If you’re one of the 500+ million people who enjoy the minimalist sights and sounds of the Instagram platform, you’ll have noticed that there was a change to the platform back in May of 2016. And for a platform that isn’t exactly the most complex or intricate, this change was about as big as any that Instagram had ever attempted.
Despite other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter changing their algorithms to display the most relevant content at the top of their users’ feeds long ago, Instagram stuck firmly to displaying things chronologically. Facebook, in fact, made this change way back in 2009, so it was a surprise to many that the Facebook-owned Instagram stuck so stoically to this vintage way of doing things.
But, as of May, things finally changed. Instagram has moved with the times, and now uses an algorithm more complex than YYYY/MM/DD to order its users’ feeds.
And – again despite the Facebook ownership – Instagram’s algorithm is surprisingly not a carbon copy of what Zuckerberg has applied to FB. It’s a bespoke algorithm, created with the intricacies and minutiae of Instagram in mind.
So how does it work?
The Inner Workings of Instagram’s Algorithm
Contrary to what you might imagine, Instagram’s algorithm is based on far more than popularity. There are dozens of factors that are taken into account when compiling your feed, including;
Freshness – While the purely chronological feed of yesteryear is now well and truly out the window, Instagram has recognised that there are a lot of people that quite liked that aspect of their Instagram feed. For that reason, the timing of the photos will still play a large part in how they’re displayed.
Relationships – Are you and the user who posted a photo really good buds? If you tend to hit the heart or drop a comment when a photo from a certain Instagrammer comes up, their material will be prioritised.
Popularity – While it’s not at the very top of the list of requirements, it’s obvious that the popularity of any given post should affect its visibility. This popularity is always measured in comparison to the other posts on a user’s account, however, to ensure that your feed isn’t always topped by whatever Selena Gomez is doing at that particular moment.
Search Data – Have you recently searched for a certain athlete or fashion brand? Instagram will remember this, and will bump up any post from an account that you follow that fits the description. Be aware that Instagram will also use your search data to influence how you’re advertised to (it also uses your Facebook data for this purpose).
Shares – Have you direct shared a post with a friend? Instagram will remember both the post that you shared, and the user with whom you shared it, and will use this data to inform how your feed is ordered.
For the moment, Instagram does not use image recognition in its algorithm (identifying the image content of things you like and share, rather than simply relying on hashtags and written descriptions), but seeing as though Google has made great strides in that direction, you can expect this technology to be influencing your Instagram feed in the not-too-distant future.
Instagram has also said that your Facebook activity won’t affect how your Instagram feed is ordered, although again, they haven’t ruled out doing that further down the track.
So, whether you love it or loathe it, Instagram’s feed ordering algorithm is here to stay. And you can expect that it’ll get smarter and smarter with every passing day.