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Industry Update

Instagram Reveals How Its Algorithm Works

Louai Nasser

Jun 11, 2018

In July 2016, Instagram rolled out a new algorithm-driven feed, replacing the popular reverse chronological feed to the surprise and dismay of many users. Although most users have now adapted and gotten used to this new format, the explanation behind how this algorithm actually works has only just been revealed.

So it’s been almost two years since Instagram implemented the switch from a reverse chronological order for its Feed to a newer machine-learning algorithmic software. But what exactly has changed and how did it alter people’s experience on the social media platform?

Well, in order to clarify the clouds of uncertainty surrounding the manner in which Instagram prioritises which posts get seen by users, the Facebook-owned platform organised an information session in San Francisco, California. This managed to clear up some of the confusion amongst Instagram’s loyal users by offering an insight into how the algorithmically driven feed works.

Rather than seeing the newest posts in a reverse-chronological timeline, Instagram now displays content and posts that it thinks you want to see, based on your previous behaviour i.e. likes, comments etc. So, for instance, if you have a history of liking or commenting on football related posts, this type of content will be more likely to appear on the Feed the next time you log into Instagram.

The way Instagram is displaying content nowadays may not be news to you, however revealing insights on how this algorithm works is new. It’s been revealed that there are three main factors which will determine what Instagram users get to see on their Feeds:

  • Interest: As has already been mentioned, Instagram will present you with content that its algorithmic Feed predicts you will enjoy or care about. This information is based on a user’s previous behaviour and history.
  • Recency: This is all about the content was posted. Although it is no longer a chronological feed, it will still prioritise more recent posts over weeks or months old posts.
  • Relationship: This depends on how close you are to the person or account that posted the content. This works on a ranking system, depending on how much you have engaged with them on Instagram i.e. likes, shares, comments.

Julian Gutman, the product lead for the Instagram Feed, also dispelled the notion that Instagram’s algorithmic Feed generally favours videos over photos. However, it may prioritise videos for your feed should your online behaviour indicate that you prefer watching videos and spend more time watching videos than looking at images and vice versa.

Besides these three main elements, there are three more additional supporting factors that can influence the ranking of the way you see certain posts:

  • Frequency: If you are a frequent user of the app, Instagram will refresh your Feed on a more frequent basis. This means that new content will constantly be appearing on your Feed, depending on how often you visit the platform.
  • Following: If you follow a large number of accounts on Instagram, it also means that Instagram has way more accounts to choose from in terms of showing you their content on your Feed. Consequently, Instagram will try to keep changing up the feeds of users that follow more accounts than others.
  • Usage: Here, we determine how much time you actually spend on the app. Users that only spend a couple of minutes per visit, will be presented with the most relevant content possible, in order to make sure those few minutes are as satisfactory and effective as need be. People who spend long periods of time at once on the app will have a larger variety of posts and content at their disposal.

According to experts, the reasoning behind these algorithmic calculations is that it is in Instagram’s best interest to show engaging and relevant content to its users, as it will encourage them to spend more time on the platform, meaning they will be exposed to more ads, thus increasing Instagram’s revenue. This also plays to the companies’ advantage who are advertising their products or services on the platform.

The following statistics that were revealed back up these claims:

  • Before switching to algorithmic feeds, on average, Instagram users would never see over 70% of all posts by accounts that they followed.
  • They used to also miss out on over 50% of their friends’ posted content in the Feed.
  • Due to an increase in relevancy in the Feed, users are now seeing over 90% of their friends’ posts, whilst spending a significantly higher amount of time on the app.

Despite all this, some traditional Instagram users remain unhappy. They demand to at least have the option of reverting back to the previous reverse chronological Feed. However, Instagram has made it clear that it has no such plans in mind. Considering the statistics they have revealed, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

What do you make of all of this? Do you like this algorithmically driven feed or do you miss the old school chronological Feed that Instagram used to offer? One thing is for sure, in general, sharing on Instagram is on the increase and people are spending more time on it than ever before. That means Instagram should be an indispensable part of your social media strategy. Want to hear about this from our team of experts? Sign up for our free trial and reap the rewards!

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