If you’re using Instagram to promote your brand, then it’s important to get your posts in front of as many people as possible. To make that happen, you need to understand the Instagram algorithm.
Fortunately, the algorithm isn’t a total secret. It’s really just code that determines what users want to see and prioritizes those posts.
That means you need to convince the algorithm that your posts include the kind of content that people are looking for on Instagram. That’s doable with some ethical hacking.
In this article, we’ll go over the Instagram algorithm and explain what you can do to maximize your views.
What Is the Instagram Algorithm?
Before we get into the practical stuff, it’s important to answer one question: what is the Instagram algorithm?
An algorithm is software logic that’s designed to solve a problem. That’s the textbook definition, anyway.
In this case, though, Instagram uses an algorithm to show users what they want to see. In other words, it prioritizes posts based on user interests.
Users who are really into fishing, for example, will more likely see fishing photos at the top of their feed than family photos of distant relatives they haven’t talked to in years. That’s the Instagram algorithm in action.
How does Instagram determine what people will like? It looks at their history online.
To continue with the example above, if a user is continually clicking “Like” on fishing photos, then the algorithm will determine that he or she wants to see more fishing photos.
That’s how the algorithm works: it evaluates user behavior to determine what people really want to see. It pushes content that matches their interests to the top of their feeds.
As Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, said about the algorithm: “What this is about is making sure that the 30 percent [Instagram users] see is the best 30 percent possible.”
Now, let’s look at some specific ways to get your content into that top 30 percent.
According to the Instagram Algorithm Post When Your Followers Are Online
If some great content is posted on Instagram and nobody is online to engage with it, is it really there?
No. Not according to the Instagram algorithm, anyway.
That’s why it’s important to post content when you’re followers are most likely to be online.
The Instagram algorithm will show your post to a small percentage of your followers at first. If it generates more engagement than your average post, then you can expect that it will get prioritized higher in user feeds. If it receives less engagement, it will get lower priority.
So if you post at a time when only a few of your users are online, then you’re already starting with one strike against you in terms of engagement. It’s not likely your post will get pushed to the top of people’s feeds.
On the other hand, if you post at a time when the lion’s share of your users are online, then you stand a better chance of getting engagements. When that happens, you can expect more impressions.
Of course, this advice raises the question: how do you know when your followers are online? There are a few ways that you can answer that question.
First of all, check your own Instagram analytics. Look at how your Instagram posts have performed over the last several months.
Is there a block of time when you seem to get most of your engagements? If so, then that’s a good indication that your followers are online at that time.
Also, use common sense. If you’re running a B2B shop, you might find that most of your followers are too busy to be online during business hours. They might browse Instagram after 6PM.
On the other hand, if you’re running a B2C business, then you know that some of your customers browse Instagram during slow times at work.
You can also follow generic advice about the best times to post on Instagram. Be advised, though, that opinions vary widely about the best times to post on various social media channels.
Finally, one of the best ways to determine when your followers are online is with the aid of a tool. Squarelovin is one of the best at offering Instagram insights.
Form an Instagram Pod To Influence Instagram Algorithm
One great way to generate engagements is to become part of an Instagram pod.
What’s an Instagram pod? It’s a group of Instagram users who’ve taken a pledge to engage with each other’s posts. They influence the algorithm that way.
If you’re brand new digital marketing in general and Instagram marketing in particular, you might not know of any outstanding “pods” that you can join. That’s understandable.
Unfortunately, pods don’t always advertise their existence. You’ll have to find one.
Start by talking to people you know in the community. Heck, you might even find some people who are part of a pod at your local Chamber of Commerce meetings.
You can also form your own pod with key influencers in your industry.
If you’re a BuzzSumo user, you can use the tool’s Influencers search feature to find a few movers and shakers who might like to join a pod. Just put in a keyword related to your niche and find a list of names.
Even better: that tool will show you which of those influencers is on Instagram.
Once you’ve gathered a list of candidates, reach out to them with your pod proposition. You might be surprised at how many respond positively to the suggestion.
After you’ve formed your pod, get a general agreement from everybody about how you’ll communicate new posts to the group. Then, follow the guidelines.
Also, make sure that you’re engaging with other posts. There’s nothing that will deflate the morale of a pod more than someone who expects to receive likes and comments but doesn’t want to give any.
Hack The Instagram Algorithm By Giving People What They Want
One of the best ways to hack the Instagram algorithm is to simply give people what they want.
In other words, post the type of content that your followers want to see.
When you do that, you’re almost guaranteed to get engagements. And when that happens, you can expect the Instagram algorithm to prioritize your post to the top of people’s feeds.
But how can you tell what type of content people will like? You can look at the history of your own posts.
If you have a Business Profile on Instagram, then you have access to Instagram Insights. Those insights will give you some valuable detail about the type of content your followers want to see.
To view your insights, tap on the bar graph icon on the top, right-hand side of your Business Profile.
Click on Posts and filter all your posts by engagement during the last year or last 6 months.
At the top of that feed, you’ll see the posts that get the highest engagement. Scroll through the feed and look for common themes.
If you see that certain types of posts are generating more engagement than others, then you have the answer to your “What do the people want?” question. Post more content just like the content that’s already performed well.
Post Human Content
It’s called social media not commercial media. For a reason.
People do not log on to Instagram to receive a sales pitch. They go there to share photos and chat with one another.
That’s the whole point of social media.
If you post content that makes it clear you’re only trying to sell something, you can expect to receive hardly any engagement and lose followers. That’s not going to do your brand any good.
Instead, use Instagram to post content that people in your target market will love even if it doesn’t close a sale immediately.
That will do a couple of great things for your business.
First, it will boost brand-name awareness. When people who follow you need a product or service that you’re selling, they’ll look to your business as a viable competitor.
Second, it will generate engagements. Those engagements will influence the Instagram algorithm to push your content to the top of people’s feeds.
If you’re looking for an example of a brand that knows how to promote itself on Instagram without coming off too salesy, take a look at the feed of online clothing store ModCloth. You’ll find great fashion shots that appeal to people in the company’s target market but don’t come across as overly commercialized.
Think about how you can do something like that with your brand.
Use Hashtags To Hack Instagram Algorithm
One really easy (and very ethical) way to hack the Instagram algorithm is by using hashtags.
If you’re unfamiliar with hashtags, they’re keywords that you put after a hash (#). They identify topics related to your post.
For example, if you post a meme about search engine optimization (SEO), you might include the hashtag #seo in your caption. Then, people who view all posts with the #seo hashtag will likely see your post.
When you use hashtags, you’re increasing your audience size. That’s because your post won’t just be visible to people to follow you, but to people who follow that hashtag as well.
Of course, when you increase your audience size, then you not only increase your immediate visibility, but you also increase the likelihood of engagement.
Do you see where this is going? If you gain more engagements, the algorithm will prioritize your post.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that you should only use hashtags that are relevant to your content.
Social media is riddled with posts by people who exploit popular hashtags just to gain visibility. Unfortunately, those hashtags often have absolutely nothing to do with the content of their posts.
If you try to increase impressions by leveraging a hashtag that’s not related to your content, you’ll just get branded a spammer. Even worse, Instagram might take action against you.
Don’t get caught in that trap. Instead, find hashtags related to your content and use them.
Ask Followers to “Tag a Friend”
Here’s a neat trick to grab more engagements: ask followers to “tag a friend.”
Post some content that you think is particularly valuable, especially to people in your target market. Then, write a caption that promotes your content and ask your followers to tag their friends in the comments.
This strategy does two things.
First, it gets people to comment on the post. That’s because they tag their friends by leaving a comment.
Second, it attracts new people to your account. The users who were tagged will take a look at your post and, if they like what they see, they might tag a friend themselves.
They might even follow you.
Leverage Trending Topics In The Instagram Algorithm
Current events can make you a fortune.
Sometimes, breaking news becomes a trending topic on social media. When that happens, think about how you can use it to your advantage.
Usually a trending topic will have its own hashtag. Post content relevant to that topic and use that hashtag in the caption.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a great idea to find something humorous that you can post related to a trending topic. That can be pretty difficult if you aren’t a comedian, though.
Sometimes, you might stumble across a funny meme that’s associated with a trending topic. You can usually “borrow” that meme and post it to your own account.
A couple of years ago, NWA released a meme generator related to its upcoming biopic Straight Outta Compton. Some companies used it to create a graphic that promoted their own brand.
For example, Insomnia Cookies created an image that showed dozens of cookies coming out of the oven with the caption: “Straight Outta The Oven.” The company tagged it with the #StraightOutta tag on social media.
— Insomnia Cookies (@insomniacookies) August 10, 2015
Back then, more than a quarter of a million Instagram posts used the #StraightOutta hashtag. It was a great way for companies to promote their brands online.
The good news for you is that there will always be another #StraightOutta moment on social media. Just keep your eyes open for trending topics and find a way that you can work them into some shameless self-promotion.
If you can make a few people laugh along the way, all the better.
One word of warning: be very careful about using hot-button political or social issues to promote your brand. That can backfire big time.
Even when you’re leveraging a non-controversial trending topic, avoid using a meme or making a statement that could be construed as offensive to some people. There are countless stories of companies that had to issue an apology after a social media campaign misfire.
It’s a great idea to run your social media promotions past a few different people before you post them publicly.