Instagram Algorithm 2018: The Biggest Update in Years

Everyone seems to get nostalgic about the good ol’ days of 2015. They were simpler times. Star Wars released their first film in over a decade and Adele released probably her last album of the decade. Uptown Funk! was Billboard’s #1 song of the year, never to be played again. Then 2016 started in turmoil – Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt broke up and Instagram changed from a chronological timeline to an algorithm similar to Facebook. Then the social media pitchforks came out with threats of a boycott, countless memes, and even a change.org petition that reached almost 350k supporters.

#Repost @mimsi_design with @repostapp. ・・・ VEERRYYY IMPORTANT! #Repost @theevergreenneedle with @repostapp ・・・ Instagram is on the verge of becoming just like Facebook, ordering content based on algorithms that give priority to the most popular content. That means you will have to scroll longer to get to posts from smaller accounts, and if you’re a smaller account it will be harder for your posts to be seen. I love seeing content from everyone I follow, not just the biggest accounts or the accounts I interact with most. Especially for creative communities like ours it’s important for everyone to be featured equally so we can see content from newer/smaller accounts. If all we see is the most liked posts, the community stagnates and becomes boring. You can give direct feedback to @instagram by going into your account settings, select report a problem, and select general feedback. You can also #boycottinstagram and #boycottinstagramalgorithms on March 18 for 24hrs to show them, by a drop in user activity, that you don’t want this change to take place. If you love how IG is now and don’t want this change to take place, spread the word and tell Instagram how you feel. The more feedback they get the more likely they are to listen. #keepinstagramchronological #keepinstagramthisway #instadont #crossstitch #flosstubersofinstagram #crossstitchersofinstagram #makers #quilting #quiltersofinstagram

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Instagram posted in 2016 that users miss, on average, 70% of their feed due to the chronological format. The 2016 algorithm that replaced it currently displays post based on which accounts you’ve engaged with the most. Instagram stated this was because users spent more time on the app compared to the chronological timeline. The increased app usage naturally meant more opportunity for brands to have their advertisements seen. Despite the stats proving more time on the app, many felt their posts weren’t getting the same engagement or they were missing posts from brands or people they wanted to see. Instagrammers with smaller followers felt pushed out, facing a tall hill to climb compared to bigger brands.

But nevertheless, Instagrammers persisted and we all somehow survived. Fast forward to June 2018…

And Instagram has announced the biggest change to their feed since the dark days of 2016, which will roll out in the coming months. This also marks the most transparent Instagram has been with their algorithm since its inception.

Instagram claims its new feed will allow users to see around 90% of posts from close friends and family, compared to around 50% with the old chronological feed. Note you don’t explicitly pick your close friends or family, it’s decided through the algorithm as well. They also identified the most important factors in how posts are prioritized, based on a selection of main and secondary signals. This is on top of the already well-known factors of engagement, such as likes, comments and how long people viewed an image or video.

Instagram Post Ranking – Main Signals 2018

Interest predicts how much you’ll like the post, based on your behaviour, such as your likes, comments and how long you look at an image or video. The most intriguing new mention is that their algorithm will use image recognition tools to factor in the actual visual content of posts (which parent company Facebook has been testing for some time). For example, if you click like or spend time looking at a photo/video of a cat, but it doesn’t have “cat” mentioned in the caption or as a hashtag, Instagram can still potentially know you liked a cat post (but Instagram could bet that most users like cat posts without their fancy algorithm).

Relationship is how associated you are with the Instagrammer, from how much you engage with them, including likes, comments, direct messages, and tags. To test, check out your explore page. Notice it’s all cat videos? Well, Instagram thinks you should probably get out of the house more.

Timeline prioritizes more recent posts over older posts (but never a true timeline).

Instagram Post Ranking – Secondary Signals 2018

Frequency in how much you use Instagram, aiming to show you the “best” new posts for you each time you open the app.

Usage in how long you spend in the app per session, which helps to decide the range of posts you’ll see, from the best and down.

Following, as in how many accounts you follow. The more you follow, the wider the spread Instagram has to pick for your feed, meaning some will get prioritized over others.

“New Posts” Button?

Testing with some users since March, the “New Posts” button still used the algorithm but focused on displaying more recent posts. Thought of as kind of a compromise for the chronological format, it sounds like this will not see the light of day to avoid making the app any more complex.

New Explore Page

This is the biggest change in years for how we can control what we see on Instagram. The upcoming Explore Page will still be based on our personal interests and tastes, but you’ll be able to pick specific topics to follow that will be displayed. This will follow up the ability to follow hashtags launched last December.

Julian Gutman, Instagram Feed’s product lead, gave the following answers to Recode, along with some quotes cited in this post from Later.

  • Instagram says algorithm “could” prioritize videos over photos, if a user prefers videos (or vise-versa). But Instagram doesn’t universally favour video or photo format. (When Instagram launched videos originally, they did favour them to promote the new feature.)
  • Instagram doesn’t prioritize posts from users who use Stories or Live more often.
  • Instagram doesn’t rank verified users or business accounts higher than regular users.
  • You can’t be down-ranked for posting too much, but they may break up posts.
  • Last year, there was a controversy called the “Shadowban” that was actually due to a bug in the app. At the time it seemed some posts were not showing in the feed due to overusing hashtags. Instagram says “It doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions”.

Key Takeaways

For anyone working in the Instagram and social media marketing space, the points above already reflect current best practices. But a few new clarifications have answered long-running questions in our industry, such as Instagram’s preference for video, Stories, or Live, along with over-posting and the “Shadowban”. Don’t be afraid of hashtags, but don’t let them clog up your caption; place them lower or in a separate comment.

Maintain quality and originality, but also keep up the pace to keep visibility up (yes, there are no shortcuts these days, unless you pay up for ads). On that note, paid Instagram posts and Stories have given our clients strong results and we encourage anyone to experiment with them to ensure their best content gets the exposure it deserves.

While Instagram doesn’t prefer any post type, your followers might. After Instagram took “inspiration from Snapchat for Stories, the new format quickly became as popular or more than the regular feed for many users. By end of 2017, Instagram Stories had 300 million daily active users, which was almost double Snapchat’s entire app user base.

The 2016 algorithm change led to less of a focus on what time to post and more on other tactics. After the latest reveal, it will be worth planning a specific schedule. There are general recommended times for a better chance of engagement, such as during the weekdays and outside of normal work hours (lunchtime, late afternoon/evening, etc). There are many factors in play, such as your industry, your audience, their time zones, and more. Similar to Facebook, it’s always best to test and track your own analytics and audience to find your best fit.

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