Congratulations! You’ve crafted the perfect Instagram post! But hold up, your work isn’t done quite yet. Because if you want your content to actually get in front of a wide audience, you’re going to need to appease the all-mighty (and ever-changing) Instagram algorithm.

Understanding the 2022 Instagram algorithm and what it deems worthwhile or important is critical to a successful social media marketing strategy. In this guide, we cover the ins and outs of the algorithm’s ranking signals, important recent changes to the Instagram algorithm, and everything else you need to know to boost your content’s visibility on the platform.

Read on to make sure your lovingly handcrafted social content gets the attention it deserves!

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a fitness influencer used to grow from 0 to 600,000+ followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

What is the Instagram algorithm?

The Instagram algorithm is a set of rules that rank content on the platform. It decides what content shows up, and in what order, on all Instagram users’ feeds, the Explore Page, the Reels feed, hashtag pages, etc.

The Instagram algorithm analyzes every piece of content posted to the platform. It takes metadata (including captions and alt text applied to images), hashtags, and engagement metrics into account. Based on this information, it distributes content in a way designed to ensure that users have easy access to what they are most interested in seeing.

In simple terms, the Instagram algorithm cross-references information about content (posts, Stories, Reels) with information about users (interests and behavior on the platform) to serve the right content to the right people.

The main purpose of the Instagram algorithm is to make each user’s experience with the platform as pleasant as possible. “We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology [the Instagram algorithm] to personalize your experience is the best way to do that,” wrote Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri in 2021 in a blog post entitled Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works.

Why does this matter to marketers? Knowing how the Instagram algorithm works and optimizing your content accordingly can lead to Instagram displaying your posts to more users.

How does the Instagram algorithm work?

Each time a user opens the app, the Instagram algorithms instantly comb through all available content and decide what content to serve them (and in what order).

The 3 most important ranking factors of the 2022 Instagram algorithm are:

  • Relationship between the author of the content and the viewer. Do you follow each other? Do you message each other, or leave comments? If you have repeatedly interacted with a specific user in the past, you are more likely to see the new content they post. (This is very important for businesses: Active community management (including responding to DMs and comments) can improve a brand’s visibility on Instagram.)
  • Interest. Does a user typically interact with this type of content? When the Instagram algorithm recognizes that a user enjoys a specific content type or format, they serve them more of the same.
  • Relevancy. Instagram decides how “relevant” every piece of content is. This includes an analysis of where it fits with trending topics as well as the timeliness factor (recent posts are considered more relevant than old ones).

Secondary Instagram algorithm ranking factors include:

  • Frequency of using the platform. If a user doesn’t open Instagram very often, they will only see the very most relevant content when they do decide to browse the app. This means that businesses might be crowded out of such a user’s feed by family and friends.
  • How many users a person follows. The more accounts a user follows, the more accounts compete for space in their feed.
  • Session time. If a user spends very little time in the app, they are likely to only see posts from friends and family they interact with most often on the platform, making it more difficult for businesses to surface in their feed.

Beyond these core signals, here’s how the Instagram algorithm distributes specific content formats.

The 2022 Instagram algorithm for the feed and Stories

For your feed and Stories, the Instagram algorithm sorts through the content of the accounts you follow and predicts how likely you are to interact with a post based on the following criteria:

  • Information about the post. How many likes did a post get? When was it posted? Has it been tagged with a location? If it’s a video, how long is it? These signals help the Instagram algorithm determine the relevance and popularity of a post.
  • Information about the person who posted, and your history of interaction with them. Instagram tracks how many times you’ve interacted with any given person (with comments, likes, profile views, and so on) to try to get a sense of how interesting a person might be to you.
  • Your activity across the platform. The quantity and content of posts you’ve interacted with gives Instagram a clue as to what kind of other posts you might be interested in seeing.

The 2022 Instagram algorithm for the Explore tab

For the Explore tab, the algorithm looks at previous posts that you’ve liked or interacted with, and pulls in a collection of photos and videos from related accounts that you don’t follow (yet!).

These photos and videos are then ranked by what the algorithm thinks you’ll be most interested in, based on how likely you are to like, save or share a post.

  • Information about the post. When curating content to share via the Explore tab, Instagram looks at the overall popularity of a post, using signals like how many people are liking, commenting, sharing, and saving, and how quickly these activities happen.
  • Your history of interacting with the person who posted. Most of the content on Explore will be from new-to-you accounts, but accounts you have interacted with get a bit of a boost here.
  • Your activity. What posts have you liked, commented on, or saved in the past? How have you behaved on the Explore page previously? Your activity history impacts what Instagram assumes you might be interested in seeing more of.
  • Information about the person who posted. If an account has lots of interaction with users in the past few weeks, it’s a signal to Instagram that there’s some compelling content going on that others might like, too.

The 2022 Instagram algorithm for Reels

With Reels, the algorithm pulls from both accounts you follow and accounts you don’t follow, trying to entertain you with content it thinks you’ll watch all the way through.

It evaluates this by looking at the following:

  • Your activity. Signals like which Reels you’ve liked, which you’ve commented on, and which you’ve engaged with all help Instagram understand what kind of content could be the most relevant to your interests.
  • Your history of interacting with the person who posted. With Reels (much like Explore), you’re likely to be served up videos from creators you haven’t heard of… but if you have interacted with them in some way previously, Instagram takes that into consideration too. That’s probably why you see lots of content from creators you know of, but haven’t pulled the trigger on following yet.
  • Information about the Reel. The Instagram algorithm tries to guess what the video is about based on the audio track and analysis of the pixels and frames, and takes into account the video’s popularity, too.
  • Information about the person who posted. Is the original poster someone with an engaged audience, or whose content receives consistent likes and shares? Instagram takes this into account too.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out our video explaining the Instagram algorithm for beginners.

Now that you’re armed with all this information about what Instagram values from its creators and users, it’s time to use it to your advantage.

2022 changes to the Instagram algorithm

In 2022, Instagram re-introduced the ability to see your feed chronologically, as well as the ability to view a curated list of recent posts from your favorite accounts. Find more details on the latest Instagram feed viewing options here.

While these are important updates, it’s safe to say that the Instagram algorithm as described above still impacts how content is displayed to most users and in most placements on the platform.

Video content and AI-driven recommendations have also become visibly more prominent on the platform since the beginning of 2022. So prominent, in fact, that they triggered a Make Instagram Instagram Again movement in July, supported by casual users and A-list celebrities (including a few Kardashians) alike.

Here is how Instagram and the internet responded to the drama:

7 tips for working with the Instagram algorithm

At a glance, this list of variables may seem extensive or complicated… but ultimately, the algorithm rewards quality, engaging content.

So really, the best way to get a little Insta-boost is to just do the same things you would do to delight, entertain, or inform your audience.

Here’s how to grow your reach and optimize the power of the latest Instagram algorithm(s).

Respect the community guidelines

Whether you’re posting on the Feed, in Reels, or to Stories, Instagram’s algorithms limit the visibility of content that goes against the app’s Community Guidelines. If you’re sharing misinformation, posts that are political in nature, content that’s potentially upsetting or sensitive, or even just low-resolution media, you may find your content less widely distributed.

(Hot tip: if you think you’ve been shadowbanned, this is probably why!)

Get creative with Reels

Embrace the opportunity for visibility by adding Reels to your content calendar. Reels are one of the newest features on Instagram, and the platform still seems to be promoting the format.

(Check out our Reels engagement experiment here!)

 

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According to Instagram’s @creators account, Reels currently has live humans sifting through them to feature the best ones. Official tips for posting Instagram Reels that will get noticed include:

  • Do not recycle watermarked TikToks
  • Shoot in vertical
  • Use the bells and whistles: filters, camera effects, music, etc.

Keep videos short and sweet, and above all, fun. The algorithm ranks Reels for their entertainment value.

Schedule your posts at the right time for maximum reach

Audience interaction is an important signal across the board on Instagram, so posting your content at the right day and time is going to make a huge difference to your organic reach.

Luckily, Hootsuite’s dashboard helps crunch the numbers and offers suggested best times to post, based on your audience’s unique behavior.

Hootsuite's Best Time to Publish feature, displaying a heatmap of the best times to post as dictated by follower activity on the platform (unique for each account)

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Here’s our guide to how to schedule Instagram posts, and another on how to schedule Instagram Stories.

Encourage engagement

Engagement is HUGE for the algorithm.

Not getting the engagement you want though? It’s often as simple as slapping on a sticker. With Instagram Stories, question stickers, emoji sliders, and polls are direct ways to ask your fans and followers to weigh in.

Similarly, on posts, directly asking questions or encouraging commentary with the caption (or within the image or video itself) is a surefire way to get the conversation going.

After all, comments are the best way to signal engagement to the algorithm (though we’re not going to turn our nose up at a like, share, or save), so prompt your audience to speak up whenever you can.

For reference, the general benchmark for “good” engagement on Instagram is somewhere between 1-5%. But the average engagement rate on Instagram for business accounts was 0.83% through 2021.

If you’re looking to improve your own engagement rate, here are a few action items for your list:

Here are some more tips for increasing your Instagram engagement.

Or, you can find inspiration for your next Instagram caption, dive into our guide to social media engagement more generally, and brush up on how to write an effective social media call to action.

Embrace the power of hashtags

The Instagram algorithm can’t understand and admire that cute picture of a cat in wire-rimmed glasses the way the human brain can (tragic), but it can understand the #catsofinstagram hashtag.

Employing accurate and descriptive hashtags is a great way to label your content for maximum reach. If the algorithm can compute just what your photo or post is about, it can more easily share it with people who are interested in that particular topic.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a fitness influencer used to grow from 0 to 600,000+ followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

Get the free guide right now!

Plus, unlike Instagram ads (the other way to expand reach past your existing audience), hashtags are free.

To use hashtags correctly, don’t just slap #loveandlight and #instagood on everything. Instead, dig around in your niche, do your research, and use hashtags that actually describe what your post is about.

Hone your hashtag skills with our ultimate guide to Instagram hashtags.

Post consistently

This is key whether you’re looking for help with reach, engagement or follower growth. (Because, of course, those three things are related.)

On average, businesses post 1.6 posts to their feed per day. If that sounds like way too much for your mom-and-pop operation, rest assured that just showing up consistently (every weekday, for instance), is enough to keep the ball rolling.

During Instagram’s Creator Week in June 2021, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri revealed that a posting cadence of 2 feed posts per week and 2 Stories per day is ideal for building a following on the app.

Pro Tip: Consistency requires planning. This is where having a social media content calendar becomes crucial, as well *ahem* as scheduling your posts in advance with Hootsuite.

Look at how nicely planned out your Instagram posts could look in Hootsuite’s planner — for weeks or months in advance!

Hootsuite Planner - Weekly overview of planned content

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Track (and understand) your analytics

A good Instagram analytics tool will go beyond vanity metrics and help you zero in on your audience and identify the kind of content that they’ll keep coming back for.

No matter how busy you are, getting automatic analytics reports will help you with almost all of the above tips.

Taking the time once a month, for instance, to look at the numbers and see what’s working in terms of content, posting time, and hashtags, will save you a lot of wasted effort.

Use an Instagram analytics tool to find out:

  • when your audience is online (so you can schedule your posts during that window)
  • which hashtags are performing well
  • what posts are earning real engagement

Meanwhile, a truly great tool (like Hootsuite) will give your brand the low-down on everything from audience sentiment analysis to campaign click-throughs to customer service response times.

Here’s a peek at Hootsuite Analytics, which shows you the most Instagram important metrics to track alongside performance stats from your other social networks for easy comparison.

Hootsuite analytics report

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Bonus: Notice any big dips or spikes in your stats recently? Analytics is often the first place a social media manager can tell if something has changed in the Instagram algorithm — and start adjusting their strategy accordingly.

Of course, social media platforms are always evolving, so there are certainly more Instagram algorithm changes to come as the years go on. But whatever specific signals, features, or top-secret-AI-recipes the future may hold for the app, creating engaging Instagram content is always a winning strategy.

Instagram algorithm FAQ

What is the Instagram algorithm?

The Instagram algorithm is a set of rules that rank content on the platform. It decides what content shows up, and in what order,  all across the app (users’ feeds, the Explore Page, the Reels feed, hashtag pages, etc.).

How do I fix my Instagram algorithm?

  • Create relevant content (keep up with trends)
  • Post when your audience is online
  • Use the right hashtags
  • Post carousels to your feed
  • Frequently post Reels
  • Try out new content formats and features as soon as they come out
  • Write long captions

What are the 3 main factors of the Instagram algorithm?

The Instagram algorithm has three main ranking factors: relationship, interest, relevancy.

How do you get picked up by the algorithm on Instagram?

  • Respect community guidelines
  • Get creative with Reels
  • Schedule your posts at the right time for maximum reach
  • Respond to comments and DMs
  • Use the right hashtags
  • Post consistently
  • Check analytics

Beat the Instagram algorithm and save time managing your social media using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard, you can schedule and publish content, engage your audience, and measure performance. Try it free today.

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