How the Instagram algorithms work (and how to beat them)

Looking for insights into how the Instagram algorithm works? This guide breaks down how it works and what that means for brands
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As the Instagram algorithms evolve, creators and brands need to keep abreast of changes if they want decent engagement. Here we share everything you need to know about the Instagram algorithms in 2023.

With so much online noise and so little time to reach your audience, success on Instagram is as much about data analytics as it is about creativity. 

While Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s CEO, has been quite vocal about the changes they’re making, he’s also made a point that one thing will never change – Instagram is about “bringing people together over the things that they love”. 

Getting familiar with how the algorithms work for different types of content can help you become more strategic about what, where, and when you post. Read on for a detailed overview of how the Instagram algorithms work in 2023.

Instagram algorithms in 2023

First things first, let’s demystify the idea that there’s one mythical algorithm that controls everything that’s going on on Instagram. In fact, Mosseri himself shared that there are multiple algorithms at play, which analyse the different types of content and how people interact with them. 

The whole idea is to drive engagement and keep people on the platform for as long as possible. Now, these algorithms continuously evolve as Instagram adjusts its features to better reflect people’s preferences. 

For instance, at the end of 2022, Instagram announced the launch of ‘notes’, a status update aimed at inspiring conversations. The platform is also testing new features, such as candid stories, nominations, group profiles, and collaborative collections – all to achieve its 2023 goal to spark connections, encourage creativity, and help people discover new things they love.

As the platform explores new ways to drive engagement, the algorithms will change as well. Below we explain in detail how the algorithms work for different types of content.

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How does the Instagram algorithm work?

There are three key factors that influence how your content is ranked:

  • Your relationship to the user – this looks at things like whether you follow each other, comment on each other’s content or send each other messages
  • The type of content the user likes – this looks specifically at their likes and dislikes. For example, if they engage with content on fashion or hiking, the algorithm is more likely to serve them up that type of content
  • How relevant the content is to the user – first, the algorithm prefers new over older content. And since we’re talking about social media here, even 12–24 hours can qualify as old. Second, it looks at how much the user engages with the platform overall. If they spend very little time on Instagram, it will show only content they’re most likely to engage with (for instance, from friends or family)

Instagram feed algorithm 

The feed is reserved for content shared by the user’s friends and family i.e. the people they follow and engage with. While Instagram acknowledges that there are thousands of signals it looks at to determine how to classify each piece of content, these are the four main areas:

  • Post relevancy – the algorithm tries to determine how popular a post is based on how others engage with it, as well as other relevant data like the location tag or the length of the post
  • Poster popularity – this looks at how many times others have interacted with this poster to determine how likely they are to drive engagement. That’s why posting consistently and responding to comments and DMs is so important
  • Poster relevancy – this looks at how often the user has engaged or communicated with this poster in the past in order to predict how likely they are to share, comment or click on the post itself
  • The user activity history – here, the algorithm is looking at what kind of posts the user has engaged with in the past. Do they like animal videos or prefer personal update posts? This will influence what content appears higher in their feed

The algorithm also tries to keep people’s feed diverse and interesting, so if they see too much from the same profile, Instagram is likely to reduce that profile’s visibility on their feed. 

Instagram Story algorithm

Similar to the feed algorithm, Stories prioritise content from those who are closest to the user. At the end of last year, Instagram launched a beta test of candid Stories, a new way users and their friends can share what they’re doing. 

Other ways you can drive engagement is to use hashtags and stickers to encourage others to participate. For example, you can post a question sticker to ask people for their opinion on whatever you’re posting or you can add a poll to see what they like the most from what you’ve shared.

Instagram Reels algorithm 

Reels (and video content in general) was one of the key priorities for Instagram in 2022, so if you’re not making much use of them yet, you’re leaving views (and money) on the table. In fact, the 2023 Engagement Report by HubSpot shows that over half of the most engaging hashtags in 2022 mentioned Reels or videos.

Reels are meant to be short and entertaining, and Instagram has gone to great lengths to study what people find funny or interesting. One handy thing about Reels is that you can reach people who don’t necessarily follow you, so this is great for raising brand awareness and building your Instagram following.

Instagram Explore algorithm

Explore is your chance to get discovered. This is where people see mostly new content from accounts they don’t follow, but which the Instagram algorithm thinks they should. 

This scans users’ interactions to see what they’ve liked, shared or saved in the past to determine what they’re interested in and how much they’re interested in one topic over another. 

For example, if they’ve liked several posts or videos about fiction writing, the algorithm will look at what other people who liked these videos engaged with in the past. So, next time they go to their Explore tab, they may see content about those topics.

friends holding coffee mugs around table

Instagram ads algorithm 

While everything we’ve shared so far depends on organic reach and your smart use of the platform tools, ads is where you have the advantage and can rank higher than other content. 

That said, Instagram doesn’t want to show irrelevant or poor content even if you’re paying for it. So in order to make the most of the ad algorithm, focus on these areas:

  • Make sure you target the right audience nobody wins if you’re selling your beauty products to people interested in cars 
  • Post content that’s fun, engaging, and relevant60% of Instagram users are aged 18–34. This means the more you play to their preferences, the more likely they are to engage with your content
  • Stay consistent – whether you’re doing paid advertising or not, consistency matters. The more often you post content, the higher the chances of getting discovered

Instagram hashtag algorithm 

While there’s no specific algorithm for hashtags, using hashtags can significantly increase your reach and, consequently, how the algorithms perceive your content. Here, make sure you use hashtags relevant to your content and add them either to your captions or as a comment. 

Remember that Instagram doesn’t support more than 30 hashtags in a post, but that’s still plenty to get your content seen. Also, it’s not so much about quantity, as it is about quality. In 2022, for example, #ReelsTrending, #FunnyVideos and #Funny Reels were among the top 10 highest performing hashtags.

instagram engagaement chart

What is shadowbanning?

Shadowbanning has been used as a term to describe instances where people or businesses may feel like they’re being silenced by Instagram. The platform, however, denies doing this and is working on being more transparent about why and when an account or a piece of content may be removed from recommendations. 

For example, in December 2022, Instagram expanded its Account Status feature to show professional accounts whether they’re eligible to be recommended to non-followers in Explore. Simply go to Menu –> Settings –> Account –> Account Status on your mobile app to see any photos or videos that have been taken down, as well as whether or not you’re eligible for recommendations. 

Top 4 tips on how to beat the Instagram algorithm 

With a little bit of intentionality and strategic thinking, we can easily get the algorithm to  favour our content and show it to more users. Here’s how:

#1 Post consistently

Instagram favours consistency because it drives engagement and keeps people on the platform. Find your own schedule on what works and stick to it. In general, posting 2–5 feed posts per week is a good frequency to stay top of mind to your audience or, in the words of Mosseri himself “a couple feed posts a week, and a couple stories a day” should be enough.

#2 Post more Reels

Instagram is upfront about its increased focus on video. Reels have had significant adoption since their launch a few years ago, so you may want to start producing more of them. In fact, Reels outperform any other content type on the platform, with a reach rate of 20.59% and engagement rate of 1.90%.

Instagram reels engagement rate chart Source: Social Insider

#3 Post quality content 

Instagram’s philosophy is deeply rooted in striking visuals. If your content contains original, high-quality photos and videos, then you’re bound to outrank content that’s poorly done or has bland, blurry imagery. Avoid generic or stock photos that don’t relate to your product. Instead, share videos and images of your team or your customers to show you’re authentic and approachable.

#4 Focus on inspiring, human-centric storytelling

People relate to other people. Sharing a video of how someone overcame a challenge or achieved something, versus a product-heavy story is far more powerful and memorable. Just take a look at this reel from Nike celebrating Black History Month and the life philosophy of Kevin Durant.

Final remarks

When it comes to building a  business, social media can be an amazing playground for engaging with our audience and building our customer base. Instagram, in particular, offers a unique opportunity for brands to leverage their visual creativity to promote their products and services. 

Focusing on quality content and consistent posting, can take you a long way regardless of how the algorithm evolves.

Are you ready to up your Instagram game? Just tell us what you’re looking to achieve and we’ll show you how to grow your social media presence.

The Everything Guide to Instagram for Marketers


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