How To Outsmart the Instagram Algorithm


Instagram’s Adam Mosseri is a social media content strategist’s best friend.

The Instagram leader frequently gets in front of the camera or behind the keyboard to remove some of the mystery behind the social media platform.

He recently penned a blog post to help people understand how the platform’s algorithms determine which content to deliver to which user. He writes that the goal is to create a great experience (and, savvy marketers know, to keep people staying on or coming back to Instagram).

@Instagram’s @mosseri shares criteria its algorithm considers to deliver great #content experiences, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Adam explains in detail the individual behaviors that influence what the algorithms serve for each feature – feeds, Stories, Explore, and Reels. You can use that information to tailor your content so it shows up more often where followers and new audience members will see it.

I’ll explain how and share examples of a few B2B brands creating smart Instagram content.

How Instagram chooses content to show in feeds and Stories

These elements influence which recommended content and ads (in order of importance) surface in a user’s feed (i.e., their home base):

  • User’s activity – which posts they liked, shared, saved, or commented on
  • Information about the post – popularity signals (such as likes, comments, shares, and saves), time, and location
  • Interaction history – whether the user interacted with an account’s posts (e.g., whether they’ve commented on past posts).

Instagram uses that information to evaluate available content and predict the likelihood of the user spending a few seconds on the post, commenting on it, liking it, sharing it, and tapping on the profile photo.

The ranking factors for Stories, which typically disappear after 24 hours, are similar to those for feeds. Users only see Stories from accounts they follow.

Instagram algorithms consider all Stories from accounts the user follows (minus any that violate community guidelines). Then it selects what to show based on these input signals (in order of importance):

  • Viewing history – frequency the user views the account’s Stories
  • Engagement history – frequency the user sends a like, a DM, or otherwise engages with the account’s Stories
  • Closeness – the user’s relationship with the account and how likely they are connected as friends or families.

With that information, Instagram predicts which Stories the user will find more valuable – how likely they are to tap or reply to a story or move on to the next one – to prioritize which Stories appear higher in the tray.

Content takeaway: It doesn’t matter how big your follower count is if your followers don’t do anything with your content. In planning your posts and Stories, think about what would get a reaction from your audience. Incorporate calls to action that relate to engagement.

Incorporate CTAs in your @Instagram posts and Stories to boost engagement signals monitored by Instagram’s content-delivery algorithm, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

You could make a straightforward request – please like, comment, or share. Or you could make a more creative request that gives them a reason to like, comment, or share, such as: “Want to know the next part of the story? If enough of you click on like, we’ll share the rest of the story next week.”

You can Invite them to help: “Please help us spread the word so more people can learn about XYZ.” Or pose a question and ask them to share their thoughts in the comments – and reply to each one.

How Instagram picks content to feature in Explore and Reels

Unlike feeds and Stories, Explore lets users find photos and videos they might be interested in even if they don’t follow the account. Instagram looks at the user’s past activity to understand what content it should show.

From there, it orders the photos and videos based on how likely the user is to do something – like, save, share – with the content. Among the elements going into that consideration (in order of importance):

  • Popularity of post – number of people and quickness they are to like, comment, share, and save it
  • User’s Explore activity – posts liked, saved, shared, or commented on
  • History of interaction – the user may not know the account that shared the content but may have interacted with it
  • Poster’s information – the frequency of interactions with the account in the past few weeks.

Instagram considers Reels as entertainment content, and they often appear from accounts the user doesn’t follow. Instagram surveys users to see if they find a reel fun or worth their time. That feedback improves their predictor algorithm.

In determining what surfaces, Instagram follows similar criteria to the Explore feature:

  • User activity – Reels liked, saved, reshared, commented on, and engaged with by the user
  • Interactions with poster – user’s connection (even when they don’t know the person) with the account’s Reels
  • Information about the reel – audio tracks, visuals, popularity
  • Information about the account posting the reel – number of followers and level of engagement.

Content takeaway: To stand a chance of getting discovered in Reels, you must create Reels – 15- to 30-second videos. Get creative, use effects available in Reels, and focus on the audio.

For both Reels and Explore results, popularity is the name of the game, so pay attention to the broader Instagram world. You can identify general content, audio, and hashtag trends for Reels through your professional dashboard.

You also can dive into your analytics to see when your audience is most likely online and plan to publish in those windows to attract more attention and improve the chances the content will surface for non-followers.

What if your Instagram content doesn’t surface?

Instagram may give you a hint if your content doesn’t seem to show up in your followers’ feeds and Stories or gets discovered through Explore or Reels.

You can find that information in the recently upgraded account status feature for professional accounts. Instagram will let you know why your account’s content may not be eligible for recommendations or if it’s available to appear in search. You also can appeal any decisions made by Instagram. Even better, Instagram says it plans to increase transparency down the road.

Now let’s look at three B2B brands that have no problems having their content surface for followers and non-followers alike.

3 B2B brands succeeding on Instagram

Quickbooks, Boeing, and Deloitte create quality Instagram content that every brand can learn from.

QuickBooks

The financial software provider QuickBooks excels at making its clients the heroes of its Instagram feed. That strategy expands its audience because the subjects of that content will like and share that content.

B2B financial software provider @QuickBooks excels at making clients the heroes of its @Instagram feed, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In this snapshot, eight of the nine posts on the screen provide content around businesses, ranging from a bookstore owner and ice cream maker to a transportation service and a café. They also showcase a broad geographic range, from Anchorage to Atlanta.

Creating a diverse lineup of client Stories indicates to viewers that QuickBooks likely serves their business and/or in their geographic area, which should expand their audience reach. QuickBooks also does a nice job of mixing the content formats – from a day in the life of a business owner to five tips for small business success.

In this post, QuickBooks partnered with its client – Wilco Supply. Amy Slinker, who owns Wilco Supply, shared her five tips for small business owners. It uses Amy’s voice and video to provide content that her fellow entrepreneurs would benefit from learning.

QuickBooks also opted to share text related but different than the actual post in the caption: “What’s the secret to lasting #SmallBizSuccess? Amy Slinker of Wilco Supply starts by treating her customers like royalty. As a veteran spouse and part-time service member, Amy wanted to offer bags that were fashionable and functional—as well as military compliant—catering to everyone. Here she shares her best tips on how to run a small business. #MilitaryAppreciation #SmallBusiness #SmallBusinessTips #BackSmallBiz

QuickBooks succinctly sets the stage to understand who Amy is, why it’s telling her story, and what viewers can expect. It also uses popular hashtags for military appreciation and small business topics.

Boeing

Instagram seems like a social platform made for a B2B brand like the aviation giant Boeing. Its products attract interest from customers, vendors, and the general public. That audience – and the historic nature of this event – are probably why this reel attracted over 1.6 million views and over 114,000 likes. It includes a simple caption: “The final 747 took off this morning to join @AtlasAirWorldWide‘s fleet. #QueenOfTheSkies

The video also is relatively simple – the 747 taxiing the runway and lifting off as music is interrupted sporadically by air traffic control’s communication to the pilot.

But what happens when you don’t have the “last” or want to tell a story that won’t appeal to the masses? Think behind the scenes. This reel – about the brand’s appearance at a Paris trade show – starts with luggage rolling, gives a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, and gives a pre-event tour of its display interspersed with video of its plane practicing.

Here’s an interesting reel of the painter applying a logo to a machine. Yes, it’s for NASA, and yes, it’s a spacecraft, but the idea about what happens to create the product can work for all sorts of B2B brands. (You could turn the behind-the-scenes content into a series and invite followers to share what they want to see about your brand.)

Deloitte

Deloitte doesn’t have a visually exciting business, but the provider of financial advisory services tackles Instagram with aplomb. And given it has more than 250,000 followers, I’m not the only one to think so.

How does a predominantly B2B company where employees sit in front of computers rather than make tangible, visually interesting products do it?

They focus on people – their employees, their research, and more (all subjects that will prompt audiences to like, share, and comment on.) As seen on this account page, it publishes a quote from its global chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer to introduce a video post that promotes the upcoming release of its 2023 Deloitte Global LGBT + Inclusion @ Work: a Global Outlook.

Next to its research promotion, it uses a multi-image post to highlight the story of a Deloitte communications leader who works with a foundation to help Afghan women refugees become empowered members of their community. It also incorporates the #BetterFutures hashtag to indicate it’s part of that Deloitte content campaign.

The third post from Deloitte is a single image with a stat from its quoting a stat from its Gen Z and millennial survey about the role of work in their lives.

Deloitte mixes its content and formats to deliver topics that are unique to its brand and have broader appeal. That strategy likely attracts a more diverse content-consuming audience and helps boost its appearance in Explore and Reels, gaining views from non-followers.

Update your Instagram strategy

Adam Mosseri doesn’t really have to become your BFF at work. However, the head of Instagram is worth listening to now as he expands the transparency behind Instagram’s algorithm.

Right now, it all boils down to this: Tell Stories (or posts or Reels) in engaging ways that will attract engagement from your existing audience, and the non-followers are more likely to see them down the road.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute





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