How it works: The Instagram algorithm

At Squirrels&Bears we believe in simplicity and we like to provide clear answers to your questions. In our #howitworks series we focus on simple explanations of various aspects of small business, highlighting the basic facts, what works and what doesn’t work. And we hope to make your life a little easier.

The basics:

  • Instagram relies on machine learning based on your past behaviour to create a unique feed for everyone
  • The Instagram algorithm was built in to show you high-engagement posts first
  • Even if you follow the exact same accounts as someone else, you’ll get a personalised feed based on how you interact with those accounts
  • The Instagram algorithm tries to predict what photos and videos are the most important to you, and uses three main factors to determine this: interest, timeliness, and relationship
  • A study by Instagram  found that before the algorithm, on average, users missed 70% of the posts on their feeds and 50% of the posts from their friends. Now, though, Instagram’s 800 million users reportedly see 90% of their friends’ posts


  • Post regularly – the Instagram algorithm will prioritises recent posts
  • Use hashtags (#) –  you can use up to 30 hashtags. Use a hashtag unique to your brand so you can easily find user-generated content
  • Use long tail hashtags – With millions of users filling up common hashtags with their posts, you’ll have less competition with long tail hashtags and your post will stay on the hashtag feed longer
  • Comment and reply to comments – if you reply to comments left on posts within 60 minutes, Instagram will reward you for making an effort to connect with your followers and will generate more exposure for the post
  • Use Instagram stories – use the Stories feature to promote new posts. Since the algorithm may not show your post to everyone, this guarantees that more of your followers will see it. The algorithm takes into account all actions of engagement – the more engagement, the likelier your posts will show up in the feed
  • Use geotags – Instagram will show your post to more followers if you geotag a popular destination


  • Post excessively  – if you post more than one update a day, Instagram will split the reach between your uploads
  • Post without a caption– posts with no caption don’t encourage engagement and won’t be seen by your followers
  • Create fake engagement – don’t buy followers or use bots to post comments – paying your way to the top won’t work
  • Worry too much about the algorithm – the truth is that the algorithm will change again, so the only true way to make a lasting impact is great content, knowing your audience and engaging with them regularly!

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