice and prioritize your posts. Now, we can hear you already “I’m posting regularly but I can’t force my followers to like, comment or share?!” Our answer: just give them a little nudge.

A few simple tips include:

  • Caption creativity: Ask questions to encourage comments and discussion in your captions. A simple “Which of your friends needs a vacation here? Tag them below!” can work.
  • Carousel posts: If your static photo posts include more than one photo, swiping through your carousel boosts user engagement.
  • A guaranteed engagement-booster is a giveaway or competition. Such as, a discounted stay or voucher for your hotel restaurant: simply post your giveaway/competition and include liking, commenting and sharing to their story as a standard rule for entry.

As for Stories, Instagram has an array of interactive prompts to encourage engagement from viewers. You can include Polls, Q&A’s and links to web pages to grab that engagement.

Don’t forget: for Instagram, engagement is a two-way-street. Ensure you are replying to your comments and try to monitor closely within the first hour.


Hashtags are a standard part of any Instagram strategy, but recently Instagram revealed what your hashtag strategy should look like. Quality over quantity is the new mantra.

Instead of spamming 30 random hashtags that have any remote likeness to your posts, be smart. Using 8 – 15 hashtags used to be the perfect formula, but content trends and algorithms are ever changing.

Now, keywords are crucial. Do a little research on top-performing hashtags that are relevant to your post and ensure they include keywords.

Another top tip: longer hashtags with keywords included have a better chance of coming up on Explore pages, a simple trick to attract those new followers.

Posting Frequency

The algorithm favors recency, so you need to post when your followers are online.

Again, we hear you. “How do we know when our 1000+ followers are online?!” Luckily, there’s an in-app hack for this.

If you schedule your content through Meta Business Suite, they give ‘Active Time’ recommendations based on when your followers have been most active in the last 7 days.

For Stories, avoid spamming your followers and giving them a thumb-ache from tapping an endless stream of content: 5 – 6 daily is sufficient.

Now for the tricky part. It has also been revealed that posting daily is another key to success. If you’re up for that challenge and have enough content to keep-up then you’re winning. If not, we found that 3 high-quality posts per week on the optimal days and times (thank you Meta) is sufficient enough to still see all-round growth and boosts in engagement.

Instagram’s hidden formula isn’t so secret anymore. It’s a mix of engagement, relationship-building and posting-strategies. If you need help with your Instagram optimization, we have a range of social media services we can help to elevate your social media presence. Take a look at what we have on offer and we look forward to hearing from you!