There’s no doubt that social media networks in general and Instagram in particular can be any business owners best friend. Not only are they a great source of traffic to your website, but they also offer the best tools to engage with your community. However, since the criticized Instagram algorithm change of 2016 (yes, it’s been that long), users have struggled to understand why their engagement rates are dropping and what they can do to fix it. Gone are the days of chronological feeds and a general understanding of how social media platforms work!
Here’s the thing: no one is actually 100% sure how the algorithm affects the way content is shown. Sure, Instagram announced new updates here and there with a more or less detailed explanation. But most of the little tweaks done on the algorithm are never formally released. But don’t worry, just because we don’t exactly know how it works doesn’t mean we haven’t learned how to outplay it. Here are some tips on how to outsmart the Instagram algorithm and improve your account’s reach and performance:
The one clear thing about how the Instagram algorithm works is that posts with high engagement rates show up first on users’ feeds. The quality of a publication‘s performance seems to be decided within the first hour, and so reaching a significant participation within this time frame should be one of your main priorities. To do so, you should be using the capabilities of your whole online presence. Share your post on your other social profiles as soon as is published to increase your reach, and maybe even send a link to friends and family encouraging them to engage!
Find your hashtags
Hashtags are one of the best tools Instagram offers. Whether you are looking for inspiration, new users to follow or are simply aiming to reach a wider audience, hashtags are your #bestfriends. Ideally, you’ll want to have between 10 to 20 of them per post to maximize your exposure without looking too spammy. For better visual results, use dots to separate them from the text.
Try to combine highly popular tags with more specific ones. The high number of posts on the most widely-used hashtags makes it really difficult for your media to be found. If you have a look at the most overused tags, such as #love #sunset and #cute, you’ll see the images shown change every few seconds. Go for more specific tags that describe your work and those which might get you promoted on larger accounts.
Make sure to constantly change the hashtags you’re using. Otherwise, you might be flagged as a spammer, limiting the visibility of your posts. This should be obvious, but refrain from using misleading hashtags. Users can (and will) report your posts if they are not relevant to the tags they follow – which will result in a limitation of your account’s reach.
This one shouldn’t take anyone by surprise. We call it social media after all, right? It makes sense that the algorithm appears to favor accounts that are socially active and engage with the community regularly. Take time to answer the comments left on your posts, and dedicate a few minutes every day to interact with people who publish similar content. When commenting on other people’s work, write authentic replies rather than simple monosyllabic words. You can do better than “Wow”. While it might be tempting, never use bots. Not only is it a very obvious turnoff for your audience, Instagram will punish your account if they detect any suspicious activity.
… Or carousel posts, or long and interesting captions. It’s recommended to write up to two paragraphs, with 3-5 lines each. The goal here is to make users linger on your media for as long as possible. Having people focused on your posts for more than just a second will flag your content as interesting and will be more likely to be organically promoted. Play around with the different types of content to find which ones are more effective for your audience. A short video clip, a carousel with a complete panorama, or a backstory of the shot make for great content.
Whether you’re a photographer learning how to use photoshop or a huge corporation launching a new feature for their mobile app, trying something new is always scary. That’s why Instagram tends to benefit users who use the newest offerings. While stories don’t seem to have a direct effect on the position of your posts on the feed, they are featured at the top of hashtag searches. On top of that, stories allow you to be more creative than regular posts and can help you increase engagement. Polls, calls-to-action, tips, processing examples, behind the scenes footage… let your imagination run wild!
Live videos could be described as the community-focused version of Instagram stories. They appear first in line on the stories feed, and followers get notified as soon as you go live. Viewers can write their comments in real-time, making live videos a unique platform to create a dialogue with your audience. You should find a theme that your followers may find interesting, such as a tutorial, a Q&A session, or a sneak peek into your latest project. For better results, you might want to ask for their opinions beforehand. They might come up with a few ideas that didn’t even cross your mind.
Measure your results
The only way to get better is knowing how to get better. You should keep an eye on your Instagram account’s performance to see what works better for your work and audience. However, becoming obsessed with engagement numbers is one of the main mistakes photographers make on social media, which makes them as dangerous as they are important. Remember that social media is a tool to grow your work, not the other way around. So make the most out of the tools it offers you, without getting side-tracked with the less important things!
So, what are these numbers and where can you see them? Primarily, you should be tracking your number of followers, the reach and impressions of your posts, and the number of users that visit your profile and click on your website link. You can access them on Instagram by changing your profile to a business account (at no cost!). Other interesting analytics tools include Just Metrics, Minter.io and Sprout Social.