How the Instagram algorithm ACTUALLY works

Your no nonsense guide to the Instagram algorithm, all fact, no fiction
How the Instagram algorithm ACTUALLY works

Sometimes getting to grips with the Instagram algorithm can seem like an impossible task.


So much conflicting gossip has been written over the years, it seems to have taken on a mythical-like status. The unicorn of the social media world.

Yet according to Instagram, their cards are on the table. Their goal is to get people to spend time on the platform, and their algorithm aims to achieve this. Instagram have released information on how content is presented on their platform and why certain posts are more or less visible to specific users. Here’s what we know so far:


1. The algorithm personalises your feed based on your specific preferences

When deciding where to show you a piece of content in your feed, it will consider three things. Your interests, based on how much you usually like that sort of content, when it was posted and the relationship it thinks you have with that account, based on the level of interaction you’ve had with it in the past. Put simply, it wants to show you the content it thinks you’ll like the best.


“I follow a lot of accounts that have millions of followers like the Kardashians, but when I open my Instagram, usually the first person I see is either one of my coworkers or designer Kerby Jean-Raymond from Pyer Moss. I love him. He has really great content. He doesn’t have the most number of followers of the people I follow, but because I’m constantly watching his Stories and liking his posts and trolling him on comments, he shows up first for me. Because every time I like one of his posts or comment on one of his posts, I’m telling Instagram, ‘I like this guy, please show him to me first.’ So that’s literally what the algorithm boils down to.”

Eva Chen, Head of Fashion Partnerships at Instagram

2. The algorithm prioritises recent content

As Instagram explained in this statement: “Newer posts are more likely to appear first in feed. With these changes, your feed will feel more fresh, and you won’t miss the moments you care about. So if your best friend shares a selfie from her vacation in Australia, it will be waiting for you when you wake up.”

You can hack this recency aspect by posting regularly and using the analytics in your business account insights to find out when your followers are most active. If they majority of them like a morning scroll, then that’s when you should be serving them content for maximum exposure.

In their recent guide for content creators, Instagram says: “Posting frequently ensures your fans will see your content. Make a goal of posting at least once across Feed, Stories, Live and IGTV per week.”

Three reasons you should never overlook your Instagram captions

3. The relationship between follower and creator is important

Instagram will prioritise showing you content from accounts you have interacted with. This means regular likers and commenters will keep seeing your posts. However those who enjoy seeing it, but rarely hit the like button, could risk losing it from their feed.

Avoid this by giving your followers irresistible reasons to like and comment. Amazing thumb-stopping images. Engaging captions that ask questions and spark debate. If you can get them hooked in once, it’s more likely you’ll be able to do the same again.

Relationship can also be signalled by direct messages, so if you create a lot of Instagram Stories that prompts DMs, then that counts too.


4. Videos don’t get preferential treatment

Instagram confirmed they don’t boost video posts, so you can happily post what you like. However, with videos auto-rolling on users feeds, they might prove more engaging and get more likes. Also, avid video fans are likely to see more video in their feeds thanks to Instagram personalised approach – see point one.


5. Instagram doesn’t hide posts

If you scroll for long enough, you’ll see everything posted by everyone. However if you follow a lot of accounts, the chances of reaching the ‘you’re all caught up’ sign is slim.


6. Business accounts and personal accounts are treated equally

Switching between the two won’t grant you any preferential treatment where the algorithm is concerned. Business accounts do show you when your followers are most active however, giving you information to use to your advantage. We’ve written extensively on this here.


7. Shadow banning is not a thing

Instagram says it doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or posting too frequently, but it might swap in other content in between someone’s if they rapid-fire separate posts. Get around this by sticking to a planned posting schedule and using albums for multiple images.


8. It favours posts with initial engagement

This one hasn’t been explicitly confirmed by Instagram, but many users find that if a post receives likes and comments quickly, it signals to the algorithm that it is quality content. More users will then see this in their feed.

Download the free Vamp guide and learn how your brand can succeed on the original influencer marketing platform, Instagram.

Download this free Vamp guide and learn how to succeed on the world’s most viral platform.