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.
In this article, I’ll go over 7 ways to hack the algorithm – and get more views in the process.
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. Specifically, the new algorithm uses 3 factors to make this determination. They are:
- Interests – Instagram predicts what posts you may want to see based on your past behavior with similar content.
- Timeliness – recent posts will be given priority over older posts.
- Relationship – regularly commenting on, or being tagged in, posts of other users will put them in your “friends and family” category.
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.”
Here are a few other factors that affect the way the Instagram algorithm prioritizes content:
- Frequency of use – People who use the app often will see more content than people who only use it occasionally.
- Number of followers – People who follow lots of accounts tend to see a broad cross-section of content. People who only follow a few accounts, on the other hand, will see more content from each of the accounts they follow.
- Session time – People who spend plenty of time on the app will find more content because they’ll catch the posts that didn’t rank at the top while they keep scrolling their feeds.
Now, let’s look at some specific ways to get your content into that top 30 percent.
1. 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.
2. Get More Views for Instagram 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.
3. Post Instagram Stories For More Views on Instagram
Much like Snapchat, Instagram stories are those disappearing photos and videos that have become all the rage.
They are so popular in fact, that in 2017 they boasted more than 300 million active daily users. That’s even more than its predecessor Snapchat!
Instagram stories are a great way to connect with your followers. They offer several opportunities for engagement such as:
- Location stickers
Essentially, the algorithm is going to work the same for stories as it does for standard posts.
However, because of the popularity of Instagram Stories and the fact that they are an additional opportunity for engagement, they will help your overall ranking in the feeds.
For more on how to get the most engagement out of your Instagram Stories, take a look at my full guide.
4. Get More Views For Instagram With Live Video
Much like Instagram Stories, live videos are another way to boost engagement and get more views.
If you are connecting with your followers as you should be, you likely have a ton of topics just waiting to be turned into a live video.
Take a look at your comments and the posts your followers have interacted with the most. This is a great place to start looking for video ideas that you know will get great engagement.
Probably the greatest benefit of live videos is that they show up first on the stories feed. Better still, your followers will get a notification as soon as you “go live”.
5. 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.
6. Use Hashtags To Get Views for Instagram
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.
7. Leverage Trending Topics to Get More Instagram Views
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.
Bonus: 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.
A Few Myths About the Instagram Algorithm
Let me take a few lines here to bust a few myths about the Instagram algorithm.
- “Reverse chronological is coming back” – Don’t count on that. Remember, Instagram is owned by Facebook, which loves to predict what you want to see. You can expect the Instagram algorithm to stay in play for quite some time.
- “Instagram has a reach cap” – This myth went around in January 2019. Instagram took to Twitter[!] to let people know that there is no reach cap. If you can make something go really viral, the Instagram algorithm won’t stop showing it just because a certain percentage of your followers saw it.
- “Verified users get their content prioritized” – Nope. Verified users are subject to the algorithms just like anybody else. If they want people to see their posts, they’d better produce some amazing content.
Wrapping It Up
You don’t have to be a savvy, hidden-in-a-dark-room kind of hacker to crack the Instagram algorithm.
Hopefully, you’ve learned some valuable tips for Instagram succes.
The bottom line is this: the more you utilize every opportunity for engagement, the more likely you are to rank higher in the feeds and get views for Instagram.