Photo by Jakob Owens

Instagram is designed with two goals in mind. Maximizing the time you spend using the platform and monetizing this presence by selling your attention to advertisers. The more time you spend on the app, the more money they make. The Instagram algorithm was built to keep you on the app for longer. The posts that captivate us the most are those with “high engagement statistics”. The algorithm is designed to rank your feed, showing these posts first. This means that accounts you like and engage with will often be displayed at the top of the feed. The algorithm is constantly changing, as the company tweaks the criteria for what constitutes an “engaging” post, but we are here to help you to take full advantage of the system currently in place.

The History of Instagram

In order to understand the functionality of the Instagram algorithm, it is useful to consider the history of the company. When the app was released in 2010, it went from a handful of users to the number one free photography app in a matter of hours. By December of the same year, Instagram had over 1 million users. Shortly after the release of the Android version of the app in 2012, Instagram was acquired by Facebook for a whopping $1billion. By December of the same year, the new management was already causing controversy with changes to its Terms of Service. Facebook enabled Instagram to sell its users’ photos without notification or compensation. This policy was later retracted due to an overwhelming consumer backlash. Despite this rocky start, Instagram continued to grow exponentially under the new management throughout the next years.

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram influenced the way that the app was designed on a technical and conceptual level. For example, the app began to utilise a storage technology called Cassandra, developed by Facebook. Another notable change came in March 2016, with the implementation of the Instagram algorithm.

History of the Algorithm

When Instagram first came out in 2010, the feed was simply organized chronologically. However as the company grew, and the popularity of the app skyrocketed, it became harder to keep up with the sheer quantity of content. So they decided to implement an algorithm to help organize that content more effectively. The goal was to show users content more relevant to them which not only makes the overall experience of Instagram more enjoyable but again keeps them using it.

When Instagram first introduced the algorithm, people were, to put it lightly, discontent. A petition called “Keep Instagram chronological” on even gained around 70,000 signatures in only 24 hours. However, since the algorithm was implemented, users have been more actively engaging with the community, liking and commenting on more photos.

How it Works

Your Instagram feed is unique, personalized based on the posts you like and interact with. The algorithm uses machine learning to predict the posts you will like the most, based on your past engagement. Even if you follow the same accounts as someone else, you will not see the same content. The feed is based on how you have previously interacted with posts. Tech Crunch

Photo by Marvin Meyer 

So how exactly does the algorithm work? After a post, the algorithm shows that post as a percentage of total followers. This process measures the level of engagement, in comparison to similar posts from the past. This data is used to predict engagement from each of your followers compared to all other posts, from all of the other accounts they follow, since they last opened the app. Hacker noon. Every time you log in and see the home feed, it resets to display a new set of posts.

There are three main factors which determine the order of your Instagram feed: interest, proximity in time, and relationship. The first refers to the prediction of your in potential interest in a post, given your past behaviour on similar content. The second factor, is when the post was shared, with priority given to more recent posts. Lastly, your relationship to the person sharing the post affects its ranking. Posts shared by people you interact with frequently, by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos, are pushed to the top of your feed.

In addition to these main factors, there are three other features that influence post rankings, these are frequency, following and usage. Frequency refers to how often you open the app. The algorithm adjusts to show you what it considers to be the best posts uploaded since your last visit. The number of people you follow also influences your feed. The more people you follow, the bigger the pool of posts for the algorithm to choose from. So you will generally see less content of any individual accounts. How long you spend on the app also determines if you’re seeing a small selection of posts curated by the algorithm at the top of your feed. This provides a comprehensive view of the content posted by the accounts you follow. As you continue to browse, you will eventually see all of the content posted by the accounts you follow.


Is Instagram “shadowbanning” users for using repetitive hashtags?

  • Shadowbanning is “the act of blocking a user’s content on social media sites, in such a way that the user doesn’t know it’s happening. If you’re shadowbanned on Instagram, your content won’t appear on anyone’s feed unless they already follow you.” When the algorithm was first released, many Instagram accounts were affected by a mysterious glitch in the app, which was shadowbanning posts if users repeated the same hashtags too often––which Instagram considered as spammy behaviour.
  • Although Instagram doesn’t openly admit to shadowbanning, there is a possibility that the algorithm does limit the visibility of accounts that display spammy behaviour. In order to avoid being potentially shadowbanned, make sure that you do not use automated posting tools or bots, and that you’re not using broken hashtags

Does posting more hurt your performance in the Instagram algorithm?

  • No. Posting more often will not hurt your account’s performance in the feed. However, if you post several times in a row, there is a high likelihood that another account’s content will be placed in between your posts.

Does the Instagram algorithm favour specific kinds of content?

  • There are many theories about the algorithm favouring specific post formats, specifically recently released features, in order to promote Instagram’s latest innovations. However, this is just an urban legend. Instagram’s feed ranking method does not favour users who use Stories, Live, or other special features of the app. Furthermore, feed ranking does not favour the photo or video format uniformly. People’s feeds are sorted based on what kind of content they engage with most. Thus, if you never pause while scrolling to watch videos, you might see fewer of them.

Click here to read our tips on how to beat the algorithm!