If you’re a social marketer, the word “algorithm” might make you a bit jumpy.
Hey, we totally get it.
After all, the updated Facebook’s algorithm has has caused widespread panic over the past few months.
And so with the recent changes announced to Instagram’s own algorithm, marketers are rightfully worried about their organic reach there as well.
The cut and dry analysis of the new Instagram algorithm?: The platform’s ranking system is now algorithmic versus chronological.
In other words, your post’s reach and priority in Instagram’s feed is determined by the platform’s algorithm rather than when your last post went live.
So, What Does the New Instagram Algorithm Want from Us?
Here’s some good news: we have a strong pulse on what the Instagram algorithm favours.
Unlike the Facebook formula that’s shrouded in mystery and explicitly pushes paid content, smaller brands on Instagram are more than capable of outwitting the algorithm.
It’s just a matter of maximising your engagement.
And in this guide, we’re going to break down the tactics and strategies that’ll help your posts stand out.
With that, let’s dive right in!
1. Make the Most of Instagram Stories
As part of the newer pieces of Instagram, Stories represent one of the platform’s top priorities. Rolling out new features such as Stories ads, polls and sharing news feed posts to Stories, Instagram are working to get more marketers on board.
Conventional wisdom tells us that whatever newest feature a social network pushes, the more important it is to prioritise it. This rang true with Facebook prioritising its live video and it seems that Stories are following a similar path.
Stories are great for brands because they represent content that doesn’t need to be particularly polished. Taking your followers behind-the-scenes via Stories can be done in a moment’s notice.
For example, check out how the Socceroos are using Stories to document the Australian national team’s journey through the 2018 World Cup.
If you haven’t already started publishing via Stories, it’s time to hop on the bandwagon. Considering how easy it is now, there’s really no reason not to.
2. Hash Out Your Hashtags
Now more than ever, brands need a dedicated Instagram hashtag strategy.
Hashtags do double duty by making your posts searchable to a wider audience while also priming them for more comments and likes (but more on that later).
Oh, and don’t forget expectation for brands to boast their very own branded hashtags.
When it comes to the new Instagram algorithm, brands need to find a balance between bigger hashtags (think: #visitaustralia with its ~400k reach) and smaller ones (think: #sydney_gram with its ~2.6k reach). Competitive tags make for more reach, while niche tags can help your brand tap into smaller, hyper-engaged audiences.
Check out how Dharma Bums uses a combination of branded hashtags as well as fashion-centric, industry tags (#animalprints) to get the best of both worlds.
Likewise, geo-specific hashtags based on your location can help you get more exposure among local followers.
3. Tap into Perfect Timing
The more interactions you score among your followers, the more relevant your content is seen in the eyes of the Instagram algorithm.
Timing is a crucial part of maximising that engagement. After all, you’re throwing engagement away if you’re posting while the bulk of your followers are asleep or offline. Meanwhile, you don’t want your posts to get buried while your competitors are busy posting.
Fine-tuning your timing involves a combination of trial-and-error as well as looking at some hard data. There have been numerous studies conducted which break down how brands should approach Instagram in terms of timing and frequency.
For example, research from CoSchedule notes the following:
- 2AM, 8-9AM and 5PM are considered “peak” times for Instagram activity
- Posting content during off-work hours is often preferable versus posting mid-day or during the afternoon
- Monday and Thursday are the most popular days of the week for engagement
Meanwhile, data from Sprout Social offers a somewhat different take, although affirms some pieces of CoSchedule’s study. That is, 5AM is an optimal time for engagement, as well as the fact that weekdays and later afternoon posts are totally fair game.
Regardless of where you’re publishing from, investing in a social scheduling tool is a smart move to be able to touch on these high points for engagement without having to publish in real-time.
4. To Pod or Not to Pod?
As is the case with any social algorithm change, users are always on the hunt for ways to “game” the algorithm.
Enter the phenomenon of “Instapods.”
In short, Instapods represent groups of influencers who consciously like, comment and effectively boost each others’ post for reciprocal engagement. These pods can result in rapid growth for smaller accounts that otherwise would never get very much exposure in a short period of time.
The downside of Instapods is that you can in fact get shadow banned by Instagram for trying to play the system. There’s also the issue of looking like a spammer as your posts are filled with low-effort comments and come off as cliche to users.
If you can organically encourage interactions for influencers and industry players, totally go for it. That said, be aware that any tactics that could be seen as underhanded could be treated as such by the platform.
5. Invest in Video Content
Much like Facebook, Instagram is eager to encourage its users to create video content.
Thankfully, video content does not have to represent a huge time or money-sink.
Whether in the form of live video or with the help of apps such as Instagram’s own Hyperlapse, producing video is arguably easier than ever.
Despite popular belief, videos do not have to be massive productions. Even those with massive presence like the official Australia tourism account use informal, off-the-cuff video from time to time.
Videos are powerful because they automatically catch the eye of your followers serially scrolling through their feeds. For example, Autoplay videos can likewise be used as part of your Instagram Stories to stop scrollers in their tracks.
The takeaway here is that you can’t shy away from video anymore. While images are obviously the platform’s bread and butter, the Instagram algorithm seems to reward brands that diversify their content strategies.
6. Treat Likes and Comments Like Gold
With the updated Instagram algorithm putting engagement on a pedestal, winning likes and comments should be the goal of any given post.
Because the more you score, the more likely your post will be to rank in your followers’ feeds.
And while Facebook may have gone on the warpath against engagement bait, the “just ask” approach to Instagram content can still be incredibly effective.
For example, question-based content which picks the brains of your followers is still fair game. Asking questions is a great way to turn your caption into a call-to-action.
Likewise, asking people to share thoughts and suggestions creates a back-and-forth between you and your audience.
Finally, tag-a-friend posts are still staples of Instagram to encourage more buzz around your latest promo.
CMA FEST ARIAT GIVEAWAY!!! @katievanslyke has teamed up with us to giveaway our Brisco Fringe Boot! Here’s how to enter 1) follow @ariatinternational and @katievanslyke 2) Tag 2 friends in the comments! Each comment must contain two tags, but you can comment as many times as you want! Winner will be announced on Katie’s page in two days! Good luck! #ariatgiveaway #contest #ariatboots #festivalfashion
You can’t just post a photo and expect engagement. These caption strategies encourage relationships with your followers versus being just another picture in their feeds. Social media represents a conversation, after all.
7. Post More People-Centric Content
We at Hello Social have seen firsthand the need for a more authentic social presence given the rise of influencer marketing.
And as such, posts with a personal touch are much more poised for engagement than stuffy corporate content.
Whether it’s showing a bit of vulnerability or cracking a joke, storytelling captions like this one from The Drone Man are all the rage right now.
• 🔥// aaaaand we’re back! • Thank you all so much for giving me some time to take a massive step back from social media. • All of this has really helped me put everything back into perspective… • Re-prioritising things from work to family has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was also very much needed even though it will no doubt negatively effect my engagement ✊🏼 • Time to slowly get back into the swing of things and start getting back to all of your DM’s 💌 So grateful for your attention! • Also…Maldives next month with @tylerhanley and @portiacarey to look forward to. Going to be insaaaaane! 🌎 • So…how are you? 😊
Meanwhile, posts that allow you to tag others or show someone off “in the wild” can help resonate with followers on a personal level.
Selfie game 👉 strong. 💪 As @mitch_gilmore_ found out, swimming with the locals is all a part of the experience at the @surfersparadisemarriottresort. 🏨 With a saltwater lagoon part of the resort, grab a snorkel, ease into the water and swim with tropical fish. 🐠 Did we mention, the resort is just a 15-minute walk from Cavill Avenue? 🙌 #WeAreGoldCoast #thisisqueensland #SeeAustralia @queensland @australia 📸 @mitch_gilmore_
The takeaway here is that your content should feel human. In a day and age where social algorithms are putting people first, doing so is traditionally a good idea.
8. When in Doubt, Be Willing to Experiment
As noted earlier, oftentimes adjusting to an algorithm change means a bit of trial in error.
As a result, now might be the best time to diversity and experiment with some new types of content.
Beyond Stories and video, now might be the time to step up your meme game or try your hand with stylized quotes.
For both the sake of appealing to the new algorithm and keeping your content strategy from growing stale, a bit of experimentation might very well do the trick.
How Will You Respond to the New Instagram Algorithm?
Unlike Facebook, the changes to the Instagram algorithm are relatively easy for brands to respond to.
From switching up your content strategy to optimizing your posts for engagement, implementing these changes will keep you and your account ahead of the curve.
And with these best practices in the back of your mind, you can start fine-tuning your Instagram presence ASAP.