How Instagram algorithms work: shadow ban and other 9 myths
What algorithms are there on Instagram? How do they work? Is there a shadow ban on Instagram? How is the feed on Instagram ranked?
On June 8, Instagram published official information about the work of the ranking algorithms in the social network. It will be useful for both novice bloggers and millionaires. For business pages, this is a chance to bypass competitors and spend less budget on advertising campaigns.
We propose to dispel myths about Instagram algorithms and consider the factors for promoting accounts in 2021.
Instagram algorithms “-2021” determine what content to show to a particular user. Several decisions are made:
The ranking of content on Instagram depends on specific signals. Let’s list the main ones.
- Post data – when posted, how many users liked, what is the context, is there geolocation.
- Information about the author of the post – for example, how often the audience interacted with him.
- The activity of the user who is shown the post – what he views and likes.
- User interaction with the author’s profile – is there communication in the directory, whether there are likes.
Algorithms are configured so that fresh posts are in priority. It is the new content that has more weight and is ranked better. Therefore, you need to follow the updates of posts and think over news feeds.
The purpose of the Instagram algorithm is to show relevant content to the audience. The user should see posts on topics of interest to him and those close to him. For example, sports fans are shown highlights from the competition, but also celebrity-themed memes to diversify the feed.
It’s important to consider audience preferences so that as many users as possible see your content.
The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, commented on the work of the algorithms:
“Forecasts are one of the ranking factors. These are assumptions about how interesting the content will be to the user. Forecasts are on average 12-13. In the “feed” section, there are five options for interactions that the social network takes into account: the likelihood that a person will spend time posting, leave a comment, like, save and touch the profile photo. The higher the likelihood that a user will take an action, the better position a particular post will occupy. ”
Three other factors also affect the ranking of posts in the Instagram feed:
- Frequency of application usage. If followers open the feed on average 12 times a day, then the likelihood that these people will post from the very beginning is higher. People who rarely look into the app are looking at the content that the algorithm chose for itself based on early preferences. That is, if the post does not meet the user’s interests, it will be almost at the end.
- Number of subscriptions. It makes sense that if a user has many followers, they will skip more posts than the one with fewer.
- The time the tape was used. The longer a person views the content, the more thematic and useful publications he will see.
For companies, this means only one thing: you need to upload not only posts to the feed, but also stories, videos, and so on. It is not a fact that a person will see the publication of a brand in the feed.
Recommendations are ranked by Instagram in a similar way.
- First, the algorithms determine a set of posts that are ranked based on past likes, views, and comments.
- Then it is taken into account which part of the audience responded to these posts, which of them received a response.
- Posts with positive engagement rates are shown on Instagram in the Interesting section using the same signals as for the feed – relevance and preferences.
In addition, there are controversial categories of content that are not shown to users. This, for example, advertising alcohol, tobacco and vaping.
Shadow Ban on Instagram: What Users Need to Know
Shadow ban is another topic of controversy among marketers, bloggers, and SMMs. Instagram continues to assure that it does not exist. But at the same time, many users complain that the post is gaining less reach and reactions than another similar one.
Related material: Shadow ban on Instagram: boosting followers and other reasons for a shadow ban on Instagram
Here is what the official representative of the social network Adam Mosseri replied in this regard: “We cannot promise that publications from the same account will receive the same number of reactions. Most followers may not even see the post in the feed, as they usually view less than half of all content. This is not a shadow ban, but ranking results.
In addition, the interests of the audience are taken into account, so if the publication does not concern topics relevant to followers, then it will gain less coverage – everything is simple. Yes, some posts can be removed from the feed if they violate the rules of the social network. ”
An easy way to check for Instagram restrictions is to look at the results by hashtags. You need to put a hashtag in the text, re-publish the post and click the “recent” tab in the search results. If you do not see your own among the publications, it can be assumed that you have violated the rules of the social network and are temporarily restricted in impressions. In fact, the account exists, but posts are shown only in the feed of subscribers, not getting into the “interesting” and issuance by hashtags
Denis Volostnov, SMM specialist at Exiterra
Marketers are of the opinion that the shadow ban is a myth invented by bloggers to “beg” likes. If posts disappear, then this is a signal that it is time to change something in the content strategy: people are not interested in posts, so the reach falls.
The explanations of the official representatives of Instragram look quite logical:
- if a user breaks the rules, his posts will not be included in the followers’ feed;
- if false content is posted, reach will be low;
- if metrics are broken, content is not ranked in recommendations.
Therefore, if you do not monitor the preferences and behavior of the target audience, you can completely disappear from the “radar” of followers.
How Instagram Algorithms Really Work: 9 Myths Refuting
Business profiles have no advantage over personal accounts and vice versa
Instagram offers three types of accounts:
- Personal page.
- Business account.
- Author profile.
There is a widespread myth on the web that if a company switches to a business account, the social network will consider the page to be commercial and will less often display content in the feed. In fact, the algorithm doesn’t care what type of account the user has chosen.
But the business profile and the author’s account have additional “goodies”:
- opportunity to mark sponsors of the publication;
- the ability to designate a type of activity, for example, a personal blog or shop;
- promotions and advanced targeting.
The account type does not affect anything else, so you can safely choose any option that suits you.
Video content doesn’t rank better than photos
It was rumored that the new Instagram algorithms would rank videos better than images. And although video, especially in Stories, is the trend of 2021, it is another myth.
Videos are gaining momentum among the Instagram audience. This content is more dynamic and attracts more attention. There is even a dedicated Reels tab for it. Quickly created videos like TikTok are added there. But this does not mean that the photo content has lost its relevance.
Part of the audience chooses to watch videos, and part – photos and memes. Social network algorithms analyze the interests and preferences of users. Therefore, some are shown more videos, others – images. Brands need to combine these two formats in their content strategy. But focus on audience preferences, see which posts gain reach – video or images.
Posting times are still important
Instagram has denied the assertion that posting time does not matter anymore. Social network algorithms take into account engagement metrics and posting time. The work is set up so that the audience always receives fresh content.
For example, if you published a post at 18:30, a competitor at 19:00, and a user went to Instagram at 19:30, then most likely he will see the publication of the “rival”. But if your post is gaining 200 likes and 20 comments by this time, and a competitor’s post is zero, then your post will rank better in the feed.
It is important not only to post at a time when most are online, but also to increase engagement. In addition, posting time is critical if followers follow multiple accounts.
To decide on the choice of time you need:
- Under the profile header, click on the “Statistics” option (available in accounts for businesses and authors).
- In Reviews, open the Total Subscribers tab.
- At the bottom, open the “Most active periods” section. You can find posting times here.
Tip: don’t forget to clean your followers from bots. This will help you adjust your audience activity data.
Engagement is a priority metric for Instagram algorithms
Don’t blame bad statistics on new social network algorithms. If the content is not interesting to followers, it will be shown less often in recommendations and feed.
Officials of the social network commented which indicators are in priority for Instagram:
- number of likes;
- for video content – the number of views.
Nothing was said about the number of saves. Most likely, due to the fact that the indicator appeared later than the others and therefore has not yet been taken into account in the ranking. But SMMs claim that the more saves, the more often posts are commented.
Another myth: algorithms do not take into account all comments, for example, they filter out emoticons. But for bots, it doesn’t matter whether it will be a detailed answer in a couple of sentences or one word. Any comment has a positive effect on the engagement rate. Therefore, bloggers or accounts of online stores arrange giveaways, where a comment is considered a prerequisite.
The number of likes and comments in the first hour after publication does not affect the ranking
Officials of the social network have dispelled this myth, which leaked into SMM two or three years ago. Some people still believe in this, so they wind up the activity in the first hour after publication. But this will not bring the post any closer to hitting the top.
Algorithms form the top and recommendations for each user on an individual basis. If a couple of posts of the account got there after likes and comments in the first hour, this is an accident. In 2021, not the most active bloggers will be included in the recommendations, but those who are interesting to the audience. Therefore, do not use cheating in vain, otherwise you risk ending up in the bath.
The key role is not played by the number of likes and comments, but the ratio of coverage and engagement. If the publication is seen by 5 thousand users, and only 1% will like it, and 100 people will look at another and 50% will react, then the second entry will be in the top.
In addition, posts get to the top even a couple of days after publication.
Profiles with clearly defined topics promote better
The Instagram feed is divided into two parts:
- the first user sees content based on subscriptions;
- in the second – from preferences;
The social network shows content from accounts that the user has never interacted with, but the content is in line with the interests of the person. This is how Instagram introduces new profiles to users. This helps to increase the time of interaction with the application.
If the brand has a clearly defined topic, then it is easier for algorithms to select potential subscribers. If the publications are “about everything”, then it is difficult for the algorithm to understand which category of user interests the profile belongs to. Therefore, these accounts are performing worse.
Content quality and subscription time play a major role
The official representative of Intagram and the developer of the social network algorithm, said:
- The social network favors high resolution images. The lower the parameter, the worse the post will rank.
- Copy-paste is not getting reach. Upload original photos that you took yourself. It is better not to skimp on content from photo banks or open sources, but to do professional photography. This is especially true for business accounts. Otherwise, poor coverage is assured.
- Fresh subscriptions take precedence over old ones. This means that new followers will see content more often than “oldies”. Therefore, to stir up your audience, launch retargeting.
Related material: Instagram for a marketer: what to do if Instagram photos are stolen and how this can affect the company’s reputation
Time of presence on account page affects ranking
The time of presence on the page influences the positive statistics on the account. Therefore, it is important to generate content that you want to comment on and like. These can be controversial topics, useful life hacks, contests, and so on. You can improve your performance by publishing a snapshot carousel. This works for online stores. The user flips through the pictures with the product image, examines the angle, details – this increases the viewing time of the post.
It is worth relying on the main principle of content creation: virality. Your content should make you want to react. The reaction is considered not only like or comment, but also watch time. A user studies a post for a long time, reads or watches a carousel, which means that the post is interesting and should be shown to other people. In order for the content to motivate for reactions, you must first look at it through the eyes of the subscriber. A specialist needs to understand what attracts him himself, when he is not an SMM manager but just a subscriber of his favorite public. Based on this content generation model, you will understand what will encourage people to like, repost, comment, and all this will show the value of the post to the algorithm.
Denis Volostnov, SMM specialist at Exiterra
In this case, it does not matter with which content format the follower interacts. For example, he can react to a story, and then open a post in the feed.
You can use a trick to find out which topics resonate more with your audience: conduct a poll or quiz in Stories. Users interact with the story – put emoticons, comment, follow the link, and then after a post appears on the selected topic, which will appear 100% in the feed, followers will start commenting on the post or flipping through the carousel.
Stay tuned and post content regularly. Schedule posts for a week right away to avoid distractions and reduce the risk of force majeure.
Mass Following Kills Accounts
Swelled subscribers steal reach. In addition, a business account does not need thousands of “dead” followers, but sales. Therefore, it makes no sense to chase subscribers and hope to attract the attention of the target audience.
Even if they are real people, such profiles are created, as a rule, for commercial purposes. Accounts are subscribed to thousands of others, so it will be more difficult to get into the feed – you will have to constantly compete for reactions and views with rivals in the niche.
Related material: How to get Instagram followers and make a business
Algorithms are selected in recommendations by topic, so post content on one topic, monitor the quality of the visual in order to attract people. Mass following is a thing of the past and is only pulling profiles to the bottom.
Social networking is an important part of business promotion. Our service “Integrated Marketing” will help you to correctly manage Instagram. We will attract new clients to your business.
Author: Exiterra.com Digital Agency