Make it Work For You in 2021
Davina van Buren
The good news: You created an Instagram account and are posting content on a consistent basis. Yay, you!
The bad news: Just when you were getting the hang of things, they’ve changed the dreaded algorithm….again.
It may seem like you can’t keep up with all the changes on social media platforms these days. And indeed, it’s becoming harder and harder to reach audiences without paying for sponsored ads. There are, however, ways to make algorithms work for you. Knowledge is power, so the better you understand how Instagram’s algorithms work, the more you can tailor your content to maximize engagement.
You may think that posting frequently and using hashtags is the way to Insta success. And in the past, that was largely true.
In 2017, however, Instagram did away with reverse chronological feeds, which showed most recent posts first. Now, a complex algorithm dictates the order of the posts that users see when they’re scrolling through their feed. The algorithm’s job is to make you spend as much time as possible on the platform. It does that by showing you an endless stream of content that it’s determined will be interesting or useful to you. This algorithm (as with most social media and search platforms) is constantly changing based on new data about its users—in Instagram’s case, all 1 billion+ of them.
Three main ranking factors drive the Instagram algorithm. With some effort and intention, you can use them to help inform the content you post—and when you post it.
- User relationship
The more an Instagram user interacts with your posts by liking, commenting, and reposting them, the more likely it is they’ll see your content in the future. In other words, your posts will appear closer to the top of their feed upon logging in. Repeat engagement is extremely important to increase your Instagram footprint and gain more visibility.
When someone likes or comments on your post, make an effort to make that interaction as meaningful as possible. Go to their page and give them a like or comment as well. If someone offers a complement, thank them for it. When someone asks a question, make sure to answer in a timely manner.
- User interest
Instagram’s algorithm decides what to show you based on your past activity on the platform. It sifts through all the accounts you follow, which posts you comment on, how long you stay on certain pages, and various other signals to decide what you’ll see next.
For example, if you follow many interior design-related accounts, the algorithm sees that you enjoy that type of content and will be more likely to show you accounts and posts that relate to design. As they say, birds of a feather flock together. The more you interact with accounts in your industry—including other designers, builders, architects, landscape architects, etc.–-the more likely you are to be discovered by users with similar interests. Be selective about who you follow to increase the odds of seeing and interacting with content that is genuinely relevant to you. When you see an account that’s killing it, take note of what they’re doing and try to emulate that—with your own twist and personality, of course. No one likes a copycat!
Every Instagram post receives an “engagement score.” When you post, your content is typically shown to only about 10 percent of your followers. However, the more people who see and interact with the post, the higher the engagement score. If lots of people share your post or tag others in the comments, the engagement score increases because more people are expressing interest in your content. Make sense?
What about Instagram Stories?
“Stories” are timely content that disappears after 24 hours. It’s a clever hack that keeps your most engaged followers on the lookout for what you’re doing next. The more your followers engage with your stories, the higher you will appear in their stories feed the next time they sign back on.
When Should You Post on Instagram?
The short answer: it depends.
All posting times are not created equal, and what works for another type of business (or even another designer) may not work for you. Finding your peak posting times may take some experimentation, but a good place to start is in your Instagram Analytics report, which is available to users with an Instagram Business profile via the mobile app.
Over the course of a few weeks, notice when your users are most engaged (mornings, weekends, evenings, etc.) and try to meet them there. Consistency is absolutely essential for growing your following! You may find it helpful to use apps such as Later, Hootsuite, Buffer and Loomly to manage your social media posts. Dedicate an hour or two each week to scheduling posts. That way you always have fresh content and opportunities for others to interact with your account.
Instagram is no longer about posting pretty pictures and purchasing followers. Instead, users want (and demand) content that is truly helpful and offers value. The best way to grow your Instagram following is to provide relevant, interesting content that people can use. This kind of authentic engagement promotes your content organically, a major part of the algorithm that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
Davina van Buren