The Instagram algorithm is often an elusive beast, one that is constantly changing its form. The good news is that it can be cracked.

To understand how the Instagram algorithm works we must first understand the motives of the company itself.

Instagram is owned by Facebook, and Facebook gets its lifeblood from selling advertisements. Facebook and Instagram are data collecting juggernauts first, and social networks second.

It is in their best interest to ensure that users stay on their platforms for as long as possible to increase the chances of their promoted ads getting clicked.

This is no secret, no insider information, it’s just the reality.

Instagram has also become insanely saturated. As of 2018, it has surpassed the 1 billion monthly active users mark making it the 3rd biggest social media platform.

Due to this constant growth, Instagram is forced to constantly update their algorithm to ensure that the highest quality posts are easily accessible to its users. These posts are the ones that are more likely to keep users entertained and engaged.

Imagine scrolling down your Instagram feed and seeing a plethora of low-quality posts, pictures of dirty shoes, old cats, and a piece of gum that someone stepped on earlier that day.

It’s safe to say that the platform would not excite you and force you to leave it for YouTube, Twitter, or something else more engaging.

To prevent this, Instagram has adopted a similar algorithm to those used on other big platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.

When you make a post on Instagram, your post is not immediately shown to all your followers. It is first shown to a sample. This sample is composed of your most highly engaged followers.

If your post gets a significant response from these followers, the post is then promoted to an even larger sample composed of more casual followers.

If the first iteration only showed your post to 10% of your followers, the second might show the post to 35%. If the post is indeed high quality and passes the algorithms tests it will continue to get promoted.

The speed at which your followers comment, like, tag and save the post dictates its quality. Posts that have incredible engagement are then sometimes given a spot to hit the explore feed where the post can be shown to a larger audience that is interested in that content.

The explore page has its own algorithm that is also based on engagement.

So, what can we do to ensure that we beat the algorithm?

Tip one: Call to action

Ensure that there is a call to action on every single post that you create.

You should constantly be reminding your audience to engage with the content.

Don’t just simply tell them to like/comment on the post! Give them a reason to do so:

“Like this post if you would die without ice cream”

“Tag a friend who always does this”

“Rate this picture from 1 – 10?”

These are examples of good calls to action as each once invites the follower to give their opinion on the matter.

People love giving their two cents! Let them go wild – Instagram will love it and reward you for it.

It doesn’t take many comments, likes, saves or tags for Instagram to realize that your post is high quality.

Let’s use the analogy of pushing a boulder down a hill. At the beginning, it might be hard to get the thing to just budge, but as soon as the momentum kicks in, it becomes effortless.

Also, keep in mind that many of your followers like your posts but won’t double tap the picture because it’s not an instinctive action for them.

Give them a mental reminder and they will often oblige. Just plant the seed in their minds.

Tip two: Use direct message (DM) groups

A DM group is a collection of accounts with the sole purpose of engaging with each other’s content so that everyone can grow. Think of it as Instagram’s equivalent of

“I scratch your back, you scratch mine”

The portfolio of your DM groups (average number of followers and engagement of each user) plays a big role in determining your success. Join a DM group full of accounts that are killing it, and you will be much more likely to have your post blow up on Instagram.

This occurs because each time an account comments on your content, that content has a chance of being seen by that account’s followers. If the account commenting is substantially large, this could boost your post tremendously!

I will have a complete guide on DM groups on the blog so make sure you stay tuned.

Tip three: Have high-quality posts

Perhaps this should have been tip one because it’s easily the most important.

If your posts are shit, it doesn’t matter how many engagement groups you are in. It doesn’t matter how many calls to actions you employ, your post will not go viral, period.

Ensure that everything you post is of the highest quality. If your account reposts content, this process is easy.

The Insta world is your oyster, so look at what is already working and repost it. If you are creating original content, make sure you do the best job you can do.

Treat every post as if it was your last. Keep in mind that many people will only give your account one chance. That is why every post you make should represent your account to the utmost.

Have the best information, upload high definition pictures from the best cameras, and take time to script your captions. All these factors contribute to the quality of the post, so make sure that you are on point.

Tip four: Post when your followers are most active

We already mentioned how the Instagram algorithm primarily promotes posts based on their engagement.

If you want to increase your chances of success, you need to ensure that you upload your post when your followers are most active.

If you upload your picture at 4 am when everyone is sleeping, the sample size of followers that Instagram uses to gauge your post might be asleep!

The post might be good, but Instagram will take the lack of engagement as a red flag.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to get a post to become viral when you upload at 4 am, however your chances of success will drop substantially.

Luckily Instagram provides insights into the times your followers are most active on each respective day of the week.

This feature is only available for business profiles, however, so make sure you transition to one (you should already have a business profile if you are serious about growth).

Some final remarks

The algorithm will always change as Instagram’s engineers will discover new ways to better serve engaging content to the platforms viewers.

Creating highly engaging content is the only constant in this equation. If you are providing valuable content to your audience, you will always be rewarded.

You can experiment with various tactics and tricks, but if you miss out on this core quality your growth will never be able to sustain itself.

Future algorithm updates will destroy your account. If you grow your account the right way, your followers will seek out your account and you will always continue to prosper on Instagram.

Isaac Tinashe

Hi, I am Tinashe and I started delving into entrepreneurship in 2015. It started with YouTube, and I was drawn to having my own business even more as time passed. I am now the proud owner of digital marketing agency The Insta Hustle. My team and I work with clients ranging from dentists to real estate moguls and public figures. The world is changing and if you don't keep up you'll be left behind. Let me show you what is possible with digital marketing.