Advocacy Marketing

Beat the Instagram Algorithm by Playing the Same Game

August 18, 2021
Stacy Wells

Very few things are transparent when it comes to the inner workings and tech of social media platforms. However, it does not stop our curiosity or need for understanding and clarity. So after much criticism, Instagram responded in June 2021 by unveiling how they shape the app experience.

With this recent change, we have a better idea of how Instagram determines what users see and find. Since then, many experts have hashed over the details and written thorough explanations of Instagram's feature, Shedding More Light on How Instagram Works. For background, this article focuses on the basics of Instagram ranks Feeds, Stories, Explore, and Reels.

But the highlight and the actual value is how you can collaborate with others and quickly boost your IG success. By this, we really mean beat Instagram and its algorithms at their own game. 


No singular algorithm governs what we see on Instagram. In their own words, Instagram reveals, "We use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose. We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that."

Welcome to the playing field, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The power of Instagram relies on millions of user data points and relationships to enable it to discover your content preferences and eventually cater to these preferences.

Instagram knows that people are looking for different things when scrolling through their Feed versus their Reel or Stories. So each component of the IG platform uses separate algorithms to establish the content it delivers. 

Instagram Algorithm for Feed and Stories

The Instagram Feed and Stories collect what you publish and present it to the people connected to you. On the flip side, Instagram understands you care most about the people you follow and those who follow you, so their posts and Stories are the first things to populate your Feed. 

When you post on Instagram, your social community sees it in their Feed. And the posts you see in your Instagram Feed include all posts from accounts you follow on Instagram.  

Instagram insists that they "do not hide posts from the people you follow."

Additionally, Instagram may also include material suggested by the accounts you follow as well as related hashtags in your Feed.

To determine which posts will appear in your Feed and Stories, Instagram uses a variety of equations. Factors such as engagement (like the 500 million plus interactions with Stories everyone.), the date of the post, and the interaction you had with the person's prior posts all build the order of your Instagram Feed. 

more than 500 million people interact with Instagram Stories every day

How Instagram Determines the Content in our Feed and Stories

The Instagram algorithm is the mastermind behind what people see and which posts show up in their Feeds. Artificial intelligence examines several main characteristics when formulating what appears in our Feeds, Stories, Reels, and Explore. The categories are the same, but factored into each part of the app are some subtle nuances. 

Instagram organizes relevant content in our Feed and Stories in the following hierarchy: post data, data about the person posting, account activity, and then interaction history.

Information about the post 

The number of individuals who like or dislike a post indicates how much interest there is in the material. Also, Instagram examines whether the post is a video, the publishing date, and the location.

Information about the person who posted

Instagram tries to evaluate if we would find someone's content engaging. 

They analyze recent interactions and the number of times we connect with someone as primary signals to guess how compelling the content will be.

Your activity

Every time we do anything on Instagram--like a post, comment, save, and share--we send data to IG that form a picture of our interests.  

Your history of interacting with someone

The more times you look at a person's content, the more interested you seem in viewing more. A clear indication that you want more is when you like and comment on someone's content. 

The benefit of this organization is that we see posts from our friends and people we follow. For brands, however, this is not good. Unless a person follows your company, they will not see your posts in their Feed or Stories. 

So, companies that utilize social media to reach people are stuck. Let's admit that pretty much every business is trying to build its social network. No wonder it is such a slog.

Solution for Brands

Brands can go it alone, but it takes a ton of effort and time. The other option is to play the same way as Instagram. As explained above, friends and followers are the priority. So companies can hook up with influential people and bypass the Instagram algorithm. This strategy is known as influencer and ambassador marketing. 

A brand ambassador is a person who genuinely loves a company and authentically generates buzz with their network, regardless of their social media following. Ambassadors are often loyal customers and promoters who generate content, awareness, and sales for a company.

Ambassadors are the answer to circumventing the algorithm on Instagram.  

Two of the main goals of working with brand ambassadors are growing awareness and organically increasing brand reach. Ambassadors also share their advice and recommendations with their followers. And while they are doing this, they produce a lot of user-generated content

User-generated content courtesy of @nicolemikolich

According to Instagram Business,

"58% of people say they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Stories."

When it comes to Stories, as pointed out above, IG always includes posts from people we follow. And for companies working with people we follow, some of the Stories are genuine product promotions. 

Capitalizing on the power of stories is an important strategy for companies. Here's one more motivational statistic from Instagram Business,

"Half of the people surveyed say they have visited a website to buy a product or service because they saw it in Stories."

It's amazing! Not only do friends, family, and fans know the posts are authentic, so does Instagram. This is a perfect synergy. A win-win for everyone.

free brand ambassador guide

Instagram Algorithm for Explore 

Aptly named, the Explore page's purpose is to help us discover new things. Unlike Feed and Stories, where most of what you see is from the accounts you follow, Explore is a collection of suggestions Instagram thinks you might like. 

From their article, Instagram alludes to utilizing machine learning models that identify the features and characteristics of our favorite content and link it to associated topics. And with all machine learning models, they guess why we like something. 

Instagram says that the most important actions they predict in Explore are:

#1 - Likes

#2 - Saves

#3 - Shares

In this case, IG models predict the likes, saves, or shares the material they serve up will get. We are training their machines. When we share a video, the action is captured. The characteristics of the video are also remembered, and the algorithms then look for videos with similar properties, which it can include in our Explore page. Instagram gets smarter every time we engage and even learns when we don't participate.

How Instagram Decides What Appears in Explore

Information about the post

Instagram evaluates a post's popularity by measuring how many people like, comment, share, and save the content. Unlike in Feed or Stories, these signals matter a lot in Explore.

Your history of interacting with the person who posted

If you ever interact with a post, IG gauges your curiosity level. It does not matter if you know or follow the person.

Your activity

When we like, save, or comment on posts in Explore, we communicate our interests.

Information about the person who posted

IG looks at how many times people interact with other persons in recent weeks to identify the best content.

What Can Companies Do?

Once again, brand ambassadors are invaluable in succeeding on Instagram. Since Instagram includes posts in Explore based on a ranking of likability and engagement, it's essential to join forces with grassroots influencers.

The average engagement rate for an Instagram post by a business account is 0.96% (Source) With less than one percent of viewers interacting with business posts, getting many likes, saves, and shares are tough.

In a study with companies running ambassador programs, Wooly found some incredible facts. Posts from ambassadors had 40 times more social engagement and 55 times more reach than posts from brands. Wooly customer metrics continually show that ambassador posts with user-generated content or UGC perform better than brand posts. In fact, ambassador posts get nine times more comments than brand posts. 

Instagram posts from brand ambassadors outperform brand posts

Companies desperately need ambassadors since Explore prioritizes engagement, and brand ambassadors get multiple times more interactions than regular brand posts.

The Algorithm for Instagram Reels 

Now for the entertainment. In keeping with the sports motif, Instagram Reels would be considered the halftime show. Reels start with the most entertaining material. Much like Explore, the videos are from people you don't follow. 

Your activity

What Reels have you recently enjoyed? This teaches the IG machine learning models what content you like.

Your history of interacting with the person who posted

Again, similar to Explore, chances are you have never heard of the Reel creator, yet engaging with them confirms your interest.

Information about the Reel

Instagram breaks down the characteristics and popularity of the video content. 

Information about the person who posted

Predicting which Reels you will like is different than Explore algorithms. The main factor that determines what we see in our Reels is how popular the video is. 

A Tip for Brands

You can probably imagine what we're going to suggest. To be successful in social media, organizations really should incorporate a fresh approach.

--> Our advice is the same for Reels--launch a brand ambassador program

Final Takeaway

Marketing is an ever-changing landscape. We have to be agile and innovative. Getting the ROI and results we require on social media is becoming more and more complex. Right now, the answer is partnering with people who already love your brand. 

If you're ready to improve your Instagram results, we would love to talk.

Grow your ecommerce sales with people who love you. Request a demo today!

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