Instagram AI ranking algorithm explainer.

How Does The Instagram Algorithm Work? – AI Ranking Explained

October 4, 2023
By
David Olsen

Confused by the Instagram AI ranking algorithm? Want to optimize your Instagram profile? Here’s how to beat the algorithm and create thumb-stopping content!

The Instagram algorithm holds the secrets to success in Instagram marketing for social media managers all over the world. But, up until now, the algorithm has been akin to a magical beast, with marketers only being able to guess how to beat it. This year, for the first time ever, Meta has released in-depth details on just how the algorithm works, as well as all the factors that go into how our content is ranked on Instagram.

Of course, over the years marketers have guessed at many of the ranking factors that make up the Instagram algorithm from assessing their own social media performance. But now those marketers finally have solid evidence backing up their predictions. 

This in-depth information on the Instagram algorithm provided by Meta can help social media marketers to supercharge their social media content and ensure that it is being seen by the right people, every single time.

Is it time to finally take control of your Instagram marketing strategy and create the content that your fans truly care about? We’ve created the ultimate guide for the Instagram algorithm! Keep on scrolling to find out all about the new Instagram algorithm information released by Meta – and what it means for you and your brand. 

Best of all, we’ll show you how you can leverage it to create the kind of content that stops thumbs and will keep your dedicated Instagram users engaged for longer. Ready to get the lowdown?

What Is The Instagram AI Algorithm & Why Does It Matter?

First up, what is the Instagram algorithm, and what does it mean for you? Well, whether you’re just starting out on Instagram or you already have an awesome Instagram account with thousands of super-engaged followers, it’s crucial that you understand the Instagram algorithm and how to beat it. 

The Instagram algorithm is essentially a set of rules and processes that Instagram uses to rank content according to how popular and relevant it may be with specific users on the platform. 

Here’s how it works; essentially, Meta’s AI systems rank content based on an ever-evolving set of “signals” that Instagram users give. These signals contribute to predictions on how certain content will rank with certain users. This way, Instagram can ensure that every user has a good experience on the platform by providing relevant content to users. Higher-ranking content will be shown to more users on the platform. Makes sense, right? 

But there isn’t just one all-powerful Instagram algorithm. There are actually a number of different AI systems that Instagram uses to rank different content types, such as the Instagram Feed and Instagram Stories. Each content type is ranked slightly differently. And the ranking is different for every Instagram user – because what one of us finds interesting isn’t the same for another. 

To make things even more complicated, the Instagram algorithm changes over time as the AI systems learn and new features are added, making it even more difficult for marketers to keep up.

So why does it all matter? Well, understanding how the Instagram algorithm works can help you as a social media marketer by knowing exactly how to create the most awesome content and amplify that content properly to reach the right users.

Everything You Need To Know About The Instagram AI Algorithm Update

Want to know how to beat the algorithm? It all starts with understanding how it works. So, here’s the lowdown, straight from Meta

The Instagram algorithm uses a set of AI system cards. Each AI system is very complicated, but essentially, they are made up of a set of dynamic rules and prediction models. These prediction models use a set of signals to determine how popular and relevant each piece of content might be. Indicators might include things like how a person has interacted with the author’s content in the past, or interacted with similar content.

That said, Instagram ranks content differently based on the content type. Below, we’ll dive into each content type and how they are ranked.

How The Instagram Feed AI Algorithm Works

Your Instagram feed is curated for you by the Instagram feed algorithm, which uses a bunch of AI learning models. Every time you jump onto your Instagram feed, Instagram will gather potential Instagram posts that you might like. These posts are placed in a specific order in your user feed based on how Instagram thinks you will react to them. Some of the factors that influence this score include the below:

  • The user’s history with the author, including how they have interacted with the author’s profile and recent posts, such as whether they have commented, clicked, spent time viewing their content, and liked or shared their posts. 
  • Other users’ interactions with the author’s recent posts including the number of clicks, comments, shares, as well as time spent viewing and sharing.
  • The author’s profile, including the number of posts available for ranking.
  • Which device you’re using, such as the web, iOS, or Android.

The likelihood of an Instagram user seeing your post will be determined by how they have reacted to you in the past, but also by how popular your content is. So if other users are responding well to your content early on, Instagram might show that post to more users.

How The Instagram Stories AI Algorithm Works

According to Meta, your Instagram Stories feed is curated for you by the Instagram algorithm. The ever-evolving AI system behind your Instagram Stories will collect the signals from each Story to rank the content. Some of the factors that influence this score include:

  • User interaction history. Instagram will check interactions with the author’s Stories, including views, likes, responses, shares, etc.
  • The time of day in your location.
  • Which device you’re using, such as the web, iOS, or Android.
  • Past activity; including the Instagram Stories a user has responded to, shared, or skipped in the past.
  • Direct user engagement with the author; the number of direct messages (DMs) exchanged with the author.

The difference, it seems, with Instagram Stories as opposed to Instagram Feed posts is that the ranking factors for Instagram Stories are more dependent on the personal relationship that the user has with the author – unless, of course, you are sending DMs to everyone on Instagram!

With Instagram Stories, it’s also more all about the timeliness of your post, which makes sense, given the short lifespan of Stories. So Stories are more likely to be shown to users in the same time zones, as they are more likely to interact with them. This is important to keep in mind if you’re targeting an international audience.

How The Instagram Reels AI Algorithm Works

And finally; Instagram Reels are also optimized on user’s feeds according to the Instagram algorithm ranking scores. 

Here are some of the Instagram reel ranking factors:

  • User interactions with Reels. Users will see Reels from authors they have interacted with before including sharing, commenting, and saving.
  • Reel performance. Instagram will favor Reels where users have watched at least 25% of the clip.
  • Audio performance for your Reel. Instagram will assess if users click on the audio within a Reel, save it, or use it again.

With Reels, Instagram wants to show you the type of content that you might find interesting with less emphasis on your previous relationship with the author. So, in your Reels feed, you won’t necessarily see Reels from your friends (as they will be in your feed). You’ll see Reels from users you don’t know. You can also find new content by checking out Reels on the Instagram Explore tab. Of course, the Instagram Explore page algorithm works differently again!

This indicates that Reels can be a great way to reach new users; and what brand wouldn’t want that?

Negative Instagram Ranking Factors

Before we get into the good stuff, it’s important to think about the negative Instagram ranking factors as well. Aside from positive ranking, factors, like likes, shares, views, positive comments, and other interactions, Instagram also takes into account negative reactions. If users are reporting or hiding your posts, or Instagram feels that your post violates their standards and community guidelines, it will take this into account and downgrade the ranking of your posts. It may even remove your post from the feed entirely.

If this is happening to you, check your comments and direct messages and see if there are any complaints. Negative reactions can also occur if your followers simply aren’t interested in your content. For example, maybe you have bought Instagram followers in the past or grown your audience purely by using competitions.

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How To Optimize For The Instagram AI Algorithm Update

Before Meta released all the details on how the Instagram algorithm works, content creators and brands on Instagram had only guessed how it worked based on their own collective experiences. We had already guessed that Instagram shows users the content that they are most likely to interact with based on their preferences and their relationship with the author. So, while this update gives us some additional insights, it shouldn’t change your approach drastically.

That said, there is a lot of misinformation about the Instagram algorithm, and while we now understand the factors that go into ranking, we don’t understand just how important they are. For instance, how important is a save versus a share? We may only be able to guess at how important these factors are and conduct our own research.

Luckily, there are some simple hacks you can put into place to optimize the performance of your Instagram content and get it in front of the people who matter. Keep reading for our top tips to optimize your Instagram content and supercharge your social media strategy.

Tip #1: Generate Instagram Engagement

First up, it pays to generate as much user engagement on Instagram as you can. This is probably something that you are already trying to achieve. But if you look a little bit more closely at Meta’s ranking indicators for Instagram feed posts, one of them is “how likely users are to spend more than 15 seconds in this session”. In other words, the longer you can get people to engage with your content, the better.

So how can you get people to interact with your content more, and for longer? Well, this will be highly dependent upon your brand, but there are a few ways that you can supercharge user engagement and, in turn, boost your ranking within the Instagram algorithm.

  • Write longer captions. Longer captions mean that your users are engaging with you for longer. But to get your users to actually read your captions, you need to ensure that they are engaging. Always use a compelling hook at the beginning of your caption, such as “3 Ways You Can X”, or “Don’t make these mistakes when doing x”. Or, use a funny hook to draw in the user. More on this later.
  • Try to generate saves. Saves are one of the most valuable forms of engagement, as it means that users are highly engaged with your content. Saved content might look different for everyone, but typically, people like to save tips, recipes, workout video content, hacks, quotes, or even items that they want to purchase in future. You can even ask your audience to save your post, as Kayla Itsines has done in the example below.
  • Make interaction easy. On Instagram Stories, use all the interactive features you can, like Stickers, Polls, Questions, and reposts. And don’t forget to utilize hashtags and location tags.

Run a competition. A competition is an easy way to supercharge your engagement, even if it’s just for a short time. In your competition post, make sure you specify that users need to like or comment on the competition post or other posts on your feed, in order to enter.

Not sure what to post to boost your engagement? Use Sked Social to track user hashtags for your industry. Check out the top-performing posts and see if you can use a similar content strategy to boost your engagement. 

Forget Instagram analytics. You can use Sked Social’s sophisticated reporting insights to track specific metrics and measure your post performance every month. Over time, you’ll be able to use these insights to tweak your content marketing strategy and increase your engagement rates.

Learn more about Sked Social’s advanced social media analytics features here.

Want to access Sked Social to supercharge your social media marketing game? Give it a try today by signing up for our 7-day free plan trial.

Tip #2: Encourage Longer Viewing Times

As we’ve discussed, Instagram’s AI models take into account the viewing times of new posts when it decides to rank your content. But before you start making super-long Instagram videos, consider this; engaging for longer might mean engaging with a 10-second video three times. This might seem unlikely but it’s not actually that hard to do – especially when a video is looping, or you’re watching a funny video.

Therefore, it might be better to create a short looping video than a longer video that isn’t as engaging.

So, how do you get people watching your video content for longer? Here’s how:

  • Add value. Again, add value with your content. People are much more likely to rewatch a video if they’re getting something in return. Maybe they’re learning how to style their outfit five different ways, or how to make chocolate mousse, or they’re getting marketing tips from an expert. And value doesn’t necessarily have to be information. It might be a funny video, an entertaining story, a cute carousel of dog photos, or a relatable meme. 
  • Create looping videos. You know those looping videos that you don’t even realize are looping? Create one of these and see how well it performs. Try to make the beginning and end seamless and use audio that doesn’t cut off too obviously.
  • Use high-quality content. This is an obvious one, but it’s important to ensure you’re not using low-resolution images or videos, or people will get turned off straight away.

Post when users are engaged. Aim to post when your target audience is most active. To find out when that is you can check “Instagram Insights”. But Sked Social has more detailed audience insights on the best times to post. It can show you the exact days and times to post for your brand, according to your time zone. Then you can use Sked Social to schedule your posts at exactly the right times for optimal performance. Too easy!

Best time  to post on Instagram recommendations.

Find out how to use Sked Social to find your optimal posting times here.

Want to see if Sked works with your Instagram marketing strategy? Give it a try today by signing up for our 7-day trial.

Tip #3: Experiment With Longer, Value-Filled Instagram Captions

We spoke earlier about why it’s so important to have long Instagram captions filled with value. You always want to ensure that your Instagram captions are providing value over and above the image or video that you are posting. You don’t want to just use your caption to repeat exactly what you have already said in your image or video post. Try using it to add additional information for your audience so that they stay engaged for longer. 

As to whether or not short or long captions are best, this is something you might want to test out with your target audience.

Here are some tips for awesome Instagram captions:

  • Consider the intent of each post. What are you trying to say in each post? What action are you trying to encourage? Are you informing, entertaining, or selling to your users?
  • Add a compelling first line. In the Instagram feed, your Instagram caption will be truncated (shortened) so users only see the first two lines. Users will need to click “Read More” to see the rest. That means your first line or two needs to be highly captivating. Use emojis to capture attention, too – just don’t go overboard with them! Ask a question like; “Want to know the secret to X?” or “Which do you prefer; X or X?”. If people start commenting on your post, even better!
  • Use your video to entice people to read your caption. Create engaging content. Create a video and then add an additional titbit of information in the caption. Simply add a call to action (CTA) within your video with text saying; “Read more in the caption”, or “Check out the caption for an extra tip!”. The longer people are engaging with your post or saving it, the better.
  • Add a call to action, or CTA. A CTA at the end of your caption will tell your audience to take a step after reading your post. Common CTAS include shopping on your website, signing up to an email list, commenting on your post, or clicking the link in your Instagram bio. 
  • Use relevant hashtags and keywords. Instagram uses the hashtags and keywords within your posts to categorize your content, helping it become more discoverable. You can even do SEO keyword research and hashtag research to check which keywords are trending in your industry. Then just integrate those relevant hashtags and keywords within your posts.

Want to create clever, well-constructed Instagram captions? Scheduling is the key. Try scheduling with Sked Social. You can create posts and add hashtags and location tags all within the one platform in minutes. Give it a try today by signing up for our 7-day trial.

Tip #4: Choose Your Audio For Reels Carefully

When it comes to Instagram Reels, having the right audio is crucial. Not only can the right music with the right timing make your videos more compelling, but choosing the right audio can dramatically boost the reach of your reels. So, how do you choose the perfect audio for your Instagram Reel?

Choose songs that;

  • Reflect the spirit of the video. The audio should flow with the video and feel natural when played alongside it.
  • Match your brand. For instance, a beauty brand targeted at women might not want to choose a heavy metal song. That said, a heavy metal song might be perfect for a brand that sells band t-shirts or gothic jewel.
  • Suit the timing of your video. Try to time your transitions so that they match the beats of the song. Reel Templates are also great to use for this if you’re just starting out trying Reels.

Are trending. Trending audio tracks will have a small upward-facing arrow on the left of the track name. Using trending audio will ensure your Reel is seen by more users.

Tip #5: Add Subtitles To Your Videos

Finally, always add subtitles for your videos. These days, many of us view videos on the bus, at work, or even in bed at night when our partner is trying to sleep! That means that many users will view videos without audio – or with the audio at a low volume. This means that you might risk people scrolling past if you don’t add subtitles – especially if your video features a person speaking directly to the camera.

Even if your users are watching your videos with audio, subtitles can help to drive the message of your video home. Having engaging text on the screen is an extra way to capture user attention. You can add subtitles easily with tools like CapCut or InShot.

Ready To Supercharge Your Instagram Content?

Regardless of the latest Instagram algorithm updates, it’s important to do your own research and check which of your posts are performing the best, as the AI models that control the Instagram algorithm are changing all the time. What works well now may not be working for you in six months. That’s why reporting is so important when it comes to social media marketing.

Sked Social is a powerful social media marketing tool with the ability to streamline your content scheduling process and save you hours every month. But it also has comprehensive social media reporting functions that can help you track the performance of your content from month to month. Regular reporting is crucial if you want to create high-performing content that reaches new users.

If you want a comprehensive social media scheduling and reporting tool that allows you to automatically schedule content for TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and every other major social media platform, Sked Social is the one for you. 

Want to set up a killer content marketing strategy? Get started by signing up to Sked’s 7-day trial today or learning more about our pricing.

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