If you’re anything like me, you keep one eye on changes to your social platforms’ algorithms, while scrambling to create content that will work. Making decisions about what, when and why to post can get overwhelming! I find this is especially true when rumours about the latest Instagram changes are doing the rounds.
So - to make things a bit easier for myself I’ve done two things. I created a summary of the updates that Instagram developers presented to Tech Crunch reporters at the beginning of June. Then I made a list of different ways to increase organic engagement given what we know. You can find the list mid-way through the post if you want to skip ahead!
FROM THE HORSES MOUTH
First up, it’s important to note that what Tech Crunch reported contradicts a lot of what people were saying online about the Instagram algorithm during March and April. My post therefore focuses on this new ‘from the horse’s mouth’ information. However, I’ve used some earlier reporting to fill in some gaps. When you’re reading, bear in mind there’s no way of knowing for sure how accurate the earlier intel is.
GENERATING ENGAGEMENT SHOULD STILL BE YOUR PRIMARY GOAL
The main thing to remember is that most of the old strategies should still work, and that real engagement on posts makes them more likely to net further opportunities for engagement.
THREE CORE FACTORS FOR CONTENT DELIVERY TO USERS
Instagram says it uses three core factors to calculate how to deliver content to users: INTEREST, RECENCY and RELATIONSHIP.
Instagram’s calculation of what users will find INTERESTING is based on their past behaviours. Although I haven’t found any explicit information in this release, past reporting suggests these probably include users’ likes, comments and DM shares, and searches of particular topics, accounts and hashtags. The duration of engagements with posts (i.e how long users spend interacting with them) is also a possible factor in determining how interesting Instagram thinks posts are.
RELATIONSHIP is likely also calculated from past behaviour. Accounts that users engage with the most will be shown to them more frequently. If a user is tagged in the same photo as another user, Instagram also considers this an important indication that they have a strong relationship and will be interested in each other’s content.
RECENCY is related to the newness of posts. It’s not clear if this also includes how fast users engage with a post after it’s put up. Reporting from the Later app blog in April suggests that speed of engagement vs volume of engagement is significant for getting posts into the top posts section on any given hashtag, including the very popular ones. For those of us with less than 10,000 followers, Later suggests choosing hashtags which are relevant for your post and brand and attempting to trend on those instead of the really high volume ones. To find out how popular a hashtag is, type it into the Instagram search box and see how many posts include it.
Instagram also takes FREQUENCY, FOLLOWING and USAGE into account.
If a user is on Insta FREQUENTLY, they’ll see more of the content being produced by the accounts they follow, simply because they’re spending more time looking at stuff.
If a user FOLLOWS many accounts they’ll see less posts from any one account and more from across the board.
If a user doesn’t USE insta very frequently they’ll see a more limited number of what Insta considers the ‘best’ posts, given their past behaviours.
RUMOURS PUT TO REST
The Instagram team confirmed to Tech Crunch that video is not prioritised over photos. A users’ past engagements determine how often they’ll see video in their feed.
In fact, no insta channel is favoured, including Stories, Live or other special features.
There is no special weighting given to business over personal accounts.
Instagram has also said that shadowbanning is not a real thing. Content is not hidden if posts have loads of hashtags or the author has taken other actions on the post.
VICTIM OF SUCCESS
In fact (and TechCrunch agrees with me on this), the biggest risk to organic reach is not Instagram’s algorithm – it’s the volume of new users and businesses joining the platform.
There’s more content that ever before, but user browse time is not changing. This means it’s more difficult to reach the people you’re most interested in and to see their content in return.
What this means is that if you’re a business, paid Instagram advertising is likely to be in your future.
WHAT CAN I DO RIGHT NOW?
Increased engagement, as measured by your followers’ behaviours, is still the only tried and true way to get organic reach. Like it or not, all the old rules apply, and here’s my take:
1) Be crystal clear about your audience and your offering and use this to plan your content and how it will be presented.
2) Post when your audience is on Insta so they can be there to engage immediately.
3) Post what your audience want to see, whether this is content or format-driven. A good tip here, from the excellent steviesayssocial.com, is to include content that offers value to your followers, in addition to posts that build connection and promote your business. Think about information you can share which will be genuinely helpful.
4) Change your content up. If you consistently post the same types of content and you’re noticing a drop in engagement, try introducing some different types of posts and see if this makes a difference.
It’s a good idea to make a plan so you don’t disturb the look and feel of your feed. Start by brainstorming and narrow your ideas later.
Consider adding videos or placing text on your images if you usually go for an unadorned photo. Quotes on plain backgrounds can be eye-catching and easy to engage with. You can also adjust your post/story mix.
Pinning stories to your profile is one way to get far more engagement on them than you would otherwise. Many of my insta-crushes use pinned stories to deliver more information about their businesses than they can fit in their profiles. This is great for engagement and also great for the customers and clients who want this information.
5) Check what content and techniques are being used successfully by businesses you admire and by your direct competitors. Chances are they have similar audiences and what works for them may also work for you.
6) Post content that boosts the duration of engagement. This could include longer captions (all the businesses I follow seem to be doing this!) or videos. Both require users to spend a bit longer with your post than they would with a photo.
If you‘re posting videos, my professional hot tip is to make sure that the thumbnail is at least as gorgeous as the rest of your feed. Often people will like a video post without actually watching it, but only if the associated image is pretty or appealing. Although likes have been reported as a ‘lower-value’ engagement, there’s no point in missing out on ANY engagements.
Another hot tip to increase duration of engagement is to use the title of a longer caption as text in your image. If you’re writing about a topic people are interested in, this may increase the number of people who stop, click and spend time reading.
7) Include a clear call to action on your posts. This gives people an opportunity to interact and a suggestion of how to do so. One option I see a lot of right now is to ask a question to boost comments on your post. The question needs to resonate with your audience, so knowing who they are and what they like about your content is very helpful.
8) Include a mix of trending or high-volume hashtags with hashtags which are more relevant to your posts. With luck you may end up in the top posts section on a hashtag which is relevant and trending. Even if this doesn’t happen, the right hashtags are likely to help expose your posts to potential followers in their explore feeds. These may be people who follow that hashtag or have shown engagement with the hashtag topic in their behaviour on Insta.
9) Don’t forget to engage yourself!! While it will kill your productivity to be on and off Insta all day, it’s important that you respond in a timely way to comments, interact with others’ posts, send DMs, tag others in your posts and find new accounts to follow. I try to keep sessions short and then get on with other things. With mixed success!
10) Finally, remember that a small group of engaged followers who want your products and services will convert far better than big numbers who are only interested in how pretty your feed looks. It’s not the size that counts! Keep consistently producing content which is truly relevant for your market and you’ll get the results you want.
POST-SCRIPT: SEPARATING FACT AND FICTION
Researching this blog has highlighted a lot of online misinformation about Instagram. I’ve realised it pays to check a writer’s sources, even if they’re from a well-respected company, and be cautious if they don’t state them. An observational analysis of what Instagram is up to can be extremely useful but it’s always more speculative than getting information direct from the developers.
You can see where I got my information at the links below:
- Original Tech Crunch reporting
- Reporting from the later.com blog
- later.com on working with trending hashtags
Hopefully you found this post helpful – let me know what you think in the comments!