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In 2016, Instagram launched a new algorithm. Since then, pictures do no longer appear in chronological order in your feed. In contrast, the photos displayed are ranked based on the historical interactions of each individual with other users. In this blog post, we will get to the bottom of the Instagram algorithm and its impact on your post rankings.

Instagram Shows Us What We Care About

Social media networks increase their user numbers from day to day and so does Instagram. Due to the rising usage and the concomitant content overload, it becomes harder to keep up with the content people actually care about.

According to Instagram, people even miss up to 70% of their feeds. These developments urge Instagram to start changing things, as Thomas Dimson, Software Engineer at Instagram, explained at the Machine Learning @scale event in February 2017.

Instagram’s main idea regarding the new algorithm is to provide a feed for its users that shows them what they care about the most.

Instead of being exposed to every single piece of shared content of the following accounts, Instagram builds a bubble – metaphorical speaking – for each individual and pre-filters the content a person is most likely to be interested in.

What Is The Instagram Algorithm Based On?

According to Instagram, the ranking is based on several factors: Timeliness of the post, the relationship with the person posting and the likelihood that an account will be interested in the content.


Smell the sea and feel the breeze.

A post shared by ↠ M A R I S A ↞ (@marisahampe) on


Especially the last two factors are quite ambiguous because they compromise any kind of engagement (likes, direct messaging, searching for content or accounts) of an Instagram user with another account. Engagement is quite subjective and hardly even objectively tangible.

So which factors are crucial for Instagram to determine the likelihood that we will be interested in a specific post which then will be displayed in our feed? Instagram is quite mysterious about its algorithm but here are some inferences that can assumingly be drawn.

Maximization of the Expected Value of Engagement

First, based on historical interactions with other users, Instagram analyses whose content seems to be relevant for a user. The content someone engages with is most commonly the content that the person’s main interest lays in. Thus, the person is more likely to re-engage with the content of an account he or she has already interacted with in the past.

Instagram’s interest is to maximize the expected value of engagement for user’s satisfaction. As Thomas Dimson justifies: “These actions you send from a viewer to an author […] are kind of a gift […] it feels good to like things and it also feels good to receive a like.”
Factors for Instagram algorithm

This means that ranking the feed establishes some kind of loop. The rank has the effect that more feedback will be given. Higher feedback rates lead to the satisfaction of the author who is likelier to produce more content what will be ranked again.

A better app usability and a higher user satisfaction are supposed to help attain even more users. Successfully, Instagram counts 100 million extra new users in the second half of 2016, which is after the new Instagram algorithm was launched.

You Have A Peer Group On Instagram

Secondly, Instagram might draw inferences from content your friends like and that you might be interested in as well. Have you ever noticed that you receive content in your feed that several people who follow you and who you follow engage with?


Laughs & bubbly with this cutiepieeee! ?? Heart you rocky! @rocky_barnes / ph by @matt_coop

A post shared by JULIE SARIÑANA (@sincerelyjules) on


This is probably due to the fact that Instagram builds clusters to understand which accounts might be owned by people you also care about in real life. Maybe you noticed that you are exposed to content that your colleagues like on Instagram even though you do not necessarily engage with the author.

According to Thomas Dimson, Instagram partly uses those kinds of clusters to measure the effects of pre-filtered content on engagement within a network.

The Takeaway

A main consequence of the Instagram algorithm is that reach can hardly be defined by the number of followers any longer. Engagement rates gained more importance due to Instagram’s changes and are often the key to success on Instagram.

Therefore, your company’s appearance in an influencer’s post should be accompanied by likes and engagement through the influencer with your own Instagram channel. Those actions are important to be perceived by the influencer’s followers.

So be aware of the important metrics when running your own Instagram channel or while doing research on an influencer’s Instagram channel. If you want to find out more about the importance of engagement rates and tips and tricks to boost this metric, read our blog series on the subject of engagement.


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