The Instagram algorithm is the great equalizer. Whether you’re the most-followed person on the platform (hey, Selena) or a small creator that’s just getting started, every user is affected by IG’s algorithm—and how well you understand it is essential to the success of your 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 find out how the Instagram algorithm works in 2023 and make sure your lovingly handcrafted social content gets the attention it deserves.
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 looks at information about content (Reels, feed posts, and Stories) and 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. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri refers to the algorithm as “ranking” (maybe because that term sounds less robotic), and stresses the importance of some posts being favoured more than others. “I know a lot of you are skeptical of ranking,” said Mosseri in an Instagram reel shared in 2022, “but it really does help us make sure that Instagram is more valuable to each and every person who uses the platform.”
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.
Each time a user opens the app, the Instagram algorithm instantly combs through all available content and decides what content to serve them (and in what order).
The 3 most important ranking factors of the 2022 Instagram algorithm are:
- Relationship between the creator 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 show 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 older posts).
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 Instagram 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.
For your feed, 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 Instagram stories algorithm is similar to the feed algorithm in that it uses ranking signals to decide which content to show first: that’s why you’ll likely see your best friend’s story the second you open the app.
Here’s how Insta chooses what order your stories are in:
- Information about the story. Info like when the story was posted, stickers or music it uses, and interaction (likes, but also engagement on polls and questions) are all important to the algorithm.
- Information about the person who posted. Instagram knows how often you interact with certain user’s stories, including likes, replies, shares and interactions with stickers. These metrics are used to determine how likely you are to care about the person’s content.
- Your activity across the platform. If you’ve just interacted with a certain user’s post, you’re more likely to see their story pop up, and vice versa.
The Instagram algorithm for Reels pulls from both accounts you follow and accounts you don’t follow, trying to entertain you with content you are likely to watch all the way through.
The algorithm evaluates this by looking at the following:
- Your activity. Signals like which Reels you’ve liked, commented on and engaged with all help Instagram understand what kind of content could be the most relevant to you.
- Your history of interacting with the person who posted. With Reels (much like Explore), you’re likely to be served up video content from creators you haven’t heard of… but if you have interacted with them in some way previously, Instagram takes that into consideration. 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 caption, audio track and analysis of the pixels and frames, and considers the video’s overall popularity.
- Information about the person who posted. Is the original poster someone with an engaged audience, or whose content receives consistent likes and shares? Instagram uses this information, too.
If you’re more of a visual learner, check out our video explaining the Instagram algorithm for beginners.
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 you’ll be most interested in, based on how likely you are to like, save or share a post. Here’s what matters:
- Information about the post. The algorithm evaluates 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 in the past 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 had 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.
One of the greatest joys (read: most maddening features) of the Instagram algorithm is that it changes constantly, so creators and social media managers need to be flexible and open to new updates. Here are some of the most recent changes in IG’s algorithm.
In 2022, many Instagram creators voiced their dissatisfaction (and in some cases, anger) that Instagram—an app that was originally made for photo sharing—seemed to favour videos far more than still images. Users felt that videos got a lot more views, likes, comments and shares than photos did, and blamed a change in the algorithm.
In fact, a petition was launched to argue that the algorithm should be more photo-focused (and it garnered over 300,000 signatures). Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri addressed this in early 2023. In a Q&A in his Instagram stories, Mosseri said: “I think we were overfocused on video in 2022, and pushed ranking too far—and basically showed too many videos and not enough photos.”
He followed this statement by assuring creators that Instagram has been working to make the algorithm treat videos and photos more equally, and that analytics have indicated that the changes are making a difference: “Things like how often someone likes photos vs. videos, and how often someone comments on photos vs. videos are roughly equal, which is a good sign that things are balanced,” said Mosseri.
So photographers, don’t give up on IG yet.
In an Instagram reel posted on December 28, 2022, CEO Mosseri announced Instagram’s goals for 2023. One of his top priorities is to “help people discover things that they love.” He said it’s not just about videos (likely in reference to the point above) and stressed that “Instagram should be a place where you discover amazing things every time you use it.”
From this statement, we can assume that updates to Instagram’s algorithm will prioritize showing users new content from creators that they haven’t necessarily seen before. In other words, know that your content isn’t just being pushed to your followers: IG wants to show your posts to a fresh audience.
In the same reel cited above, Mosseri acknowledged the competition (he didn’t name names, but TikTok and BeReal are the newer platforms that are taking the social world by storm). He said Instagram helps to “spark connections between people over what they find,” and that IG sets itself apart from competitors by not being “a lean-back experience.”
In other words, Instagram doesn’t just care about the number of views a post has. The platform (and the algorithm) will favour content that inspires conversations, so we can expect that comments will be very important for a post’s success in 2023.
Mosseri has also announced that original content will now rank higher in Instagram’s algorithm. “If you create something from scratch, you should get more credit than if you are resharing something that you found from someone else,” said the CEO in an Instagram reel. “We’re going to do more to try and value original content more, particularly compared to reposted content.”
In 2023, original content will be favoured more than reposted content: so the more creative you are, the better your post will perform.
Bonus: Download a free social SEO checklist and follow pro tips for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get your posts seen by more people.
Okay, we’ve got all the facts: now it’s time to use them to our advantage. Here’s how to really get into the rithmn.
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!
Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri says that the platform values original content over reposted or reshared content—so be as creative as possible when you’re brainstorming new posts. Try using your original audio for reels, coming up with captions that are distinct and informative, and embracing unusual ideas.
Of course, no idea is born in a vacuum: the Reel above plays on traditional influencer content, but the creator has a fresh (and funny) take. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel—just look at the wheel from a new perspective.
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.
Engagement rules all on Instagram (in fact, it’s one of the most important ranking factors on all the top social media platforms).
Views are great, but likes, comments, shares and saves matter more. Consider encouraging your audience to engage with your content by asking questions, hosting giveaways or creating ultra-shareble posts (here’s a whole blog post dedicated to increasing your engagement).
This video of a pug eating Japanese food may have been engaging enough on its own, but the creator skyrocketed engagement by asking a question (“What’s your favourite Japanese dish?”) in the caption, prompting tons of comments.
If your inbox and comment section is overwhelming, no fear: we have a tool for that.
This strategy is also all about engagement: the more you engage with your audience, the more likely they’ll be to engage with you. Being responsive in your comment section and your DMs builds trust with your followers, and helps remind them that there’s real people on the other side of their screens.
For example, this artist gets lots of positive comments on her IG posts, and takes the time to respond to many of them. A simple “thank you” or a few emojis can go along way—commenters feel seen, plus you’re upping the total number of comments on your own post by replying.
Hashtags help Instagram know what your post is about, and using them puts your content in front of the right audience.
Plus, unlike Instagram ads (the other way to expand reach past your existing audience), hashtags are free.
This rock climber uses lots of relevant hashtags on her post, making sure that her target audience is reached. #Climbing, #rockclimbing, #bouldering, #indoorclimbing and #girlswhoclimb all help Instagram understand what the content is about, and share with users who want to see that kind of post.
Just like hashtags, location tags are a free way to give Instagram vital information about your post. The algorithm will share your content with other people in your area, assuming that the photo or video is relevant to them. Plus, users who are searching for content published in a specific area will see posts tagged with that location.
The above post was tagged with “Toronto, Ontario,” which teaches Instagram the location of the creator. So when other Torontonians are on the search for handmade ceramics, this is the sort of post they will see—all because the algorithm knows that the maker is close to them.
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 1.7 posts to their feed per day. If that sounds like way too much for your small biz, rest assured that just showing up consistently (every weekday, for instance), is enough to keep the ball rolling.
Food writer Nigella Lawson posts almost daily (often with the hashtag #RecipeOfTheDay) so her followers know to look for her content—and the Instagram algorithm knows that she’s a creator worth highlighting on the explore page, in feeds and in stories.
Look at how nicely planned out your Instagram posts could look in Hootsuite’s planner — for weeks or months in advance!
Instagram Reels have become a very important (and lucrative) feature of the platform. Unlike the regular feed, most Reels that a user views will be from creators that they don’t follow, so Reels are a great opportunity to expand your audience beyond your followers.
But to do that, the algorithm has to put your content in front of new audiences. One of the simplest ways to signal to Instagram that your Reel is worth ranking highly is to use a trending song.
When a song is trending on Reels, the Instagram algorithm will show users lots of videos with that same song (you know how you sometimes get Reel songs stuck in your head? That’s why).
But don’t just pick a random trending song: try and find one that’s both trending and relevant to your brand. For example, the above Reel regarding toddler lunches is set to “I am Your Mother.” The audio is both related and trendy.
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 lowdown 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 important Instagram metrics to track alongside performance stats from your other social networks for easy comparison.
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.
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.).
Ways to trigger the Instagram algorithm include: creating content relevant to your audience and trends, posting when your audience is online, using the right hashtags, posting carousels to your feed, posting Reels frequently, trying out new content formats and features as soon as they come out, and writing long captions.
If you think the Instagram algorithm isn’t picking up your content, follow these tips: 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, and check your Instagram analytics.
Start building your Instagram presence using Hootsuite. Schedule and publish posts directly to Instagram, engage your audience, measure performance, and run all your other social media profiles — all from one simple dashboard. Try it free today.