Instagram Feed Algorithm Explained

What is Instagram? Simply put, Instagram is a social networking application that lets its users upload and share pictures, videos and graphics with their friends. Instagram is also a good tool for digital marketing in this generation so you can bet that it is part of most marketing strategy this 2019.

 Instagram has issued an announcement that the chronological feed would be replaced with a new feed algorithm that would arrange the posts based on the user interest and relationships. This new modification had mixed reactions from Instagram users. Most users are not fond of the change. As a matter of fact, a petition was started to “Keep Instagram Chronological”. This petition has received over 100,000 signatures which says a lot about how upset people are about the new Instagram feed algorithm.

Is the new Instagram feed algorithm that bad? One thing is for sure, that Instagram is not the same as it was before. The new change may benefit you if you intend to use Instagram for marketing, but as a simple user who just wants to browse and share pictures and videos with friends, this may come off as a bit frustrating. Here are the things you need to know about the new Instagram feed algorithm, and how it could affect your experience and account.

A Quick Glance on Twitter

Twitter had a similar change with its algorithm much earlier this year. Many Twitter users are not happy with the announcement, much like the initial reaction with Instagram. The founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey quickly responded to the insurgency of its users. Jack Dorsey made it clear that Twitter’s new timeline would give the user to opt-in or out of the new algorithmic timeline. However, since the issue has died down, Twitter has quietly turned the new algorithmic timeline on for all its users. Twitter users can still choose to opt-out if they wish to, so they can switch back to seeing the tweets chronologically on their timeline.

Now let’s get back to Instagram and its new feed algorithm. According to Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s co-founder, “on average, people miss about 70 percent of the posts on their Instagram feed.” Changing the Instagram feed algorithm “is about making sure that the 30 percent you see is the best 30 percent possible.” Instagram published the blog post “See the Moments You Care About First” which had a similar tone to Twitter’s “Never Miss Important Tweets from People You Follow,” with Instagram explaining that the new feed algorithm was developed “to improve user experience” and that “your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.”

Twitter decided the switch to an algorithmic timeline to encourage more engagement amongst its users. They said that “People who use this new feature tend to Retweet and Tweet more, creating more live commentary and conversations, which is great for everyone”. We can assume that Instagram is going for the same effect. After all, if more users are engaged with the content, the more time they spend on the application. The more time people spend on the application the more effective Instagram marketing would be.

Instagram as the Best Engagement Tool

The new Instagram feed algorithm may be frustrating for common users, but this new modification is actually beneficial to content creators. This new feed arrangement can help people who create amazing content to gain more likes, views and follows than they already are receiving. However, it will take a toll on the average users who do not get hundreds of likes on their posts. The algorithm can make it more challenging for them to have their content shown since the algorithm is meant to show the “best” content to its users.

The new Instagram feed algorithm became a cause of worry for some brands. Brands are especially concerned regarding their engagement performance on any platform, this change on Instagram made them worry that this is the first step in going the direction of a Facebook-like feed wherein the published posts are only shown to a few of the page’s followers. On the other hand, Instagram is a staple in marketing strategies because of its high engagement with the target audience.

Losing Control Over Your Feed

When Instagram still has a chronological feed, you have full control over what you see in your account. You have full control over your activities like who to follow and unfollow, which posts to like or ignore. You can create your own personalized experience. When Instagram shifted to a new feed algorithm, you may feel like you are slowly losing control over the content that you want to browse through.

The 3 most important Instagram feed ranking factors

Instagram considers three main factors that determine the people and posts that you interact with on your feed:

  • Interest
  • Timeliness
  • Relationship

Let us have a deeper discussion regarding each of these factors below: 

1. Interest: Instagram will try to predict how much you will care about a post

When Instagram announced the change from a chronological feed to a new feed algorithm, it is mentioned that Instagram would show you content that you will more likely be interested in first. The purpose of the Instagram feed algorithm is to arrange the photos and videos on your feed based on the likelihood that you will be interested in the content. Instagram will also consider your relationship with the people you are following and the timeliness or relevance of the post.

The new feed system ensures that all the content you see in your account is relevant to your interest. The more it is relatable for you, the more it will rank on your feed. Instagram knows your interest base on the genres or categories of the content that you have interacted in the past. For example, fashion, food, sports, travel and the likes.

2. Timeliness: Instagram will consider how recent the post is 

One of the key factors of the new Instagram feed algorithm, as mentioned by Instagram a while back, is timeliness. 

“The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”

Since the implementation of the new feed system, Instagram aims to show its users posts that are recent and relevant to them

3. Relationship: Instagram also analyzes the accounts you regularly interact with

In a June 2016 announcement about the feed ranking algorithm, Instagram stated the following:

And no matter how many accounts you follow, you should see your best friend’s latest posts.

Similar to Facebook, Instagram doesn’t want you to miss important posts from your friends and family, such as a post about a close friend’s big announcement, a family event, etc.

This implies that the content from your “best friends” would rank higher on your feed.

It is also believed that the new Instagram feed algorithm studies your past interactions to identify who your “best friends” are on the app. In a talk about designing and implementing the Instagram algorithm, Thomas Dimson also shared in his statement how Instagram could have determined the people you care about:

  • People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos)
  • People you direct message
  • People you search for
  • People you know in real life

Although these criteria are not exact to what the Instagram feed algorithm is using, these items give us a reasonable idea that Instagram probably considers the accounts you interact with most often as “people you care about”. And therefore, it has analyzed that content from these accounts will rank higher on your feed; that you would care about the posts from these accounts.

Through Business Insider, an Instagram representative has stated that profile searches are one of the signals that Instagram looks at when ranking posts on your feed. When you search for certain profiles on a regular basis, it likely indicates that you are particularly interested in these accounts’ posts and might not have seen them on your feed.

Instagram will then rank the posts on these accounts higher on your feed so that you will not have the need to search for their profiles to see their posts. All this to improve your Instagram experience.

It has also been stated that when the Instagram team tested out the new feed algorithm, the number of searches went down. The team look at it as a good sign as this means that people are seeing the posts they are interested in without having to search for their favourite profiles.

How to Calm the Frustration

When you are trying to fight the fact that you are losing control over your feed due to an algorithm, it can get pretty frustrating. Once you get over the change and start accepting the system, you will start to see a lot of benefits to the new Instagram Feed Algorithm.

 One of these benefits is that you will really see the posts that matter most to you. When you open Instagram, instead of seeing the latest post from a few minutes ago, you will see the most important post since the last time you checked the application. This system effectively declutters your feed and cuts out all the noise from all the other accounts. 

The algorithm prioritizes the best content for you. Not everyone has plenty of time to browse through Instagram, if you were in a position that you cannot stay too long on the app, surely you would rather see the best post you missed since the last time you opened Instagram rather than what has been posted last in the past few minutes.

Facebook introduced the algorithm feed to its users way back in 2009, and people were unhappy. Just as they were unhappy with it on Twitter and now on Instagram. We have to keep in mind that the way Facebook was used back then is different from the way we use it now. Back then, Facebook is only used to connect with a small circle of friends, but now you can use Facebook to connect with thousands of people. Facebook can even be used for marketing strategies! 

Try to visualize the situation if your Facebook feed is still chronological, it will be a mess! You would be missing out on the content that you are really interested in. Imagine going through a lot of posts that you do not really care about, from people that aren’t really close with. This can cause you to lose interest in Facebook altogether.

The same thing can be applied on Instagram, as the years go by and as the app improves, more and more people are joining Instagram. We are going to be following more people than ever. It may seem like a bad idea right now, but there will come a time when a chronological Instagram feed will no longer be sustainable for its users. 

When you do not see the content you want on your feed, your tendency is to clean out the people you follow. You will be unfollowing accounts just to keep up with the feeds of the people you actually care about. This kind of scenario puts the views and audience engagement at risk. A lot of people may not agree with it yet, but introducing the new Instagram feed algorithm is a solution in keeping people interested in the app for the long run.

written by Inah Mallare