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  • Ciara Macpherson

Instagram 101: The Algorithm Explained

Instagram has let us all in on a little secret: how it’s algorithm works! Prior to ditching the reverse chronological feed for an algorithm in July 2016, Instagram says that it’s users were missing 70% of all posts and 50% of their friends’ posts. Now, it says that due to relevancy sorting, we see 90% of our friends’ posts. As well as this, we’re spending more time on the app so despite initial backlash to the algorithm, it turns out it was a beneficial update to everyone.

The more we know about how the app works the better as it can influence how we use the platform. Do you think about how the algorithm might affect your posts or do you just use Instagram willy-nilly? You might want to look at the three elements that it takes into consideration when deciding what to do with your post and what to show you…

Instagram Algorithm signals


How ‘into’ something are you? Instagram knows, and it uses this information to give you what you want to see. The algorithm determines how interested you’re likely to be in specific content by factoring in how much you’ve engaged with similar posts in the past. Interestingly, the system will also evaluate the actual visual content of posts, facilitated by Instagram’s evolving image recognition tools. This is one feature to watch – so many possibilities!


Instagram also takes into consideration when the post was published. There has been some noise around the fact people are seeing ‘old’ content on their feed. Some users have complained that they’ve been seeing too much older content in their feeds: something which Instagram recently rolled out an update to address, meaning more recent content will be favoured and shown first.


And the last key factor is your relationship with who created the post, based on how much you’ve previously engaged with them. The factors used in this calculation could include common interactions, such as like and comments on each other’s posts, but also direct messages and post tags (i.e. if you’re frequently tagged in that person’s images and vice versa).

Instagram Mythbusting

With Instagram clearing up all things related to their algorithm, we thought we’d leave you with some more Instagram truths:

  • A return to the reverse chronological time line is not on the cards – sorry to disappoint anyone!

  • Instagram doesn’t ‘hide’ posts, if you keep scrolling you will see everything posted by everyone you follow. Just keep scrolling, just keep scrolling…

  • The algorithm does not favour image or video posts, those who use Stories, Live or other special app features. Instagram says “the only way to get your content higher ranked is to produce great content”

  • There’s no reach penalty for posting too often, thought it may see some of your posts interspersed with updates from other users to avoid people seeing streams of your content

  • The algorithm gives no preference to personal or business accounts – they are all ranked equally – so no need to fret about the difference between each

  • Shadowbanning is not a thing. Instagram says “it doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions”

Want to know more about Instagram? Check out the rest of our Instagram 101 series: learn the basics, how to create an Instagram advert, how to measure success on Instagram, and how to use Instagram Story Highlights.

We hope this Instagram information overload has been helpful for you; it might even make you reconsider your Instagram strategy. Should that be the case, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Hydrogen. We’re just a phone call away.

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