Here’s how the Instagram Reels algorithm works in 2022, and what you can do to make the not-so-secret recipe work to your advantage.
If you’re a social media nerd (a term of endearment here at Hootsuite HQ), you’ve probably already studied our guide to the Instagram algorithm in your quest to achieve better engagement for your business Instagram account. But if you really want your Instagram Reels in particular to make a splash, it’s important to know that this Instagram feature has its own specific algorithm to wrestle with. So grease up and get ready to enter the ring.
Instagram Reels, of course, are the short-form videos Instagram introduced in 2020 as a competitor to TikTok. Simple editing tools allow creators to use effects and filters, string together multiple shots, and incorporate music clips to craft fun, engaging Instagram Reels in just a few minutes (and unlike Instagram Stories, they don’t disappear after 24 hours).
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But like everything else on Instagram, no matter what a masterpiece your video is, your potential for viral stardom is at the mercy of the all-mighty Instagram algorithm: that behind-the-scenes code that decides whether to serve a vid up to the masses or bury it in obscurity.
Here’s how the Instagram Reels algorithm works in 2022, and what you can do to make the not-so-secret recipe work to your advantage:
Bonus: Download the free 10-Day Reels Challenge, a daily workbook of creative prompts that will help you get started with Instagram Reels, track your growth, and see results across your entire Instagram profile.
How does the Instagram Reels algorithm work?
The Instagram Reels algorithm decides which Reels are shown to which Instagram user. (So bossy!)
You’ll see Reels from accounts you follow in your main feed, but there are two other places Instagram Reels from other creators and brands can be discovered:
- The Reels tab This is basically Instagram’s version of the TikTok For You page. Tap the Reels icon at the bottom of the Instagram app’s home page for an endless, scrollable feed of Reels selected by the algorithm.
- The Explore tab Reels are also heavily featured in Explore, alongside Instagram Posts and Stories that the Instagram algorithm serves up. (Speaking of which: check out our guide to getting your content on the Instagram Explore page. I guess we’re also bossy?)
There are multiple factors that go into determining when and where Reels appear.
The Instagram algorithm isn’t just taking into account how you interact with content: it’s watching how you interact with other users. Does someone follow you and search for you by name? Do you message each other, or leave comments? Do you tag each other in your posts? If another Insta user is clearly your BFF or superfan, Instagram is more likely to share your latest video with them as soon as it drops.
That being said: with Reels and 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 — lurkers, raise those hands in the air high and proud — Instagram takes that into consideration too.
Relevance of the content
Instagram tracks user affinity — a fancy way of saying “whatchu like.” If you’ve liked or engaged in some other way with a Reel or post in the past, Instagram takes a note of the subject or topic, and tries to serve up similar content.
How does the AI learn what a video is about? Through your Instagram Reels hashtags but also through analysis of the pixels, frames, and audio.
TLDR: Watching videos of dogs playing basketball begets more videos of dogs playing basketball. It’s the circle of life at work, and it’s a beautiful thing.
The algorithm prioritizes new content over Reels from the archives. People want to see what’s new, so the algorithm gods do, too. Keep those fresh drops coming!
If you’ve got an engaged audience, and if you have content that consistently receives likes and shares, that’s going to signal to Instagram that you’ve got something special that other people might like, too.
Sure, it seems like a bit of a catch-22 that you have to already be popular in order to get popular, but ultimately Instagram is in the business of promoting quality content… so if you’ve got a reputation already for making great stuff, the app will reward you. (Could this be the world’s only true meritocracy? We’re reeling, here.)
11 tips for working with the Instagram Reels algorithm
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Instagram prioritizes Reels that it thinks people are going to like: content that’s new, fun, and relevant. Maybe robots aren’t so different from us, after all?
Instagram’s Creators account even posted a carousel recently confirming just that. (The “fun and relevant” part, not the “embrace our robot brethren” part.)
Let’s break down the key takeaways here, shall we?
Create quality content
When people click on the Reels tab, they’re expecting content that’s funny, entertaining, and interesting. So that’s what the algorithm aims to deliver.
According to Instagram’s @creators account, Reels currently has live humans sifting through them to feature the best ones. Creating a Reel that’s “the best” is a tall and very un-quantitative order, but we’ve got 10 ideas for Instagram Reels to get you started.
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In a nutshell, just do your best to make your viewers laugh, teach ‘em something cool, or deliver a surprise twist or challenge, and you’re headed in the right direction.
Make your Reels visually appealing
The algorithm favors videos with visual panache. At the very minimum, shoot in vertical and avoid low-res photos and videos; if you’re ready to get creative, test out all of Reels’ bells and whistles.
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Videos made with the app’s camera effects and filters tend to keep viewers engaged, and get an algorithmic boost in the process.
Avoid reposting TikToks
Instagram Reels may have started life as a TikTok dupe, they don’t care to be reminded of this fact — if you’re reposting watermarked TikTok videos as Reels, you’re going to be dinged.
We’re not just speculating here: them’s the facts! “Content that is visibly recycled from other apps (i.e. contains logos or watermarks) makes the Reels experience less satisfying,” a post from the company explains. “So, we’re making this content less discoverable in places like the Reels tab.”
Use the right hashtags
Hashtags are a great source of discovery for creators, particularly on Reels, so make sure you’re tossing in at least a handful into each Reel’s description. For the furthest possible reach, use hashtags that are accurate and descriptive: 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. (Plus, unlike Instagram ads, hashtags are free!)
Instagram Reels can include up to 30 hashtags, but Instagram’s best practices suggest that 3 to 5 well-chosen tags will serve you better. Do your research, explore your niche communities, and use hashtags that really reflect what your post is about. Learn more with our ultimate guide to Instagram hashtags or check out our list of copy-and-paste Instagram Reels hashtags here.
Feature people in your Reels
In a recent experiment by Hootsuite’s social media team to discover the engagement potential of Reels, we discovered that Reels that feature people perform exceptionally well. And if users like a video, then the algorithm is going to like a video.
Hyper-stylized product shots and illustrations can be fun, but ultimately, faces are what really delight the Insta audience.
Use trending music
Use a trending sound clip and the algorithm (or should we say… algor-rhythm) will reward you by spreading your Reel far and wide.
Create content outside of Reels, too
Stories, posts, guides: the more Insta content you put out into the world, the more likely you are to be discovered. After all, we know that the Instagram Reels algorithm is keeping track of your history with other users. If someone has been peeping your other Instagram output, it’s a signal for the algorithm to deliver your latest Reel to them, too.
WAIT, in a surprise twist: did you know you can actually make Instagram Reels out of your old Stories Highlights? Watch our video to find out how:
Follow Instagram’s recommendation guidelines
Instagram spells out just how it decides what to recommend and who in its Recommendation Guidelines: consider this document your Social Media Commandments.
“We work to avoid making recommendations that could be low-quality, objectionable, or sensitive, and we also avoid making recommendations that may be inappropriate for younger viewers,” Instagram writes.
Content that promotes violence, self-harm or misinformation, for instance, won’t show up in someone’s feed as a recommendation. Keep it civil and play by the Insta-rules for maximum reach.
Give the people what they want
Use analytics to learn more about your audience and serve up content that’s hitting the spot. Instagram Insights allow both Business and Creator accounts to access Reels analytics, which include performance metrics like reach, comments, and likes.
But if you want even more detail, a third-party social media management app like Hootsuite can really take your number-crunching to the next level.
To see how your Reels are performing, head to Analytics in the Hootsuite dashboard. There, you’ll find detailed performance stats, including:
Engagement reports for all your connected Instagram accounts now factor in Reels data.
…and when they want it
Because the Instagram Reels algorithm prioritizes recent posts, getting fresh content up when the maximum number of your followers are online is crucial. As we learned earlier, earning high engagement with your own followers is the first step towards getting a spot on the Explore page. (Please tell me you’ve been taking notes!)
Check out our analysis of the best time to post on Instagram for your industry, take a look at your analytics, or use Hootsuite to figure out the best time to post.
Here’s how to schedule a Reel at the best possible time using Hootsuite:
- Record your video and edit it (adding sounds and effects) in the Instagram app.
- Save the Reel to your device.
- In Hootsuite, tap the Create icon on the very top of the left-hand menu to open the Composer.
- Select the Instagram Business account you want to publish your Reel to.
- In the Content section, select Reels.
- Upload the Reel you saved to your device. Videos must be between 5 seconds and 90 seconds long and have an aspect ratio of 9:16.
- Add a caption. You can include emojis and hashtags, and tag other accounts in your caption.
- Adjust additional settings. You can enable or disable comments, Stitches and Duets for each of your individual posts.
- Preview your Reel and click Post now to publish it immediately, or…
- …click Schedule for later to post your Reel at a different time. You can manually select a publication date or pick from three recommended custom best times to post for maximum engagement.
And that’s it! Your Reel will show up in the Planner, alongside all of your other scheduled social media posts. From there, you can edit, delete or duplicate your Reel, or move it to drafts.
Once your Reel is published, it will appear in both your feed and the Reels tab on your account.
Note: You can currently only create and schedule Reels on desktop (but you will be able to see your scheduled Reels in the Planner in the Hootsuite mobile app).
Cultivate an active community
Want to get your Reels in front of juicy, juicy “lookalike audiences” on the Explore page? It starts with engaging your own brand community.
To be clear, we’re not talking about cringe-y shortcuts like joining Instagram pods or buying followers: we’re talking about rolling up your sleeves and starting conversations in the comments and DMs.
We know, we know: none of these tips for making the Instagram Reels algorithm work for you are exactly “hacks.” But if you want to build a social brand with a meaningful impact, it takes care and effort. The good news is that while you’re taking the time to craft the perfect Reel or to engage with your perfect audience, a dashboard like Hoostuite can take the work out of
Easily schedule and manage Reels alongside all your other content from Hootsuite’s super simple dashboard. Schedule posts to go live while you’re OOO — and post at the best possible time, even if you’re fast asleep — and monitor your post’s reach, likes, shares, and more.